A Dirty, Dispensable Record
I never cared much for Santana. (The band, not Johan. Johan, I love.) You know, there was always "Evil Ways" and "Oye Como Va"fine songs for a stretch of highway when there's nothing else on the radio, but, eh: So what? I shrug my shoulders.
When I saw the album, though, within the dusty bins at Hoboken's Tunes record shop, I had to have it. The black and white cover art, with its cheesy-ass bubble lettering and that fearsome lion roaring out from a jungle of mad crosshatching was like something out of my father's high school yearbook, and I just couldn't resist. I bought itand about ten other similarly beautiful albumsbefore meeting up with Pete and the gang for dinner at Charritos, a charming Mexican joint way down towards the end of Washington Street, just across from Maxwell's.
Dinner was delicious. I had some crazy, overflowing bowl of grilled chicken, steak, and pork, with onions and peppers and cactus. It was far too much for one person, but, along with a couple of scrambled eggs, it made an excellent breakfast the following morning. During dinner, I got to meet (and sit directly across from) Andrea's new boyfriend. He seemed nice enough, but with the slightest hint of psycho, and when she hugged me later that night, it felt as though she was thanking me for understanding. On the way home, I ended up sharing a ride on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail with Natalie, upon whom I once entertained a soft crush. It amounted to nothing much, a few short stories that I never shared with anyone. On our ride, we talked about vinyl and I showed her my records. They were all quite dusty. We arrived at Jersey Avenue and I walked her home. A laugh and a listen, a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Don't ask me where I was or who I was with during the last time I purchased a CD. I don't recall. It probably had more to do with spending money and wasting time than anything more remarkable. When you purchase a CD, you are purchasing fine entertainment and convenience, yes. But when you purchase an LP, you are not only purchasing those thingsremember, it's a whole hell of a lot more convenient to listen to music at home, on any format, than to attend a live performanceyou are also purchasing art. When you purchase an LP, you are purchasing art. There is something very special about the size of it, the look and feel and smell of it. You hold it in your hands, and you're overcome by it.
Anyhow. That trip to Hoboken took place nearly two months ago. When I finally pulled the record out of its sleeve last weekend with the intention of making it the very first record to greet the VPI record-cleaning machine, those and other thoughts came to mind and crowded my living room like the heavy dust in the record's grooves. And I mean heavy. Upon cursory inspection, the vinyl looked fairly clean. Placing it beneath a lamp, however, revealed the truth. It was shockingly dusty. Though there were no evil, depressing scratches, the record's surface was simply filthy. What homes and horrors had this poor record been through? I have asthma, and I could feel my lungs tightening as I handled the old, neglected slab of vinyl. I figured I should give it a listen before giving it a bath. That way, I could determine whether a good cleaning on the VPI had any impact on the record's sound.
I dropped the needle on the record and was greeted by a consistent chorus of pops and clicks and chirps, like a Puerto Rican night filled with the lusty coquis. There was music in there somewhere, too. Actually, it didn't sound too bad. The surface noise persisted throughout, but there was nothing terribly offensive. It wasn't greatnot even goodbut certainly listenable. Considering the amount of filth that I had just noted, I was actually surprised that the record didn't sound worse. More than anything, I was impressed by the quality of the music and of the recording. Despite the surface noise, I got the idea that the sound beneath the dust was dynamic and rich. Clearly, the music was fiery and urgent. This Columbia 6-eye was one fine pressing, and I had never before heard the Yardbirds-esque "Shades of Time." Where had these songs been hiding? Why do the radio stations damn us with lifetimes drowned in "Evil Ways" when there are songs as badass as "You Just Don't Care"?
I sat back and enjoyed.
The VPI 16.5's excellent instruction manual recommends that your very first record-cleaning session be made with a "dirty, dispensable record." After listening to Santana from beginning to endI couldn't help itI no longer felt comfortable with running it through the machine. Though it was dirty, it certainly wasn't dispensable. I decided, instead, to go with Peter, Paul, & Mary's Album 1700.
I don't give a flying nun about Peter, Paul, & Mary.