When I was in high school, my grandmother, my mom and I went through an old record stash that my grandparents tucked away in their basement. Stuck in a storage closet, they had been forgotten and left to collect dust for who knows how long. It was only when my mom went looking for an old coat that she found them, and we couldn’t resist hauling them upstairs to take a peek at what sort of titles lay inside. What started off as a mere curiosity to revisit the past turned out to be an educational experience about my family history.
We sifted through my grandparents’ Dennis De Souza collection, my uncles’ AC/DC records, my aunt’s disco compilations and dozens of singer-songwriter albums, all of which belonged to my mom. It was fun for all of us to take a look at what everyone used to listen to when they were my age or slightly older.
Growing up in a different country, I rarely got to spend time with my grandparents and extended family who all lived in Canada. Sure, we would visit in the summers, but I never felt like I was able to form super strong bonds due to the literal ocean that lay between us for most of the year. I didn’t even really know that much about what my parents were like prior to them being my parents. I had never really thought to ask about their interests. When my mom pulled out an old copy of Paul Simon’s Graceland and proclaimed her love for it, I wanted to learn more about what she was like when she was my age. What kind of music did she listen to? What kind of movies did she watch? Was she awkward and introspective like I thought I was?
I decided then and there that I wanted to get a record player in order to listen to the albums that my family had collected. My mom looked incredulously at me when I told her that’s what I wanted for Christmas. “Why would you want that?” she asked. “Do they even sell vinyl anymore?”
In the era of streaming, it would be easy enough to just look up an album on Spotify and play it, but something about owning a record on vinyl made the experience seem more meaningful to me. As cheesy as it sounds, I felt like I was holding a piece of history when I held those old albums that once belonged to other family members in my hands. Music is a means of connecting with others, and through these vinyl records, I was able to connect with my family on a deeper, more intimate level.
For example, my grandparents’ soca and calypso collections were a reminder of my family lineage. My grandmother spent much of her youth in Grenada before relocating to Trinidad where she and my grandfather raised my mom and her siblings. Having grown up in Barbados, I loved modern soca music, but these records helped me feel a fondness for older music, too. I’ve never been to Trinidad, but when I listen to The Mighty Sparrow’s “Sparrow vs, The Rest”, I imagine that I’m there, hugging and kissing all of my relatives in their old Point Fortin home.
For Christmas that year, my parents gifted me a record player, and that’s when I got to really dig into the collection that I’d built out of my family’s old records. I learned to love a lot of musicians this way — Wes Montgomery, the Talking Heads, Nat King Cole and Supertramp.
One of my most prized records is a super worn copy of Carole King’s album, Tapestry. It’s my mom’s favourite record from the set we found. Her last name is scribbled along the side in blue pen ink. I like to put it on and imagine her singing along to it in her childhood bedroom. When I put it on now, we both sing along to “It’s Too Late” with all our might.
I buy my own records now when I really like an album so that, just in case the internet implodes, I have a copy on hand that I can turn to. I also love the idea that one day down the line, I can pass down my collection and help someone else discover old classics. Vinyl is notoriously expensive, but it’s worth it for those special albums that hold a lot of meaning.
Even though it may not feel worth it to spend $40 on a new release when it comes out, I really believe that owning the music you love enriches and adds more meaning to the listening experience. I choose the albums that I want to buy carefully; the albums that really shaped my high school years and the ones that I’m currently obsessed with, are the ones I want to share one day with younger generations of my family.