Quarantined with a record player.

I remember it well: Friday the Thirteenth, March 2020 – they threw me out of the bar. I’m not sure if I should be proud or ashamed to say that’s the first time I’ve ever been ejected from a bar. But I didn’t take it personally as they threw everyone else out, too. They said, “go home and stay there until further notice”. Quarantined ad infinitum?

Mind you, being quarantined with a record player and thousands of records seems better to me than being confined with an awful wife (there used to be an L there, but the Alphabet People stole the L.) For me it’s nothing very new as I’ve been more-or-less stuck at home since the banksters blew up the financial system over a decade ago and left me without a business, family or income. Some millions more will now be joining me in that predicament, as the second wave of financial catastrophe now unravels what was left of our economies.

Here in Spain, we’re a week into this lockdown. Most economic activity has ceased and there’s no end in sight. Are the ‘authorities’ over-reacting, or late to the game? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that the world, as we knew it, has changed. Perhaps forever. Human behaviour is now modified. Our monetary system is disintegrating. The globalised, financialised, just-in-time, money-above-all order is tottering on its arthritic knees. Good riddance, I say.

I lied. I’m not quarantined with a record player; I’m quarantined with three. I’m short food and money, but not records, cassettes or CDs. Priorities, eh? To relieve the boredom, I retrieved an old CD player from under a pile of retired electronic things in order to listen to some CDs I’ve not listened to in years. I now remember why I retired the CD player: CDs sound awful; they skip and jump; they’re second rate. And they taste awful, too.

Record player to the rescue. An escape portal from the silence outside, the anxiety inside and the need to keep oneself occupied. I considered instigating a routine around disc selection – alphabetically, geographically or random? Maybe a good time to service the player? No, leave it alone, now’s not the time for pedantry. For the moment, I’ve concluded that old, established routines are best because they’re comfortable. Why cause oneself any more discomfort than necessary? Unless one is a masochist, in which case I’d recommend back-to-back Schubert’s Trout Quintet (possibly the most horrible music I know) or a long night of Heavy Metal, played backwards through a megaphone.

Rachmaninov is perfect for melancholic moments, Messiaen for those seeking spiritual guidance. Bob Dylan’s lyrics seem to have been written for this time – how weird is that? I’m finding jazz a great comfort: the twisted, lilting, experimental make-do of an age of optimism. Amidst the rigours of enforced quarantine, the revolt that was jazz now poses a new vigour of alternative medicine in the fight against orthodoxy, State Power and bland, corporate music. Good jazz was all about spontaneity – something hard to invoke in times of lockdown and the deprivation of essential human contact.

I will be writing to this blog more frequently now. I need something to do, and you fellows need something to read. I’ll keep you updated. Please feel free to post your comments. We’re all in this shit together now. Take care and happy record player listening.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke.

Simon 21/3/20

Record Player as Portal #1

As our Western Civilisation careens into the abyss of its own histrionics, and we thinking apes are dragged down by its vortex, I suggest an experiment…

You have a record player, right? And a sizeable collection of vinyl records from way-back-when, yes? So, use these two resources to step back in time. You can do it if you really want to and know how to use your powers of imagination. The disc and its player can’t do it alone. They require your perception to complete the circle. You can’t influence the abyss but, at least momentarily, you can escape its pull if you deny its presence. Here’s how it’s done:

First, you must be alone. In your familiar den. With booze and, preferably, a sleeping dog. Hunt out a record from the 1950s – I suggest an original Blue Note, maybe a big band or lesser-known jazz quartet. Don’t bother to clean it. Fire up your audio system and devote at least five minutes to contemplate in silence your impending journey into what was. You must be still, and you must be prepared to let go. Don’t be pissing about with hi-fi. Focus on your escape plan.

Lower the stylus into the run-in groove and take your seat. Marvel at the surface noise, gathered over the years as a result of your ordinary manliness, close your eyes and give in to the sounds of yesteryear. Visualise. Go with the flow. Don’t do anything else or think about anything else. Keep visualising. What is the drummer wearing (not a red dress)? And the saxophone player? Black or white man? Does the bass player smile or grimace as he traverses the neck of his instrument? What were these guys thinking about at the time of the recording? What cars did they pass on the way to the studio? Are they stoned?

Now, with the music filling your habitats both external and internal, imagine the world that produced this music: its fancies and concerns, its glories and defeats, its ambitions and ghettoes. This is your past, whether you lived it or not. These sounds are the precursors of today’s sounds, without which today’s sounds could not be. Your participation in them revives them. Thus, you are transported into them, and they into you, as fully as you wish it to be so.

Don’t work at it. Just let it be. Allow yourself to be captivated. Don’t analyse. Be what the record is.