Bill Kaelin

Bill Kaelin: Vinyl records round out music memories

My mother tells me I was a high-strung, colicky baby who jumped off the table when the doctor clapped his hands during my first checkup. I was “overstimulated,” he told her, warning: “You’re going to have your hands full with this one.” Little did he know he was right on the money; like a medical medium, he influenced my mother’s opinion of me from day one.

My mom ended up having many of terms of endearment for my personality thanks to the doctor’s admonition. She often said if I had been the first born, I would have been the last, but I think I was just a creative child who had to express himself. Unfortunately for her, screaming constantly was my medium of choice.

Kaelin family lore says my sister’s Partridge Family records were the only things that could make me “come on get happy,” and thanks to David Cassidy, I was swept away into baby bliss. Happy to have found a solution, my mom bought me a record player that provided hours of peace as I dreamed and watched the colorful labels spinning around.

By the age of five I was getting rewarded with 45 rpm singles of my choice for being a “good boy.” Nothing made me behave quicker than the promise of receiving Barry Manilow’s “I Write The Songs” or Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff,” and I played them over and over again ad nauseam.

I joke with my Mom that she is responsible for my stereotypically gay musical genes, since she is the one who started it, and eventually took it to another level by buying me the “couldn’t get any gayer” album, “Xanadu.” I don’t think she finds it as humorous as I do, but she essentially set the mirror ball in motion. After all, before there was Madonna, there was Olivia Newton-John.

My older sisters eventually saved me from falling victim to disco when I was eight by introducing me to music like David Bowie, Heart and The Beatles. Memorizing lyrics like “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Magic Man” blew my mind, took me to a fantasy world and resulted in a music addiction that would last a lifetime.

I have lived through every music media format, from vinyl, to the absolute absurdity of eight-track tapes, to cassette tapes (I was an obsessed teenage cassette collector). I was a college boy CD coveter, and I finally embraced the digital era with iTunes. I have spent a countless amount of money on music, and often defend myself by saying “there are worse things I could be addicted to.”

I recently discovered I could save tons of money with Spotify’s $9.99 “all you can eat” music buffet, but unfortunately that ended when someone handed me a box of old jukebox records that were going to be thrown away. I was immediately transported back to my childhood when I touched the black-as-night, dusty, magic music makers. It was like opening Pandora’s Box, and I dove in headfirst by buying my first Crosley record player in almost 43 years.

Vinyl has made a comeback in recent years, and spending a few hours at Atlanta’s legendary Wax’n’Facts in Little 5 Points is like stepping back in time. Flipping through thousands of cheap, high-quality used records is like visiting old friends from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Everything is bigger with vinyl: The sound, the artwork and the weight as well as the ritualistic listening experience. Listening to an album from start to finish is rarely done today, but it is such a pleasure to take the time to listen to something like Fleetwood Mac from beginning to end while drinking a glass of wine.

Music is my life. I remember loving music earlier than I remember tasting food. My entire collection is like a diary; songs transport me back to a specific time and place. I am no longer that kid with manic nervous energy, but my passion for music has come full circle back to the place it began, with a record player and tons of vinyl making me as happy as a baby.