It’s not altogether strange that iTunes paid $100 million last year to sell/infect us all withU2’s Songs of Innocence. Music retailers need to get creative. Both digital sales and CD sales were down (again) last year, and the one last bastion of hope came from an unexpected place: vinyl. And vinyl sales didn’t just go up — they went way up — a staggering 52 percent over the year before. So who exactly are the people keeping the industry alive?
Director Jason Blackmore had a simple concept: let people talk about the music they love. In a very DIY-punk fashion (no fancy lighting, a single camera), he headed straight into people’s living rooms, talking to them about the records that got them hooked on music and collecting for life.
It’s not an overly ambitious perspective, but in some ways it’s an entirely refreshing one — if just in the fact that this film doesn’t seem to have any other agenda besides, “Hey, so this is the shit we dig.” Since the film is entirely made up of interviews with hardcore vinyl collectors, there’s not a lot of room for the sort of exposition or additional research that might try to construct a certain opinion; the filmmakers just let the fans be fans.
Every now and then the indie blog-o-sphere will explode with a thinkpiece on how streaming services like Spotify are unfair and ultimately unsustainable for artists, which all is probably true, but no one’s ever quite taken the positive angle: “Hey, guys. Remember how much we used to like this?”
So within the film’s 60 minutes, you won’t find any harping on declining sales and only a casual mention of the death of the record store. This fact is both limiting and freeing. The fact of the matter is a collection of music fans simply talking about their favorite albums and a handful of memories isn’t going to change the conversation in the way some documentaries strive to do. But the film, like a lot of indie punk, seems to work on a micro level. The call to action seems to be found in the spirit of getting a group of grown adults to geek out for a full hour. The fact that they come off like geeks, and not super snobby elitists, is entirely why this works on some level. You almost hope someone brought their little brother or sister to a screening, and they got the sense that “Hey, I can do this, too.”
There’s usually a certain pretension associated with vinyl collecting that is pleasantly absent in this film. The New York Times ran an op-ed late last year, where the writer lamented that in a world of streaming, he has no way to judge if his friends and would-be lovers are worth his time (in that totally accessible way looking through a record collection was once able to provide). I mean, really? Did any of us really, at a core level, get into music so we could judge people? As an alternative to this perspective, the film takes a detour into indie record stores, and interviewees nostalgically remember having their tastes guided and shaped by the people that worked there. When did we lose the environment where we all just wanted to help each other find something to love?
That implicit invitation to a new generation of vinyl collectors is the film’s greatest strength. This is the most approachable group of music junkies you’ll find. One guy very seriously remembers how much he used to love listening to “On Top of Spaghetti”. “Just him talking about a meatball,” he says, “I thought that was so funny.” After a few seconds of dead silence he adds, “It probably still would be with the right drugs.”
Although most of the film is subjective opinion (about meatballs and otherwise), we do get a fair amount of history via the interviews. These guys and gals recall a time not just before streaming but before the emergence of record stores — when Sears, flea markets, and the random pizza shop in San Diego were your go-to spots for buying albums. Record stores came later. It almost makes you wonder if people should chill the fuck out over Urban Outfitters selling vinyl. Sure, support the businesses you want to see thrive — if you’re lucky enough to have an indie record store down the street, rock on — but people getting music where they can get music is nothing new. As long as you enjoy it, man.
Having said that, there’s plenty of nostalgia thrown in for the record store days. People can remember exactly where they bought each record, what they did that night, and how bad playing it over and over in the living room pissed off their parents. Tangible memories seem to come hand in hand with tangible purchases. Surely, we’ve lost something there.
While the film is full of heart, you sometimes wish you couldn’t clearly make out the formula: asking a question and rotating through the cast of eclectic characters before moving on to topic number two. It makes the less interesting answers drag a bit. We could do with a bit of editing — not every answer needs to be included. Do we need to hear from the folks who hate record stores? Something so noncontroversial really doesn’t need all the angles. It just slows down the rhythm. And cinematically, the editing is a bit weird too. The film is bookended with a pair of live performances, which I guess gives a fair nod to the DIY-punk aesthetic that informs the whole film but a little context would be appreciated. The performances feel glued on — which could easily be fixed by interviewing said performer and transitioning from question to performance.
Jaggedness aside, the film ends with that same positivity it begins with as the interviewees talk about their last vinyl purchases. Yeah, we’re talking the likes of Kendrick Lamar andLana Del Rey. It’s a relevant note to end on because as sales demonstrate, vinyl collecting isn’t a lost art of an older generation. It’s coming back. And it’s time to brush off the dust.