Vinyl Obsession

Vinyl obsession
Man collects LPs by the thousands

By Jodi Rogstad

CHEYENNE – Adam Moon checks the peg wall when he enters the back room at Ernie November’s.

During his last visit, he admired an original, gently-used copy of Pink Floyd’s “Obscured by Clouds” within the display of the store’s best and most collectible used albums.

And that one was extremely collectible. It wasn’t a reissue, and it had no traces of love from whoever bought in 1972, just the faintest white rash of wear on the cover and absolutely no scratches or cloudy white skid marks on the black, shiny surface of the disc.

Yes, Pink Floyd is still on the wall.

But Moon doesn’t claim it, and he starts flipping through the “A” bins to see what pops out from people’s discarded collections. Brian Adams. Adam Ant. The Allman Brothers. America.
Many people his age are well-steeped in the digital convenience of iPods and MP3 players, so he is an unusual sight, spending a Sunday evening picking through used records.

“Their junk is my funk,” Moon quipped.

The 27-year-old has 2,500 albums at home, “but a lot of stuff has yet to reach my record player.”

At the music store, a midnight blue Neil Diamond album cover has a woman’s name printed on red label tape with the number 24 beneath that.

Other covers have cigarette burns and moisture rings from beer bottles. Many used albums smell, and Moon can name the many scents they tend to come in: incense, mold, basement, whiskey and tobacco.

“I’ve had records that stunk of body sweat,” Moon added. “I don’t know what they were doing when they were listening to that record, but your guess is as good as mine.”

The perfect antidote to a trying day is lighting a candle and playing his favorite music on vinyl, such as the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.”

“Music is my solitude,” Moon said. “It’s where I go when I can’t communicate with anyone. I go over to my record player and throw on a record and feel surrounded by friends and we have our times.”

So if the songs by the Beach Boys and Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones are friends, Moon cares enough to give his full attention to their stories and peer into their souls.

He’s attentive; he’s not shopping, he’s not working at a cubicle or walking the dog.

Vinyl forces listeners to slow down and pay attention. If you jump, the arm skips. Because there’s no such thing as shuffle in vinyl, listeners must take in the album as a complete work of art.

Music history

Music was always a big part of Moon’s life. As a child, his family would play Michael Jackson, Olivia Newton John, James Gang and early Beatles. They’d sing, and his father and brother would play along on their guitars.

In high school, he bought every title by The Beatles and John Lennon.

“I didn’t want to know anything else, didn’t care,” Moon said. “I was mesmerized.”

Then came the question that expanded his life. He was going to class at Laramie County Community College, wearing his favorite T-shirt.

“Do you really like John Lennon, or is that just a cool T-shirt to you,” a man asked.

When Moon emphatically professed his devotion and love for The Beatles, that man, Robert McCormick, invited him over to listen to records.

They’d hang out, playing music on McCormick’s turntable, talking about current events. McCormick played Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Nirvana.

Moon wanted records of his own. He spent the next five years combing the collection at Ernie November’s, focusing on one genre or band at a time.

He bought 1980s music from his childhood on LP: Culture Club, Talking Heads and Tears for Fears. Then he focused on the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, the Grateful Dead.

Then he moved on antique stores, flea markets, Wax Tracks in Denver and eBay. He bought part of McCormick’s collection and convinced another to sell him his.

Today, he and McCormick remain close friends, but now they are co-music gurus.

Moon gave a talk at local record club recently about 1960s garage rock. In his human jukebox fashion, he covered 22 bands, from the indelible “Louie Louie” as sung by the Kingsmen to the forgotten Electric Prunes and their “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night.”

And last week, he was talking to a couple of friends at church. They seemed interested in music, so Moon invited them over, and they lounged in his living room, taking in the music, the enthusiasm and knowledge.

Are records really better?

The secret is in the sound.

Not only is vinyl bulky and hard to tote, an old album is too noisy for many listeners.

