Sunday Records

Spent the afternoon at the record store, flipping through crates of musty cardboard sleeves while listening to the guys behind the counter argue about T-Bone Walker. Visiting the record store is like returning to a comfortable old memory. The dusty sunlight, the antique smell, the faded colors of the memorabilia pinned to the walls: it’s like walking into a shoebox of old photographs.

I’ve got store credit these days. Each week I exchange a stack of techno 12″s for a few classic long-players. Last week I picked up Spiritualized, Silver Apples, and Charlie Parker. Today I found a box of old 10″ Columbia jazz records in beautiful time-stained sleeves that say “Long playing microgroove record!” and “Unbreakable!” Swinging mid-century typography with sans-serif names like Chet Baker, Mildred Bailey, Lester Young, and Lionel Hampton. These are records that make me want to stay up late with a cigarette. I picked out two Billie Holiday records: Billie Holiday Sings and Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra featuring Billie Holiday.

Strange, listening to that voice through the filter of seventy-five years of America pop culture, a voice trapped in Woody Allen movies and PBS documentaries, a familiar shorthand for smoke-filled lounges and doomed genius. A few years after these recordings, Holiday’s apartment was raided for drugs and she went to court. “The case was called The United States of America versus Billie Holiday, and that’s just the way it felt,” she said. I flipped the record and considered how this object arrived at Columbia’s distribution warehouse in 1949 and this very record might have spent some time on Holiday’s shelf. An artifact. A marker of a specific moment and all the history that’s about to come.

Preserving vinyl is a quality of life issue. The simple gesture of pulling a record from its sleeve and blowing off the dust. The unique personality of the looping crackle at the end of each record, like a fingerprint. These are sensations that you won’t find while locked in a staring contest with a glowing screen. I listened to “Easy Living” and thought about aesthetics and nostalgia, and wondered what it meant to be nostalgic for aesthetics.

Billie Holiday & Teddy Wilson – Easy Living
1937, Columbia