I pulled out a single album, Carole King’s iconic “Tapestry,” from the vintage, avocado-colored milk crate and held it delicately by its edges.
It was a part of a collection that dated back 40, 50 years, and some even older. Played for many years and then stored away for even more.
The familiar scent of it hitting my nose, I tried to recall exactly what it was the scent reminded me of. Although similar, it wasn’t quite the mustiness of an old library book. I knew that smell, and that wasn’t it.
Was it just the mixture of scents from decades-old paperboard, vinyl, and inner paper sleeves? I was almost certain that I would not be able to put my finger on it when the realization hit me.
My childhood. That one piece of vinyl had a unique way of bringing me right back into the past.
I was born in suburban Chicago during the late 70s to blue-collar parents. They were a tad too young to have been at Woodstock but not too young to be influenced by the music of that time. As chaotic as my youngest years were with them, there was always one constant and that was the music.
They had quite an eclectic mix of music, and vinyl was their method of choice for listening.
Music was always playing day and night, in the house and in the car. They would both sing loudly along, sometimes together but mostly apart and mostly off-key, with whatever music happened to be playing.
They had lots of friends and even more parties. I still remember being banished at a certain point in the night to my bedroom that was decorated with pink shag carpeting, the sound of the music still drifting through the Pepto-pink painted walls and under my closed door. Songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, and Cat Stevens would ring out along with The Beatles and Pink Floyd. They listened to rockers like Jimi Hendrix, Motown artists like Aretha Franklin, and soulful artists like Otis Redding.
I inherited that vinyl collection at the age of 17 and have hauled it around with me for decades. It was with me on my move across the country three years later and has stayed with me at each new place that I have lived, stored away in a garage at one place, and at others, displayed like some strange memorial.
Fast-forward several decades later, and it occurred to me that I was treating them like that expensive yet rarely used dress, purse, or pair of shoes that you keep in your closet only to be worn on special occasions. Their intended use, lost. I was not playing them as my parents once had done.
I made the decision to start what I dubbed the “Album Project.”
I began by dividing the collection into separate categories based on my personal likeability of each one. I’d carefully take each album out of its yellowed inner sleeve and clean it with the specially made wooden brush. I would lower it onto the platter and bring the tonearm down, the needle landing. The iconic crackling sound would begin, and I would listen to each album to determine if it was still possible to play after all these years.
Were there undeniable scratches and therefore deemed never to be listened to again? Was it warped? Did it still have a good sound quality to it? If it was good to go, I would replace the inner sleeve with a brand-new one, take a damp cloth to gently wipe the faded jacket, and the whole record would then go into a brand-new protective cover for safekeeping.
Going through each album turned out to be a cathartic journey for me in unexpected ways. I thought I was just cleaning up an old record collection. I found gems that I didn’t know were there. Better insight into my long-passed-away parents through artists they connected with.
It still amazes me how just like a place or a scent, music can also bring us right back and remind us of people or moments in time.
As the title song “Tapestry” played on the turntable as it had many years ago, I found that I still knew the lyrics:
“My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue. An everlasting vision of the everchanging view.”
I found myself beginning to weep.
“A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold. A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.”
Goosebumps ran down my arms.
“As I watched in sorrow, there suddenly appeared. A figure gray and ghostly beneath a flowing beard. In times of deepest darkness, I’ve seen him dressed in black. Now my tapestry’s unraveling; he’s come to take me back. He’s come to take me back.”
Tears streamed down my face without my knowing why. I’d like to think it was stuck energy moving through me, finally releasing itself.
I’ve forgiven my parents for the dysfunctional childhood that I had, and I’ve done my best to not take those parts with me into adulthood.
What I have taken with me is their immense love of music. It has become a part of me.
Now, after organizing this treasured collection, I find that I will frequently pull out a record and listen, thankful for the ability that music has to heal.