Drunk on Vinyl

It was a simple little thing that turned into so much more. Michael Lavorgna started it. Out of the blue and as sudden as spring, he sent an e-mail to me and speaker designer John DeVore: "Let's plan a trip to the Princeton Record Exchange!" And, just in case 60,000 beautiful LPs wouldn't be enough of a lure, Michael put a cherry on top: "The Triumph Brewing Company is right next door!"

Have you heard? Michael Lavorgna and John DeVore are into vinyl. They are also into beer. In the hearts and minds of these two manly men, vinyl plus beer equals love. A trip to the record store, punctuated by delicious ales and stouts, with music-loving friends on a warm, spring day—what could be better?

Michael suggested that we go on a weekday—weekends at the popular PREX are just so crazy—when we'd have the place all to ourselves. John immediately agreed: "Okay, I'm leaving now," he wrote. "I'll be in your driveway in about 30 minutes at the rate I'm driving! Are we there yet?" He was clearly eager. Michael was similarly ready to go, and I didn't take much more convincing. It would have to be done. "It's a smart thing to do," Michael confirmed.

John left his Lower East Side apartment a little after 9:30 on a Friday morning, made his way through the yellow-lit Holland Tunnel, and picked me up from the side of the road, near an Exxon station in dirty Jersey City. That's how we audiophiles roll. On the ride down, we talked of music, of baseball, of Africa, of family, and of the new loudspeaker designs waiting on John's busy workbench. "You know you're going to have to buy some vinyl while we're down there," John added.

"I plan to," I replied. I don't own a turntable. But I figured I wouldn't be able to resist, and anyway, I'd already been planning to get into vinyl.

Exactly 57 minutes later we were in the PREX parking lot, feeding as many quarters as possible into the stingy silver meter. As John emptied out his pocket, I noticed Michael approaching from the opposite end of the lot. Coming from a ways west, in the wilds of hilly Hunterdon County, Michael had somehow arrived at the very same moment we had. It was a good sign. High-fives, hellos, fists in the air. We walked happily inside.

Do you know the smell of 60,000 LPs? Can you imagine it? It's the smell of earth and tobacco, dirt and wood and black cardamom. Walk into the Princeton Record Exchange and you are greeted by this old, comfortable smell—you are overcome by it. A single long, long row of vinyl draws you in like a bending finger. And then there's more and more. New arrivals, reggae, funk and blues and soul, country and folk, classical, Latin, jazz and rock'n'roll, and more and more and more. My eyes went wide. I didn't know where to begin.

I followed John and Michael to the classical section, where we stayed for a time, until we'd gathered our wits and gone our separate ways. We hunted, silent and focused, stopping only to quickly share special finds. The first treasure John discovered was a beautiful, vintage Deutsche Grammophon boxed set of Beethoven's symphonies from Karajan and the BPO. Sticker price: $9. Michael's first discovery was 1979's BUY, the only album released by NYC's outrageous no-wave pioneers, the Contortions. I think he wanted it as much for its sexy cover art as for the music inside. My first pick was a hard-to-find Charlie Rodriguez and Ray Reyes album from the old SAR label. I'd planned on buying only one or two albums. Why would I need vinyl when I didn't even have a turntable? But, in no time at all, I had a heavy stack in my hands. It was unavoidable.

Sometime around noon, we decided to take a break. We handed our records to the clerk, who piled them behind the counter, and we strolled over to the Triumph Brewing Company. Over beers and burgers, the guys asked if I had any plans for later in the day. "Nope, no plans," I replied, innocently. Michael looked at John. John looked at Michael. Michael turned to me. "Well, I just happen to have a Rega P3 in the back of my car..." My face must have shown shock and wonder. "...and we were thinking that we'd go back to your place afterward and listen to our new records."

What could I say? It would be the smart thing to do. In fact, it would have to be done.

Many happy hours and beers later, having bought so much more vinyl than we'd intended to, we were back at my Jersey City apartment. John sat on the wood floor, getting the P3 ready to make music. The few quarters he hadn't fed to the meter were now used to level the turntable. Michael phoned another friend to help determine the proper alignment of the Denon DL-103 cartridge. Cables were inspected, an Auditorium 23 step-up transformer was placed on the floor under the turntable, and, in very little time, we were ready to go.

The first album I reached for was Betty Davis' raunchy and bewitching They Say I'm Different. I removed the shrink-wrap—deliberately, slowly—and was struck again by that wonderful, earthy scent. I held the album gently in my hands, admiring the great and generous artwork and liner notes, marveling over the bonus 45rpm single, and feeling very lucky—as if I'd entered into something very special. I walked over to the 'table, and John and Michael watched happily as I set the record on the platter and it began to spin.

We took turns—first John, then Michael, then me—audiophiles, music lovers, friends—getting drunk on vinyl and drunk on the night, playing our new records and listening, really listening, drawing closer and closer to the music with each successive spin. It was the smart thing to do. It had to be done.

Ornello's picture

Records suck, always have, always will. I got rid of mine 29 years ago. Good riddance!