On April 16, my 16-year-old son and I will be hopping from record store to record store, celebrating Record Store Day. This is the seventh year of the holiday when many new and re-releases on vinyl hit independent record stores. The festivities and the list of releases grow larger each year as records grow in popularity.
If you had asked me several years ago if I ever thought my teenage son and I would be visiting record stores together, I would have laughed. To see how we got from that to planning a day of record store hopping, we need to go back about three years to the first time I watched the TV series "Freaks and Geeks" on Netflix.
There's a perfect scene in the final episode of the show set in the 1980s where the main character, Lindsey, listens to the Grateful Dead's "American Beauty" for the first time. She's at the end of her junior year of high school and unsure what she wants to do with her future. Her guidance counselor lends her the album and the first song she hears is "Box of Rain." She picks up the album sleeve and reads it, lets the music wash over her, and before our eyes, Lindsey is transformed.
I remember thinking two things when I watched that scene: "I need to revisit 'American Beauty,' and "My sons will never have an experience like that."
My sons have grown up consuming music differently. They've had virtually the entire catalog all the music ever recorded at their fingertips. They can't imagine a time when teens had to wait for a radio station to play their favorite song or beg their parents to take them to Sam Goody to buy it on a 45, or if they were willing to take the chance, buy the entire album, having not heard the majority of the songs.
About year ago, though, my oldest asked if we had anything to play "vinyl" on. I bought a recored player at a yard sale, but it didn't work right. The idea sort of faded until the boys asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I requested two things: a record player and a vinyl copy of "American Beauty." Certain they would honor my request, on Christmas Eve I drove to my mom's house and reclaimed the entire record collection of my youth.
On Christmas day, while playing the Grateful Dead, I pulled out all my old albums and 45s. That day, Adam and the Ants' "Prince Charming" and The Go Go's "Beauty and the Beat" played throughout the house as we got ready to head to family dinner.
It's been a little over three months, and I'm now convinced the record player was a brilliant move — one that is giving me a way to connect with both my teenagers. It's allowed me to share the music of my youth with them, and they care about what I'm sharing. Album covers catch their interest in a way the title of a song on my list of MP3s never could.
They've pulled out Cheap Trick's "At Budokon" and "discovered' the group that sings "I Want You to Want Me." My 45 of The Knack's "My Sharona" has gotten lots of play. My younger son listened to Styx "Paradise Theater" in its entirety once, and then he was interested in hearing about my first concert in Philadelphia without any adult supervision, Styx "Mr. Roboto" Tour.
David Bowie's recent death was a much bigger topic of conversation in my home than it would have been if we hadn't just decided against buying a few old Bowie albums a few days before he died from a local used record store. In addition to sharing music, this record player and these albums are allowing us to share stories and conversations.
And now, I have something to do with my sons that they enjoy doing — shopping for records. Sometimes we come away with nothing. Sometimes we come away with some new or used vinyl. Even though we're having this shared experience, there's one thing that reminds me there's a generation gap, the terminology. I play records on my record player. They play vinyl on the turntable. Aside from that, it's an experience that's bringing our two generations together.