“Quite honestly, hisses and pops add to it,” Moon said. “It gives it that old-timey feel.”

To Moon, an LP releases a rich, deep and satisfying tapestry of sound.

At his apartment, Moon demonstrates with the CD version of “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” and its 40-year-old vinyl counterpart that survived someone’s basement flood years ago.

The sound has a warmth that appeals to Moon. Aside from the hiss, the vinyl version has more depth, Moon explained. “The instruments are brought to the front, (Jimi’s) vocals are a little subdued.”

Then he pops in the CD and plays the same Hendrix tune. Jimi’s vocals are thrust into prominence, and the guitar and drums are secondary, in the background.

The sound is crisp and polished, neat, but cool, something like a color-balanced poster print of a master’s painting.

In Greeley, Colo., the sound guru and recording engineer for the University of Northern Colorado recording studio understands the appeal of records.

“There is something very satisfying about the playback of an analog record,” Greg Heimbecker said. “There’s a continuous nature to it.”

Vinyl is definitely better than most MP3 recordings, he said.

“You’re throwing away about 80 percent of what you start with because of data compression,” Heimbecker said. “That’s awful frustrating for someone like myself.”

But old records are noisy because record companies used to recycle the material used to make the black discs, he explained. In the melting process, bits of paper and other contaminants were not filtered out of the mass, which causes the hisses and pops.

Dynamic distortion also is used in making LPs, which results in a sound that appeals to many vinyl listeners.

Distortion of volume is especially prevalent in classical music recordings, Heimbecker said. In fact, it’s necessary. If an engineer doesn’t tone down a loud, powerful chord, it cuts too deep a groove on the disc that will literally derail the needle.

So, in this case, a good compact disc recording, especially a super audio CD, played on a high-quality player and good speakers, will be a true-to-life listening experience.

Another advantage to upper-end discs is surround sound.

“LP can’t do the back channels, the ambiance behind you,” Heimbecker said.

Despite the plague of MP3s, he says this is the golden age for both analog and digital. The methods of making both recordings have improved, and a person can literally spend thousands of dollars on equipment.

You can’t go wrong with either, the audiophile said.

Still, Heimbecker remembers his student days at UNC listening to John Coltrane records with his friends – a feat that could take four days.

“The art of listening has been lost because of conveniences,” he said. “People don’t just sit down and just listen to music anymore – listening to music was an event.”

True music junkie

Moon’s dream is to one day open a record store.

“There’s always going to be an interest in vinyl,” Moon said. “True music junkies and audiophiles say it’s the best way to experience music.”

Today, modern artists also will release an LP version of their albums. In fact, Moon owns Bob Dylan’s latest, “Modern Times” on vinyl, as well as Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and the White Stripes’ “Elephant.” Sometimes an artist will even release works exclusively on LP.

Back at Ernie November’s, Moon learns that he has simply waited too long to buy that Pink Floyd Album he’s been eyeing. A lanky young man meanders in with his girlfriend and immediately plucks it off the wall.

As he examines it, Moon can’t concentrate on Jefferson Starship anymore. His spine stiffens, and he shoots sideways glances at the guy, who has pulled the disc out of its sleeve, examining it from front to back.

He sees the quality that Moon saw, and he heads to the checkout counter.

“Damn,” Moon says, exhaling. “It’s really hard to come by. I’ve seen it in here twice, and I haven’t picked it up. … I’ll try not to be too (upset) about it.”

The experience is a teaching point for any collector of records, or any collector of items that were manufactured and mass-distributed in another decade.

There are only so many people who die, move, divorce, clean and upgrade with boxes ready to be shipped to flea markets and music stores.

“That’s the life of a record collector,” Moon said. “You always say to yourself, ‘I’ll run across it again.’ You never know. My advice: if it looks like a collectible album, and you have the funds available, you should just think about just getting it. You won’t regret it.”

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