Harvest never sounded so good: on uncovering my grandfather’s turntable

I doubt my grandfather’s turntable ever spun a Beatles album. I’m almost equally positive that John Lennon’s Imagine and Neil Young’s Harvest never crossed its needle. In fact, of the records I played tonight – in tribute both to the art and the history of this turntable – only Johnny Cash was a probable match.

I don’t know how long he had it. I know that my grandmother sent it home with my father after my grandfather had passed away, and my father gave it to me yesterday now that I have room to store it along with his and my mother’s collection of albums from the 70s and 80s, along also with my grandfather’s collection of 50s and 60s country albums, along also with my great grandmother’s collection of 40s 78 rpm albums, most of them big band and classical.

Three generations of record collections. Four distinct different styles. All together, all ready to be rediscovered.

The first album sounded awful – the record player must be broken, I thought. The next sounded better. Not crystal clear, but good enough to bring a wave of nostalgia.

The third – the aforementioned Harvest – sounded crackled and muted and flat, its grooves popping sound into a decades old needle, the album itself waving up and down like a nearly-calm lake, the entire contraption just one bump away from a horrendous record scratch, like the ones you hear in cheesy radio ads.

Which is to say it sounded perfect.

But it was Johnny Cash that tuned my ears to history. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the record player sat beneath a picture of my grandfather. Looking on. Wondering, probably, what the racket was all about.

In the picture my grandfather stands, holding a fish, shirtless and stern and young and optimistic. And hopefully he understands that, though he’s been gone for years, though he never would have approved of the music I was playing, though we had nothing in common music-wise outside of a slight appreciation for Cash and Hank Williams and Merle Haggard, I was at least walking in his footsteps, even with this one little act.

Lift the arm. Set the speed to 33 1/3. Line up the grooves. And relive history.

This was lovingly handwritten on April 19th, 2010