My son doesn't have a big record collection. He owns three albums: Arctic Monkeys, Green Day, and one by the Barenaked Ladies that his parents brought home for him after they had picked it up at a show. That's not a lot of vinyl. By the time I was his age, I already had a shelf in my room that was bowing under the strain of hundreds of LPs. That was a long time ago: a lifetime.
That was back in the days when your music came in those lovely flat packages. A vast amount of real estate was consumed by record stores. The college town in which I grew up supported dozens of them, all filled with bins of shrink-wrapped treats, awaiting a regular thumbing through by yours truly. Finding that elusive single or cut-out LP was the kind of thing of which I used to dream. Sometimes I still do. That soft thumping sound that each thin slab made as the air rushed out between the next, falling forward like dominoes. Hunting and gathering.
My son's music collection doesn't require such massive storage requirements. Sure, sometimes he'll poke through his parents' compact disc collection. The "compact" part is by comparison to all those boxes, crates and shelves that used to hold the albums they represent. Hundreds and hundreds of them, now stored in little drawers, divorced of their plastic cases in sleeves that hold them together with their liner notes and artwork. This is still a ridiculous amount of space compared to the digital requirements of the music my son collects. They all fit on a cloud. He doesn't need all that tactile reinforcement. When he wants to hear a song, he types it into the search box and presses play.
But lately that weightless, object-free feeling has been replaced with a yearning for something more tangible. My son discovered vinyl records for himself in, of all places, Urban Outfitters. This outpost of hipster clothing and lifestyle contouring had a section of a corner of one part of their trendy warehouse space devoted to six abbreviated racks of records. He was drawn to it, as his father was, flipping through the stacks, pulling out the occasional album to check out the song listing or release date. I walked around to the other side and began to do the same. It was a father-son moment that I would not have imagined that we would ever share.
He found two that he thought he might like to own. Even though he does not live in a home with a machine that can play music through friction, it was important for him to take these two souvenirs home with him. Their width and heft was satisfying to him. It was a much different experience than sitting in front of his screen and clicking on the "buy" button. He may never play these records, but owning them brings him just a little closer to his old man. I don't mind at all.