Home Is Where My Record Collection Is

published Jun 4, 2021
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Credit: Kelley Raye

When I divorced my ex, he got the Mini Cooper, and I got the majority of the vintage vinyl collection. I thought it was a fair trade — after all, there were four original pressings of Zeppelin records involved. 

Up until the day we negotiated who would get what, that collection was stored in a record table console right next to a living room table that was too big for just the two of us. The spacious dining room, much like the oversized back patio, and double ovens in the kitchen next to an island we deemed perfect for conversational seating, were all reasons we chose the house. I remember trying to decorate for both of us, punctuating my femme midcentury modern taste with southwest masculine detail, hanging an oversized steer skull over the entryway, and throwing burnt-orange vintage kilim pillows I collected from Etsy on nearly every piece of furniture, anything to make that space feel like “ours.”

We envisioned holiday parties and entertaining friends, but when all of those attempts to build a future amounted to nothing, it wasn’t the decoration or the parties that were hard to part with. Instead, it was the memory of the quieter moments — when we would sit without speaking, spinning “El Camino” by The Black Keys on vinyl, sipping Makers Mark on ice, and conjuring up a feeling I can only refer to as “home.”

Months after we divvied up the records, I emptied my storage unit to move from Atlanta to New York City. There was only enough room in the van for either my chest of drawers or that aforementioned console. (I’ll let you guess which one made the cut.) I found myself in a guitar-riddled loft on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, living with a fun-loving, well-connected roommate who utilized the expansive kitchen and living room space as an event and catering hub for his gluten-free pizza business. There were nights I felt grateful to rub shoulders with members of my favorite bands as they ate sweet potato pizza in the same kitchen I made my scrambled eggs in each morning. There were also nights I was frozen by the culture shock of moving across the country to a completely different place into a completely different lifestyle that was worlds away from everything I knew. Luckily, I had my records, I had my turntable, and when I wasn’t seeing bands down the block at The Bowery, or questioning my life choices in a Soho coffee shop, I’d sit on my rattan queen bed, spin “Day and Age” by The Killers, and by the time the third track would play, I’d feel like I was home.

Credit: Kelley Raye

Eventually, I made it into my own place, a junior one-bedroom where the kitchen, living room, and office blended into each other. I didn’t mind the lack of space because I had my freedom, I had my own apartment, but more importantly, I had my music. And now, after vacating Manhattan’s East Village for greener (and more spacious) pastures, my records have transformed Airbnbs, hotel rooms, and transient spaces across the South into homes, too.

As a music journalist, my desire to lug a turntable around with me may be more intense than that of most people, but I believe it’s more than that drawing me to my collection. For me,  vinyl has always created a sense of nostalgia, giving me a snapshot of where I bought it, who I was with, and what mental state I was in — something I rarely find in the immediacy of a download or by pressing play on a streaming app. Listening to vinyl, with its static and imperfections, feels like an appropriate reaction to a world that has leaned into digital convenience while popularizing “perfection” — or at least the quest for something that may never truly exist.

I recently read an article in National Geographic that said people often embrace rituals in an attempt to overcome fear and anxiety, because “most of them [are] attempts at avoiding negative outcomes.” It’s no surprise then, that I’ve clung tightly to my records while navigating the uncertainty of the past few years.

It’s also no surprise that when I’m feeling out of sorts and homesick for a place that may not even exist yet, my first inclination is to pour a glass of wine, throw Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors,” on the record player, and get a good cry in while singing along to “The Chain.” It grounds me. It reminds me of who I am when I’m far away from anyone who knows my name. That familiar ritual of putting on an LP reminds me that home isn’t just a place or a destination, but a feeling that’s only one song away. It’s also comforting to know that I’m apparently not the only one who self-soothes with vinyl: Despite the economic fallout of the pandemic, vinyl sales have increased exponentially in the past year

When people ask me where I intend to plant my flag next, I’ve become quite skilled at casually changing the topic of conversation because, at the moment, I do not know. This isn’t a bad thing — on the contrary, just like I patiently wait for my favorite song to play without the convenience of skipping through each track, I’m comfortable listening to myself until I find out. 

I do know, however, that in the not-so-distant future there will be a shelf, or perhaps a corner, or even a room, created for the sole purpose of listening to music. That’s the place where my records will spin evenly and without interruption soothing me through my oversized headphones or Marshall speakers. And the area around that space? That’s the place I’ll be comfortable calling home.