I bought my first vinyl album when I was in elementary school. It was a copy of the multi-Grammy Award winning Tapestry by singer-songwriter Carole King. From there, I was on a path that veered off to darker selections like Alice Cooper's adolescent lament School's Out and the original Broadway cast recording of Hair. As I got older, I purchased seminal efforts by Jethro Tull, Meat Loaf and The Alan Parsons Project, as well as superstars like Elton John and Bruce Springsteen.
Meanwhile, the future Mrs. Pincus was assembling her own lot of record albums, from the bubble-gum pop of The Archies to the decidedly more adult Little Feat. Her later acquisitions included the full Grateful Dead catalog and, in curious dichotomy, the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever.
When we met and eventually married, my wife and I combined our separate record collections into one. There, like a musical United Nations, my Queen albums commingled with her Neil Young discs and our Billy Joel library expanded with multiple copies of Piano Man and Turnstiles. As our collection increased, storage was at a premium in our small apartment, with wooden crates jammed with albums — some double and triple sets, with thick gate fold jackets — stacked to a height of nearly three feet. One wall of our living room had become a veritable fortress of recorded music, with crates of records now spanning two across and three high. In order to maintain some order, I arranged them alphabetically by artist. At one point during our accumulation, our cats decided to use the outward-facing spines of the Beatles albums as a scratching post, shredding the cardboard and rendering the titles unreadable. (I took this as a commentary on Ringo.)
As our possessions increased (musical and otherwise), as well as our family, we moved to a larger house. It was the late 80s, and the compact disc was gaining popularity, threatening to overtake the stalwart vinyl album as the preferred format for recorded music. I broke down and bought a CD player. New music came in digital format, as well as old favorites, now available on the small, nearly indestructible discs. Our record collection — all five hundred-plus pieces — was, sadly, relegated to a corner of the basement under a shelf piled with board games. From that point forward I purchased music exclusively in CD form. The needle on my turntable broke and wasn't replaced.
Last week, a pipe broke within the walls of our dining room, spilling its contents down to the only outlet the damaging water could find — the basement. Specifically, the corner of the basement where our records were stored. Only the ones housed in the top crate were spared. The rest were ruined.
Our homeowners' insurance required a detailed list of the records in order to submit a claim and receive some compensation. Donning rubber gloves and respirators, Mrs. P complied the list as I peeled apart the waterlogged cardboard sleeves to check release dates, catalog numbers and other identifying information. Once the inventory was completed, this was the fate of our collection...
That's right. That's our record collection. Fifty years of records — doubled-bagged alongside our township-issued recycling container — awaiting its final reward on Wednesday morning when Cheltenham municipal workers would toss them into the back of a truck, along with a week's worth of neighborhood refuse.
Strangely, I wasn't upset. I really wasn't. I still have a lot of CDs. I acquire and listen to music through different sources now. (My son works at a Philadelphia radio station, so there's that.) Besides, I hadn't listened to those records in years, even decades. Surprisingly, I felt no emotional attachment as I bagged them up and hauled them down to the curb. While I am a die-hard music lover, I felt the same as if I was just throwing away trash that was cluttering up my house and, health wise, posing a danger to my family.
I still have the memories, though. They don't get thrown away.