Creative Writing

Published on September 9th, 2015 | by Rafael Alvarez


Playing Records at Rangeley

236alvarezrecords-quoteI thought I was pretty cool back in the first grade—1964, white-hot ground zero of global Beatlemania; knew there was no turning back once I took hold of the Jerry Vale pompadour my parents sent me to school with, combed it straight down across my eyebrows, and took a pair of kiddie scissors to it.

For good report cards, I received Beach Boys albums, knowing in my six-year-old soul upon first listening to “In My Room,” that Brian Wilson was a genius with years to go before hearing Pet Sounds.

236alvarezrecords-poppinscoverPretty darn cool until recently, lakeside in Rangeley, Maine, with my wife and her extended family—reading Middlemarch in the sunshine at a camp where her father learned to walk more than a hundred years ago—I stumbled upon the original soundtrack to Mary Poppins in an old cardboard box of LPs.

And I remembered that no matter what I may have thought at the time, I was still very much a little kid back when Ringo was shouting, “Ah, rock on George, do it one time for me!”

For my birthday that year, my Aunt Sylvia—knowing I was Beatles crazy—called and asked me what record I wanted. And I said, without reflection, Mary Poppins. She asked me if I was sure and I said yes and that’s what I got.

Mary Poppins When The Fabs Had Just Put Out Something New.

It’s good to be reminded that the kid inside the kid knew a few things that the leather-clad rocker waiting to break out did not.

I had seen Mary Poppins with my Polish grandmother (who loved putting her grandchildren on a transit bus and going downtown to see “a picture”) and the song that stayed with me was not “Chim Chim Cher-ee” or the film’s hit, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which charted at No. 66 in 1965.

236alvarezrecords-edwynnMy favorite song from the movie was “I Love to Laugh,” sung by the great clown Ed Wynn [1886–1966], who belted it out between guffaws and chortles while floating near the ceiling of the room, the very alchemy of mirth making him a human balloon.

Windex and paper towels… Internet vinyl geek approved, though the super nerds suggest a “vacuum recorder cleaner,” which is somewhat out of the question in that I don’t even vacuum my car or house, much less my LPs.

236alvarezrecords-1There was a little boy with us in Rangeley, a smart and beautiful three-year-old named Julian (for the great-grandfather he never met, Julian S. Stein, Jr.) and I brought him over to the 1970s Magnavox turntable (complete with “built-in” cassette deck) near the window, put on the Poppins LP, and together we sang, “I Love to Laugh.”

When the song was over, he scampered away to play with his trucks and dinosaurs and I began combing the box of Stein family treasures: original Beatles’ albums (including Something New, with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in German,) my wife’s middle school handwriting across the cover of the Beach Boys’ Endless Summer (which I had on 8-track), and true, true blues: Albert King’s Live Wire/Blues Power on Stax, Johnny Winter’s 1969 debut for Columbia Records, and The Last of the Great Blues Singers, by Lightin’ Hopkins (Time Records, 1962, its cover missing.)

The albums were in disarray—in the wrong jackets, caked with dust and dirt and gunk, lying flat upon one another without their sleeves—and I went for the Windex, paper towels, and an old milk crate made of steel.236alvarezrecords-albertblues

[The vinyl geeks on the Internet say there’s nothing especially wrong about cleaning record albums with Windex and paper towels but for a truer fidelity—“was ever a woman in this humor wooed/was ever a woman in this humor won?—a record “vacuum” is desired.]

So the rest of the family went out their outdoor fun—kayaking, hiking, bicycling, none of it for me—and I spent a quiet afternoon sipping coffee while cleaning records, curating records, repairing LP covers with tape but most importantly, playing records.

I love to laugh, I truly do, but I what I really like to do is rock and roll myself back into childhood.

Rafael Alvarez can be reached via  The Local Voice Ligature

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About the Author

Rafael Alvarez is a reporter, short story writer & screenwriter based in Baltimore. He has been visiting & writing about Mississippi since 1984. A former staff writer for HBO's "The Wire," his new book is a collection of short fiction called "Tales From the Holy Land."

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