Why I buy vinyl records

I collected many things in my youth, including video games, baseball cards, comic books, and action figures, but that all-consuming urge to own things has dissipated over the years. It’s something that comes along with maturation, I think, as financial stability becomes more valuable than amassing material items. Although I no longer have the desire to simply accumulate stuff, something deep within me misses the experience. It’s not the items. It’s definitely not the money spent. It’s the hunt.

Until very recently, man needed to stalk or trap prey to enjoy a hearty meal. Technological advances in the last couple of centuries have enabled millions of people to eat without lifting a club, tossing a spear, or firing an arrow. Still, our semi-monkey brains retain the desire to scour environments and return home with the spoils of the hunt. Buying vinyl scratches that itch without an animal bleeding out by my hands.

Although vinyl has seen a recent popularity surge, and perhaps reached its zenith, the discs are printed in relatively low quantities in comparison to CDs, and aren’t as readily accessible as streaming music services, such as Slacker Radio or Spotify. As a result, tracking down, say, The Dirtbombs’ Ultraglide In Black, a soul-rock cover record from one of my favorite indie bands, ain’t no easy task. Not impossible, just not easy. And that’s a major part of the enjoyment, besides the large and beautiful artwork, liner notes, lyrics, and vinyl-specific sound.

There’s an emotion that lies at the intersection of excitement, happiness, and dread that envelops the body upon stepping into a record store. On one hand, there’s the very real possibility that there are multiple scores laid out before you in alphabetical order. On the other hand, there’s the very real chance that you’ll exit the record shop holding a big, fat “L.”

Buying vinyl via an online source doesn’t replicate the brick-and-mortar experience, because you own the records as soon as you complete the checkout process; you simply await the wax’s arrival a few days (or weeks) later. In fact, Amazon immediately blesses you with digital versions of those albums, so you can listen to the music before the vinyl is at your doorstep. It’s a hollow victory, really, as there’s no pleasure in easily obtained booty.

Of course, I realize this is coming from a man who has several physical record stores within walking distance of each other, including Generation Records, In Living Stereo, and Village Music World. It is, dare I say it, a privileged perspective. But in a world in which clothing is just a few mouse clicks away, celebrities exist within a 140-character radius, and food is delivered to your doorstep, the challenge of collecting vinyl is laced with cheap thrills that stimulate an ancient area of my brain. 

Though I wonder what will serve as the next big hunt once all my desired wax is procured.

Image courtesy of shin_gallon.

My all-time favorite albums list is shockingly predictable

Every writer-slash-know-it-all with an Internet connection and a keyboard eventually masturbates to their own tastes and egos by crafting definitive lists of…something. I am not above this.

Recently, a drunken friend of a friend asked me about my “desert island albums.” I was well-prepared to answer the question, because, like the idea of creating an all-time best album list, it is something wholly unoriginal. So, I answered the question. And decided shortly thereafter to create this list.

This hideous list.

Now, the music itself isn’t bad my any means, but it’s awfully predictable. I really hoped that I possessed enough cool to name several obscure, indie rap-funk band from Nigeria that “don’t get enough love.” Instead, I came up with this mess.

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  1. There are many albums I haven’t listened to in their entirety, thus disqualifying them from this list.
  2. There are many albums that I used to dig as a young man that no longer speak to me.
  3. I really need to listen to some albums that were released before my birth.

So, judge. Educate. Recommend. You have my ear.

How Madonna improved my Street Fighter II skills

Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection is the singer’s first greatest hits compilation. Released in November 1990, the album culled The Material Girl’s most-popular tracks from 1983-1990.

Capcom’s Street Fighter II is the game that put one-on-one versus fighting on the map and staved the arcade’s inevitable death by nearly a decade. Released months after The Immaculate Collection in March 1991, Street Fighter II forever changed the video game industry.

Oddly, I discovered both the record and the game in the same place: Coney Island’s legendary Faber’s Fascination arcade.

I grew up in the shadow of the world-famous Cyclone, as a poor kid from one of Coney Island’s dense New York City housing projects. Free time and loose change were spent in Faber’s Fascination (known among the C.I. denizens simply as “the arcade”) playing Lifeforce, Punch-Out!!, pinball machines, and other quarter-eating staples.

One particular summer, summer 1991, I entered Faber’s Fascination through its back entrance and discovered the establishment’s Street Fighter II machine–no one played it at the time. I now realize that I discovered Street Fighter II before the 2D fighting game craze descended on my area of Brooklyn.

Street Fighter II

Street Fighter II immediately caught my eye because I pumped a lot of allowance money into the original Street Fighter, an all around atrocious title. After eyeballing the attract mode, I ponied up a quarter, picked Chun-Li, and placed my fingertips on the punch and kick buttons.

