Jonathan Seidler is an Australian author, father and nu-metal apologist. You may have read his memoir, caught his compelling live performance at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, or noticed his distinct eyebrows on the street. He has some interesting things to say about music, fatherhood, Aussie culture, mental health and the social gymnastics of group chats. This is his column for Esquire.
My fourteen month-old daughter recently discovered my record collection. As with most things she encounters at floor level, she made the resolute decision to chew her way through it. It was a truly terrifying thing to behold for someone that owns as much vinyl as I do. While I delicately but firmly attempted to wrangle a rare Japanese pressing of The Supremes away from her sticky, dirt-encrusted mitts, I wondered when it had become this bad. Why did I continue to buy records in this day and age?
Like most late thirty-somethings that didn’t invent a hyper-successful start up, I live in a small apartment which is rapidly overflowing with the plastic accoutrements that come with rearing a small child. I also live in 2023, where almost all entertainment, be it music, film, television or books, has been effectively scrubbed from the physical world, replaced with the postmodern miracle of streaming.
Recorded music, which I am old enough to remember initially being disrupted by Napster, is arguably the most fully online of the lot. The heady days of Frank Ocean or Beyoncé platform exclusives are over. It takes seconds to find any song, by any artist, anywhere — less if you type as fast as I do and really just want to listen to Grinspoon right now.
And yet, I am amassing records. New ones, by artists whose entire output I can readily access for nothing on my phone and blast through a connected speaker. I’m not alone in this anachronistic behaviour. Australia — and much of the Western world — is in the throes of a legitimate vinyl resurgence, one that has been snowballing over the past decade. The last time we purchased this much wax per capita, I was still in the womb. In 2022 alone, we snapped up over a million physical records, many of them Taylor Swift.
There is something very weird about all of this, compounded by a recently released finding that 50 percent of vinyl purchasers in the US don’t actually own a record player, a figure which isn’t that difficult to extrapolate onto us. This music format is expensive, difficult to ship, prone to damage and obnoxiously space-hogging but here we are, reasonable adults in shrinking apartments with large mortgages, electing to buy a physical record that half of us cannot even play.
Choosing physicality in the age of ephemerality is a remarkably punk rock thing to do.
Surely there’s a lesson here, one that my daughter would probably teach me if she could talk. Choosing physicality in the age of ephemerality is a remarkably punk rock thing to do. It says something about our values and taste; about holding onto what matters, and remembering art in a giant whirlpool of always-on content. To buy a record is to place overdue emphasis on another person’s creative output, even if you can’t listen to it. It announces to a world in which we can have everything that we really only want this one thing.
Our parents had proper houses — and potentially entire rooms — in which to house their collections and oversized hi-fi gear. But I don’t. I would have enough space for a standing desk and a bar fridge if I did away with my record collection. Instead, I keep buying more, with annoying sleeves and strange packaging quirks that make them increasingly frustrating to chuck on when the mood strikes. I often feel my wireless Sonos laughing at me from its unassuming place in the corner.
Perhaps records remind us that people make music, even though robots can now also make music. Post-pandemic, I spend more days a week in my home than at an office, which is not unusual for my generation. I can easily go entire days without seeing or talking to anybody.
Disconnecting from broader society and using only online tools to reach one another means feeling in touch with something real is incredibly important. Outside of sport and the pub, men are historically woeful at setting themselves up with easy extracurricular social activities — especially heterosexual men. But golly do we love a 180g splatter vinyl for $79 (not including shipping.)
Whenever a record arrives at our overstuffed apartment, it always feels like a ceremony. Someone has recorded, pressed, designed, packaged and put this in the post just for me. A conversation with art is still a conversation.
Very imminently, my daughter will stand on her own little legs and start to have big opinions. When that happens, she’ll likely try to use my limited edition Arlo Parks vinyl as a frisbee. But given she’s grown up around records, maybe she’ll pull the dusty sleeve out of the crate and ask me to put it on instead.
Personally, I can’t wait for that moment. I’ve already planned it all out. I’ll put down my phone, kneel beside her on the floor and introduce her to all the friends that have kept me company during the days she was at kindergarten.
Like all proper columns, this one will be back next week. You can see Jonno’s previous columns for Esquire here.