Last year I spoke to three different people in three different music stores in the first days following David Bowie’s death and all of them have a version of the same story: the majority of people that went in to inquire about Ziggy Stardust or The Man Who Sold The World or Hunky Dory or – even – Tonight made a point of telling the person behind the counter that they were replacing an old favourite. (Can’t be true in the case of Tonight, right?) These customers are so emphatic that they love Bowie – and always loved Bowie – they’re sealing the deal with the line, “just replacing the copy I wore out”.
CDs get scratched, can’t be played anymore, I’ve bought a replacement CD once or twice…but do records really wear out? I mean, I know they deteriorate, particularly if you don’t look after them – and really old, second-hand copies can wear thin, but I have LPs that have been in the family for 30-40 years, that my parents played most nights and that I’ve thrashed ever since. I have records much older than that, I’ve bought second-hand, they’re not in great condition, but I’ve taken them with me through flats, I’ve played them at home and on other stereos, even packed them into a crate to play in a bar…some of these records have cost $1, some less than that, and there are brand new records that you pay $20, $30,$50, $60 for and you play them nearly night and day, you can’t get enough of them. But they last. Right?
I get the effect of the phrase – you wore through it means you played it a lot. Maybe you marked it, scratched it, ruined the part of it you liked most, a key song or the perfect side of music has been ruined. But do you really wear them out entirely?
People talk about records being delicate – and obviously it is a finite resource, a little bit wears away with each play, but we’re talking microscopically there. And records are surely tougher than such hyperbole suggests. They don’t wear out. Not nearly as often as people are making believe.
There used to be some sense of intimidation at the music-store counter. You want to put across that you belong there, that you’re as hip as the person working there. Record store people aren’t often that hip. Trust me, I’m living proof I should think. And anyway, who wants to impress someone who works in a record store. Admitting to them that you have sloppy technique and can’t be trusted around perfectly good, strong records isn’t the way to go about it either.
I’ve bought replacement records because I inherited a copy where the best song has a scratch ruining a part of it, causing a little jump. I’ve bought replacement records because the cover is so tatty, I’ve bought replacement records because I lost the original – loaned it out, never got it back, left it in a flat…but I’ve never in my life worn through a record and killed it due to overplaying.
And what irks me most about this absurd line –“I wore it out” – is I’m sure I’ve said that once or twice myself. It certainly did happen with tapes. But a lot of the time you could fix those too.
So this is a genuine question – because I’m slightly fascinated with this – have you ever worn out a record, worn through it, destroyed it with love? Have you played a record thousands and thousands of times until it could play no more? I’m not saying I don’t believe you. (But there’s a good chance that I don’t).