The computer properly served me.

A few days later,  I returned to the arcade with a bevy of buds and pockets full of quarters. I popped coins into the machine, as did my friends, and started up. But as I exchanged fists, feet, and fireballs with friends, I noticed a series of Madonna songs blaring over Faber’s loudspeakers.

Now, I’d always been a Madonna fan; I was a child of the ’80s, after all. But hearing her pop sensibilities in the arcade–the grimy playthings of urbanites–was truly out-of-place. It felt wrong. Guile’s Jumping Fierce > Standing Fierce > Sonic Boom > Backfist shouldn’t be backed by “Lucky Star.”

I was getting my ass completely handed to me by a long-haired rocker type until Madonna’s “Live To Tell” crept into my ears. I was vaguely familiar with the song, but hadn’t actually taken time to listen to the lyrics or arrangements. It didn’t matter;  the slow, melancholy track moved something within. My hands’ frantic movements slowed to match the speed of the track as I hummed the melody–and it helped my game! Instead of attempting to rapidly fire off combos and specials, my fighting became more deliberate and timed.

I honestly don’t remember if I won that contest (chances are pretty slim), but it was the turning point in my fighting game play style. I learned that I didn’t need to mash; a more calculated approach led to me eating far less Dragon Punches and Flash Kicks.

The Madonna Effect isn’t very surprising, really. Music tinkers with something in my brain. When notes, melodies, and hooks latch in, I excel. It’s one of the reasons why I run roughshod through games like Dracula X: Rondo of Blood–its soundtrack pulls me into the game world and establishes a foe-wrecking flow.

Still, the Madge-Street Fighter II combination is a special one as it not only puts me in the zone, but carries the weight of nostalgia. ‘Til this day I fire up the Immaculate Collection, pop in Ultra Street Fighter IV, and drift away in a hazy dream of combos and counters where summertime discovery, laughs, and freedom last forever.

The night Wu-Tang Clan and Castlevania conquered New York City

Wu-Tang Clan dropped the seminal Enter the Wu-Tang 36 Chambers in 1993, fusing the New York City-style underground sound with intelligent lyrics, street knowledge, Five Percent Nation teachings, and philosophies ripped straight from old school Asian martial arts flicks.

Shortly after the classic album transformed the hip hop landscape, the crew—nearly a dozen deep—announced that each member would drop a solo album. The best solo effort was Raekwon the Chef’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, which quickly became a hip hop classic much like Enter the Wu-Tang 36 Chambers. The mob-strong album saw Rae and faithful right-hand man Ghostface Killah chronicle cinematic street tales over what was then RZA’s most varied and experimental production.

But what does Wu-Tang Clan have to do with Castlevania, Konami’s monster-slaying action video game? A lot, actually. Or, maybe, nothing at all.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx‘s lead single was “Glaciers of Ice,” a track featuring Rae, Ghost, and Masta Killa flowing over only what can be described as aural insanity. Listen.

I tuned into NYC’s Hot 97 the night that Funkmaster Flex debuted “Glaciers of Ice” over the radio airwaves. The collective hip hop populace lost it. Not only was the track absolute fire, but station callers—as well as my friends and me—were convinced that RZA sampled Castlevania to create what sounded like an organ from hell. We couldn’t remember which particular Castlevania game that the sample came from, or the specific level music, but believed that a video game was an important part of “Glaciers of Ice”‘s DNA.

The idea wasn’t too bizarre. RZA had a reputation for digging through the crates, grabbing obscure samples, chopping them up, and sometimes distorting them. This is a man who sampled an obscure cartoon, Underdog, to create “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta Fuck Wit.”

The official song samples are:

– “Bless Ya Life” by KGB (Klik Ga Bow)
– “Children, Don’t Get Weary” by Booker T. & the MG’s
– “Guillotine (Swordz)” by Raekwon

Castlevania is M.I.A. That doesn’t mean, however, that RZA didn’t sample one of the compositions. It could’ve went unlisted for a variety of reasons, such as not wanting other producers to know the sample origin, or to avoid potential lawsuits for not clearing the sample with Konami.

“Glaciers of Ice” was the hot discussion topic the next day. My boys and I analyzed the track for hours trying to discover its Castlevania origins. This led to us playing Castlevania, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, and Super Castlevania IV in hunt of the sampled composition. We never found it. It doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things, really.

I can look back now and realize that it wasn’t just the sample hunt that intrigued us, it was the validation. The validation that our hobby, one frequently seen as the activity of basement-dwellers, was cool, exciting, and revolutionary.

Just like Wu-Tang Clan.