Vinyl is back. Back in black.
My daughter’s friends bought her a record player last year for her 17th birthday. Why? Because in case you hadn’t heard, vinyl is back. Those big black discs of polyvinyl chloride with one long continuous groove are selling like, er, hit records.
Vinyl is back. In a way that CDs will never be back. CDs have gone the way of the dinosaurs and hair rock. Like the Stegosaurus and Twisted Sister, CDs have had their time. Now it’s either high tech or high fidelity. Nothing in between.
And vinyl is back big time. In the year since that birthday, my daughter has bought heaps of it. She now stores it in the old 1930s ice chest I once renovated and that used to live in the kitchen full of plastics containers and lids we never used..
And she’s buying the old stuff. The really old stuff. And here’s the thing. All the reports from my friends is that their kids are buying up classics too. Vinyl albums of early sixties through to early seventies. It’s Zeppelin or Floyd or Dylan.
For my daughter it’s The Beatles, and solo George Harrison and John Lennon from the early 70s. Oh she has Sufjan Stevens as well (it would be a crime not to have Sufjan on vinyl), but it’s the retro sound and the retro crackle on a cheap turntable that is compelling.
Yep, vinyl is back. And the economic evidence is there too. The local secondhand store has been bought out by a hipster kinda couple and there is a huge wall of vinyl now where before there was bric-a-brac. Now it’s everything from the fifties through to the latest indie. And they’re downsizing the secondhand bits and bobs in order to make more room for it.
“It’s our biggest seller,” said the new owner to me recently, “We’ve got no plans to shut it down.”
There’s something about the old being new again, something about the past being honoured too. Something beyond the kitsch appeal. I was driving last week through the countryside with my daughter to a holiday campsite where she was a leader and we were discussing the whole fascination with the past. She felt there was something tangible about vinyl, something beyond subscription to a streaming service. Something real.
And then she said this:
“I bought the first Beatles album and I put it on the record player and I imagined the feelings I would have had back in 1963 as one of those millions of young girls who lowered that needle down for the first time on that album. And I felt it took me back there.
That’s a compelling thought. A link to the past. A link to a specific past when life seemed somehow more solid. When the things we bought were more solid. The artwork on the album cover. The inner sleeve. The swish as you brush your hand lightly over that ebony surface. And that split second hiss before the music starts.
That link to the past. A more solid past. I’ve noticed it too in church. I’ve noticed it in the rising interest in the older liturgies, or the reinterpretation of the older hymns. That’s the positive.
And I’ve noticed the rootlessness, the sense of ennui among our younger generations which have increasingly tenuous links with anything. They’ve been marinaded in the belief that they can be anything, do anything, go anywhere. And so many of them are simply asking “Couldn’t I be something, do something, go somewhere?” No wonder many of them are harking back to a past – an airbrushed view of the past no doubt – but a past that seemed far more solid than the future they’re looking at.
That’s a clarion call to the church too. Not simply to stick with the old forms of liturgy or worship, even though these are increasingly popular again. We don’t want form without substance.
But the call is for the church to hold on to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. To hold our nerve. And to revel in it. To revel in forms and shapes and buildings that link us back through history. To showcase the fact that Christianity didn’t just grow on a tree, even though its founder was nailed to one. It’s a call to resist the siren call to get rid of our old records, so to speak.
To strip the church of its links to the past, its rich history for the sake of being relevant is foolish and futile. The church only has a healthy future insofar as it stays true to the gospel handed on to us and which we have the privilege to hand to the next generation, intact and unchangeable. And we’re only ever one baton drop from failure. Only one garage sale away from getting rid of a timeless classic.
And that’s true across the board for church. The orthodox sexual ethic of the church since its inception is vinyl. The sexual ethic of the church transformed the way the Roman Empire did relationships. Let’s not give it up.
Let’s not be the generation that does that. We’ll live to regret it. Regret it like I regret the way our family gave away the old radiogram we once owned, spurning it as out of date and out of use. I’d give anything to have that old piece of furniture back again. One day those churches that have rolled over, caved in, “re-interpreted” “affirmed”, whatever you want to call it, will be as relevant, interesting and desirable as a Vanilla Ice CD mouldering on the rack of a truck stop out the back of Michigan.
Go on, admit you owned it, if you dare.
Vinyl is back. And it’s not going away.