The silent return of vinyl records
M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Chicago, Illinois
There is one good reason why the movie High Fidelity, based on Nick Hornby's best-selling novel set in London, was shot in Chicago.
The largest city in the Midwest has been long known as a Mecca for indie rock and the place where a countless number of bands built their credibility. In the days of yore, little-known bands like Slint, Silver Jews, Tortoise or big arena rocker Smashing Pumpkins built their fan base in Chicago while laboring in obscurity under the tutelage of labels like Touch and Go, Drag City and Thrill Jockey Records.
Recently big acts the likes of Wilco and the Breeders repatriated to Chicago to work on their new albums.
But the ultimate reason for the movie being shot in Chicago is the fact that the windy city is home to a large population of independent music stores manned by people who are as devoted as the characters of Rob Gordon and his cranky clerk Barry.
In fact, on a fine day of spring, hungry vinyl fetishists will likely find one of those High Fidelity moments in one of Chicago's record stores.
Earlier this month, in Kiss the Sky Record store in Geneva, just outside Chicago, I got into a tense argument about the best five rock records of all time with the store manager, Steve.
Steve Warrenfeltz, the 50-something record store owner, could not reconcile his choice of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band and Rubber Soul, The Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society, Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced? and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon with my top three picks: Television's Marquee Moon, Gang of Four's Entertainment and the Smiths' The Queen is Dead.
But the upside to having an argument with a bohemian record store manager is that you end up getting a vinyl of the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo for just US $3.
"The good thing about running a record store is that we will always bump into crazy people like you guys," Warrenfeltz told me before I left the store.
Yes, it is this kind of record store that can be found in the Chicago-land area: stores run by dedicated vinyl junkies like Steve, a guy who once worked as a roadie for the Kinks in the mid 1960s and who was more than happy to leave his well-paid job for corporate America only to pursue his labor of love.
For a totally different experience, I recently checked out Dave's Record in downtown Chicago.
This store takes rock snobbism (or using the popular election jargon elitism) to a new level. The sign on the door to Dave's Records says it all. "No CD's!! Never had 'em!! Never Will!!"
Located in the upmarket Chicago District of Clark Street, Dave's Record caters to the need of hipster college kids who scavenge rare copies of Marquee Moon or the Minutemen's Double Nickels On the Dime.
A trendy-looking clerk sat up on his platform watching over me salivating over thousands of rare vinyl records.
And when I paid for my purchase, the clerk gave me a disapproving look. He was also probably baffled by my purchase of Marquee Moon, Pixies' Doolittle and Young Marble Giants' Colossal Youth.
Or it might have been that I was the first Southeast Asian to visit his store.
Even deep in a Midwestern county like DeKalb, music addicts can still find a decent store that keeps a steady supply of both new and used vinyl records at low prices.
Located in the midst of Northern Illinois University (NIU)'s dorms and lecture halls is DeKalb's oldest record store Record Revolution, or Record Rev for short.
"Record Rev started up in September 1973, back when Dark Side Of The Moon was at the top of the charts. We started out selling LPs at $4 including tax! Now 34 years later, we are still selling LPs at $4 (in our used department)," store owner Mark Cerny said in the record store website.
The last time I went to the record store, an Indonesian friend got a free LP for buying records worth more than $15.
But the greatest compliment came from one of the store's clerks, who praised my pal for purchasing the Arcade Fire debut album Funeral on vinyl. I think they became friends after that.
Such is the joy of being a vinyl addict these days, the warmth of human interaction absent from the aisles of Wal-Mart, Target or Best Buy or when one presses the "buy song" button on iTunes.
The proliferation of MP3s, both legal and illegal, has cheapened music, giving true music fans the strong conviction to distance themselves from the crowd and embrace vinyl records.
In recent years, in the midst of slumping CD sales, the sale of vinyl records has soared through the roof.
Time magazine reported last year that 990,000 albums were sold on vinyl, up 15.4 percent from 2006. Music rag Spin also reported that the Chicago-based Music Direct, a purveyor of turntables and new and reissued vinyl has seen the format's sale surge by more than 300 percent in the last three years.
The rise in the sale of vinyl has driven record companies, indie labels in particular, to issue the work of their artists on vinyl with a price lower than that of the CD format. The price tag for the Shins' debut album Oh, Inverted World on vinyl is $8, while the CD format is available for $13.
Vinyl has also become the weapon for musicians to lure fans to buy more of their work. After releasing their new album In Rainbows on MP3 format late last year, British avant-garde rockers Radiohead in January released the album in a box set containing two vinyl discs and extended liner notes.
Last month, Warner Bros dusted off its vault and reissued Metallica's back catalog only on the vinyl format. As of now, only Ride the Lightning and Kill 'Em All are available on the market. Metallica's thrash metal masterpiece Master of Puppets will only come out on vinyl on June 10. Next in line will be reissues of early releases from Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
On May 20, San Francisco-based record label 4 Men with Beards released Velvet Underground debut album Velvet Underground & Nico for the American market. In the past, 4 Men with Beards has bought the rights to classic records like Aretha Franklin's Lady Soul, Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis and Buzzcock's Singles Going Steady and has started pressing them for the American market.
There is no time like the present to become a vinyl junkie.