My parents donated their entire collection of vinyl to me recently. They’d downsized and didn’t have the space for records they don’t listen to any more (and what’s the point of keeping hold of LPs when you no longer have a turntable to play them on?). I cheerily took them off their hands. Among the dross (which later went to the charity shop) I found a few nuggets of gold. A numbered edition of The White Album with its fold-out sleeve notes and glossy photographs of John, Paul, George and Ringo; most of Dylan’s output from the 1970s, including the scorching Blood on the Tracks and Desire; and everything Joni Mitchell ever did (The Hissing of Summer Lawns is still one of my favourite albums). There was also some Cat Stevens. I remember Dad playing Catch Bull at Four when we lived in our house on Lodge Lane. I must have been about five or six years old. There are some great songs on that album: Sitting, Can’t Keep It In and O Caritas. Dad would get me to sing the lyrics from the gatefold sleeve. So it was with a rosy nostalgic glow that I replayed the album recently, and found the songs to still be as good as I remembered.
Even though I buy CDs and download MP3s, I still own a turntable and don’t want to disconnect myself from the magic that records possess. It’s dirty magic, with all those scratches and hisses, but compelling all the same. There’s a fetish involved that isn’t there in the shiny mirror of a CD, or the intangible code of bit torrents. The size and splendor of the sleeve, the thin, glassine sheath from which you slide the vinyl into your hand, the smell. The ritual of wiping the surface with a cloth. The swing of the stylus. The expectant crackle as the music is wound towards its needle. The play of reflected light, like an infinity sign on the wall… In the same way I wouldn’t be without my Remington Noiseless typewriter (noiseless? Yeah, right….) or the Bakelite telephone I salvaged from a skip in Belsize Park. Close relics of an age I lived through, but already I find it hard to believe that we didn’t always have mobile phones or email or home computers.
Anyway, I’m glad I listened to the album again, because that spirit of nostalgia gave me the title for my latest published story, O Caritas, in the Solaris Book of New Fantasy. It’s a futuristic story, a sequel to London Revenant, but despite all the polished steel and glass, travel by gossamer, death squads in the street and a crisis in the tunnels, there’s still space for some vintage Cat Stevens:
Ah, this world is burning fast,
Oh, this world will never last,
I don’t want to lose it, here in my time,
Give me time for ever, here in my time.