Records can get you in groove that skips future

MICHAEL OLESKER

April 11, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

The man at the record store says I'm . . .

Wait a minute!

You see what I'm typing here? I am typing: record store -- when, for all intents and purposes, there are no such things as record stores any more, as records themselves are now being relegated to the dustbin of recording history, much as decipherable lyrics and hummable melodies have slipped into the past tense.

So: To begin again . . .

The man at the cassette store says I am . . .

"Hopeless."

"Hopeless?" I ask.

"Completely."

He says this in a nice, helpful, patronizing way, like a Boy Scout muttering something under his breath about an old coot whose hand he'll have to hold as he steers him across some great cultural divide.

Hopeless, he says, looking through some cassette recording racks.

I have come to this Recordmasters store, at the Rotunda, to inquire about a certain cassette recording of a singer who is no longer considered among the living. This is a technical call, about which more will be said later.

For the moment, let us merely consider the purchase of a cassette recording of this singer.

"Hopeless," says the man at the . . .

Record store? Absolutely not.

Cassette store?

Not, apparently, for long.

"Everything," he declares, "is headed toward CDs."

"Certificates of deposit?" I find myself asking. "I heard that money talks, but I didn't know it could sing."

"Compact discs," the salesman says, understanding now that he will never completely get me across that great cultural divide.

lTC "I knew that," I say, not entirely certain that I actually did.

He knows my uncertainty. He knows it because he is young and I am not, and he also must know that I want to go home and hide my room and hope no one will find out how electronically challenged I have become in this old age of mine.

When did this change occur in the recording business? I remember long-playing records coming in, somewhere in the '50s, and I remember cassettes coming in around the late '60s.

And then, a little over a year ago, wandering into the Record Theatre, on Liberty Road, I saw that the store's name had become a misnomer. There were almost no records. There were all these new things, these . . . CDs . . . all over the place, but at least there were thousands of cassettes there, too.

Who needed CDs? They were for kids, I figured. They were for effete musical snobs who thought they could detect differences in tonal quality in various types of recordings, and didn't mind paying the extra money for the CDs, or for the brand new CD

equipment.

And, not to be minimized, weren't old enough to have built up record or cassette collections that would be antiquated if CDs completely cornered the market.

Which, it turns out now, seems to be where we're ultimately headed.

"Hopeless," the salesman says, looking through a catalog book.

I have asked him if a cassette recording might exist of this opera singer who is no longer actively recording but whose work, I assumed, would live as long as there were records or tapes.

The problem, I never imagined, was that records and tapes would be leaving. And now, at Recordmasters, the salesman is pointing to this rather narrow corner of cassette racks.

"That's it," he says. "The rest of the store is pretty much CDs."

"Forever?" I ask, as though expecting the return of record albums one day, which is like waiting for the return of the 1950s.

"Until some new technology," he says.

It never ends, does it? The technology has to keep changing -- not just to improve the product (a dubious claim, at that) but to keep us buying.

But what about my record collection? Not only can I no longer find records to buy, but it's tough to find record players any more. And what about my cassette collection? Will they be phased out as well, leaving me with all these tapes and no place to play them?

In case you hadn't figured this out: Yes, there is panic in my voice. I don't do well with change. The future keeps arriving too soon.

But now, just as all musical hope seemed to be slipping out the window, friends come to the rescue. A gift arrives: A CD player. This, they tell me, will take me and my musical tastes into the 21st century. They even throw in a CD recording of Frank Sinatra's "Capitol Hits."

I am thrilled. I intend to take this CD player out of its cardboard box. I intend to learn how to use this modern new piece of equipment. I intend to do all of this one day soon.

Hopefully, some time before a brand new technology comes along that makes CD players obsolete.

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