Monday, February 05, 2007

Playing Led Zeppelin IV on LP, or The Road to Damascus

I've been on a remarkable journey of self-discovery with the recent purchase of a Numark portable turntable. I haven't touched a vinyl record for 20+ years, and even then, the only records I really listened to was Michael Jackson's Thriller and Duran Duran's Arena. I just stuck with cassette tapes and then migrated to CDs.

I decided to start collecting vinyl records so I could frame the album covers and hang them on my wall. But...there was some distant, quiet voice speaking inside my gut. Call it intuition, call it the Voice of God, whatever. But I always told myself that I needed to hear Sgt. Pepper's on vinyl at least once. My collection was slowly building, including a few that I didn't have on my computer or CD, so I made the jump and grabbed the turntable.

I'm a great music lover, in addition to playing guitar and sometimes trying to sucker myself into thinking I have some sort of career as a folk singer or something. To me, music is sacred, the language of the soul. So I can speak with some degree of knowledge.

The first record I put on was Led Zeppelin IV. Haven't heard it in a long time, and I've heard all the CD releases. I know what to expect. Turn on the turntable, take the record out of the sleeve - immediately I'm impressed with the whole ritual of it all. I'm holding this giant gatefold album of Zeppelin IV, instead of a postcard-sized picture. The real deal. How cool is that? I imagine holding the more inventive Zeppelin albums, the ones like Zeppelin III and Physical Grafitti, where Jimmy Page really went insane with the designs. You just never see those things.

Anyway, back to the record itself. Short story - I put the needle to the groove, threw on the headphones, and cranked up the sound. The sounds of Page's guitars warming up for the trip grabbed me by the scruff of my neck. Then Robert Plant starts wailing, and I'm being grabbed by the seat of my pants and hurled - not pushed, but fucking hurled - into the Land of Oz.

Welcome to Technicolor, Dorothy.

Needless to say, this is an astonishing experience. I'm beginning to think that this could qualify as a psychedelic experience, all by itself. I'm being hurled into a world of heavy, booming, and deep - DEEEEEP - sounds. The real sound of Zeppelin. For the first time I realize what they mean when they say that digital is polished and cold. It really is. It's like looking at a picture of a dirt pile, and then being thrown head-first into the actual dirt pile.

There's so much sound, little bits and fragments and snippets of real life buried in the mix. So much that I never heard before. I really am hearing this album for the very first time. It's like falling in love with your first love all over again. I'm beginning to feel a little like St. Paul on the road to Damascus.

Then Stairway to Heaven kicks in. Heard a million times. Sick to death of hearing it a million times. But now, I'm overwhelmed. The whole scope of it all, the sheer beauty of it all. It's so transcendent, I'm out of words to explain it away. The walls are just about to start melting. By the time Jimmy Page's guitar kicks in, I'm a puddle of goo. I'm practically bawling my eyes out, trying to figure out what the FUCK is going on.

And then I have to turn the record over, after pausing for a moment to catch my breath. Another ritual. And another side on the magical rollercoaster. Rinse and repeat, another sonic assault that I never even realized was there, in front of my nose all these years.

What the hell have we been missing out on? Who sold us out? The bad guys sucked the soul out of the music, just like our culture is sucking our very souls out of us. Hell, now modern science aims to tell us that mind and soul, our very personality, doesn't even exist. We're nothing more than ants, robots, machines too stupid to know we're machines. And we wonder why our civilization is crumbling, and why there's no more good art anymore.

There are no great artists, no great new ones. Television is a wasteland of banality. The movies suck. The music, if you can call it that, royally sucks. How many shitty plastic people are the kids supposed to consume? You call that rock 'n roll? You call that talent? American Fucking Idol?! Is this some kind of cruel joke? And, oh, hey, get your kids hopped up on Ritalin and Zoloft and Paxal. Those are the good drugs. They'll make you compliant and quiet and submissive to authority. And your soul will wither and die. Not that your soul exists.

So, okay, as I've said before, this is qualifying as a psychedelic experience. The colors seem brighter, the world seems more alive. Hell, I feel more alive. Try not to swing your booty to Misty Mountain Hop and Rock 'n Roll. It can't be done! There's probably scientific studies to prove it. Robot ants who can boogie.

Remember that feeling you had as a teenager that all the grownups were lying to you, trying to sucker you with one collosal scam after another? You better start getting those feelings back, kids. Fuck the digital world. You want to feel the walls shake? Step into the Land of Oz, Dorothy, and your little dog, too. You got to get your soul back - hell, it's the only thing in this world that's real. Everything else is an illusion or a con game.

All of which just goes to say that I'm really loving my vinyl records. Don't even get me started on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Or Abbey Road. Or Blonde on Blonde. Or Innervisions. Or The Unforgettable Fire. Or that Fonzie record I scored for two bucks. Oh, yeah. Did I mention that you can score a perfectly good record for two bucks? My copy of Led Zeppelin IV? Three-fifty. The CD cost fifteen dollars and came from the depths of hell. Do the math.

We've been set up, kids. Watch yer backs.

1 comment:

Dan said...

When I saw the picture of the album my memory kicked in. "Hey, don't I have that album?" A while ago I acquired a bunch of albums from someone who used to spin the tables for a high school radio station. When he left he took some vinyl with him. I flipped through my collection and lo and behold, I found the it.

You're right, it's pretty awesome. I never really listened to Zeppelin so this post gave me the push to give it a try. Thanks!