Finding a Better Place for Music

My kids deserve a good soundtrack to their childhood. I don't want it coming from a phone.

I forgot all about music. For 15 years maybe, in fact. It was that blurry time between my mid-twenties till I hit forty -- that time where real life tends to impose itself. But before all that music was a cornerstone for me. While I never played an instrument, I was an avid listener in my teens. My taste wasn't exotic or gourmet -- just standard 90s alt-rock heavy on Nirvana, Pearl Jam and all.

But that's not what's interesting.

Remembering back, what's most remarkable is how intertwined music is with. . . well. . . remembering. I have these really strong musical "memory markers." I mean really vivid, close-my-eyes-and-I'm-right-back-there memories.

I remember as a kid driving from town after buying my first cassette tape, cruising up Kenmount Road at night, street lamps lighting the pavement orange as me and my family headed back home. The tape was Glass Tiger's Thin Red Line (No judgement please, this choice was purely the result of Canada's laws to promote a certain percent of Canadian content). But the title track I thought, as we drove up the road, was just the perfect driving tune. The actual cassette was a bizarre transparent pink plastic, which was just super cool.

But my point is, we all have this. If you think back to a song or album you loved (or hated) as a kid, you probably have a really strong memory of some people or places to go with it. Maybe it's a mix tape from a girlfriend. Or maybe it's some shitty album your family had around. My own parents didn't have a lot of music around -- my dad had a Loverboy tape (thanks again, Canadian content laws) which I remember was a hard white plastic cassette with a chip missing on the corner.

Anyway, as a relatively new parent myself I wondered about music and my own kids. In the age of Spotify on-demand singles when we've ditched physical media and full album plays, what will be their cassette tape memory?

So naturally as a concerned parent in the 2019, I had to buy my family a record player.

I'm no vinyl hipster, but I mean if I can remember dinky plastic tapes, imagine what musty giant records will do, right? I took on this task with the same intent you might take to decorating your kid's room. This is the likely sonic environment for my kids' early years. These will be their memory markers until they start branching out to explore their own.

I didn’t own any records, so I’ve had to buy a small collection. This is where living in Tokyo comes in handy, as used record stores are not hard to find. A typical purchase is about 500 yen (or $5), and I tend to favor female artists as my kids are both girls. Current favorites are the Sound of Music Soundtrack, Heart's Little Queen (my older kid loves Barracuda), and ABBA's Greatest Hits. One unforeseen benefit of all this occurred to me this afternoon when the in-laws swung by for lunch, and suddenly there was this musical bridge between grandkids and grandparents.

Turns out a record player (or I guess any fixed sound system) in the living room also really improves your chances of being able to turn off the TV. Some of our family’s nicest moments this year have been cooking and eating with the TV off and some record playing. In the past, the TV was hardly ever off, so this alone makes the record player purchase a good one.

I'm still not sure how this will work. I still use Spotify myself - it’s wonderful on my commute - and I’m sure my kids will push harder for small screens as they grow. For kids who make music, iPhone and iPads will be awesome tools for output. But I'm glad that I can point to the record player in the corner as our family's place for music consumption instead of a smartphone or tablet.

It’s one area among many where the invasive small screens have been kept at bay.

For now, anyway.

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