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Matt Jennings

Matt Jennings

Insofar as the things one does defines who he is, Matt Jennings draws, collects comics, wakes up early, sings songs, makes dioramas, bangs a banjo, and generally plays the fool. One or a combination of these traits likely keeps him a bachelor. Hipsters say he was a geek before geek was cool; geeks say he was a hipster before he took an arrow in the knee. He likes Buster Keaton, old school hip hop, and stand-up comedy, and remembers rotary telephones. By day he edits curriculum, making enough to keep him in vinyl records—by night, he sleeps.



Smoking Vinyl

Some stops are better than starts, just as some starts are better than stops.

There was a sidebar ad going around the Internet recently for AC/DC, the seminal Australian rock band. The ad announced that all of the band’s albums, all of their songs, were now available on iTunes. “Mastered for iTunes,” said the ad, and audiophiles the world over cringed. This heavy, driving music has been reduced in quality so that it will sound passable as it bleeds from tinny ear buds everywhere. So there’s flow: the easy glide of technology, the forever forward-thinking, ever shrinking devices, amalgamation of many into one. There’s no stopping the tide.

But there is a whole ocean out there, and there’s water that hasn’t touched the shore in years. Does this make it any less a part of the tide? When I read that ad a few weeks ago, I likely complimented my cringe with a cigarette. I have been a smoker for 16 years, but as with everything, there is an ebb and flow. In the few weeks since I saw that ad, I have become a non-practicing smoker, which is a welcome and frankly tasty ebb that I hope to continue. Keep that particular tide out. But I feel like I am on the shore, staring at the horizon and waiting for it to inevitably flow back.

For all the cringing at the consequences, there is another ebb that is slowly making it’s way back to shore and creating a tributary that flows against the tide. Record stores have been cropping up with more regularity in the last ten years. You no longer have to frequent garage sales and flea markets to find vinyl, and chances are good that you’ll find new artists alongside the platters that your parents used to listen to. The packaging is grand, with large covers and liner notes you can read easily. Some records come in a gatefold, like a two page book that opens to reveal more notes or art. It’s like getting a gift wrapped in a gift.

I once thought about packs of cigarettes that way. The act of opening a pack every day was like opening a present. It was getting something new every day, something straight from the factory, unadulterated and pure in its own poison way. In an absurd fashion, it made the little consumer in me clap with glee to have new things every day. Even if those things were really not good for me, were kind of smelly and foul tasting.

We need the ebbs to check the flow. The experience of listening to a record as opposed to a CD or an MP3 is one that is considered, careful and richer. If MP3s are cigarettes, vinyl is a fine cigar. You have to pick an album, not for that one song, but for the document as a whole. You pick sides, not songs. There is no shuffle, no random plays. It is rarefied sound, raw and full and resonant, transportation to another time and place. How can one possibly achieve this auditory bliss while riding the bus, back-to-back and belly-to-belly with a hundred other people whose ears are pudgy with ear buds?

Careful choice. I still meet a colleague every morning at work. This time was once for smoking and chewing the fat, but now it is just for gossip and five minutes of sanity before the day really starts. I breathe some second hand smoke and we gab.

We live in a time where culture is in abundance. Information on nearly any subject is found in seconds from wherever you’re standing. There is no yield, no yellow lights, no stopping. I read again yesterday that modern humans process more information in a day than 16th-century humans did in their entire lifetime. This should give us pause, should it not? How do we take a break when we are treading water in this ocean of culture? I used to do it with a smoke, now I’m trying to do it with a side of vinyl.


"The Brain, within its Groove Runs evenly -- and true -- But let a Splinter swerve --" Emily Dickinson

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