Never again will our culture know one of the signature pleasures of my childhood: perusing vinyl record racks. Certainly there's no shortage of LPs, which have gained credibility as objects of desire among the hipster set. But I'm not talking about today's readily available assortment of used records, overpriced reissues and expensive new releases on 180-gram platters. I'm thinking of the bygone era before the introduction of compact discs, when 8-tracks were lumbering toward extinction but the Sony Walkman had yet to spur an otherwise inexplicable popular explosion of cassette tapes. It was that period from the late Seventies into the early Eighties, a time when seemingly every retail environment had a record department in which I could easily kill any amount of time. Those years cover my maturation from about age nine to age fourteen, when I was often facing idle moments accompanying my parents at various stores. The record bins were my refuge.
I spent hours flipping through the bins, an egalitarian art gallery that thrilled me with arresting imagery and opened my eyes to a wider world. Prior to the Internet, it was the primary source of information about recording artists you admired as well as a showcase for bands of which you had never heard. Oh, you might have picked up a few tidbits in a music magazine, caught your favorite group in a rare television appearance or heard the hits on the radio. But the record racks familiarized you with discographies, song titles and the imagery those artists wanted you to see. You could look through someone's back catalog and piece together their longevity, relative popularity and aesthetic evolution. All of this could be gleaned by handling these marvelous, shrink-wrapped, 12-inch squares of cardboard packaging, sometimes bulging with the tantalizing thickness of double or even triple gatefolds.
Thirteen years ago, I was diagnosed with dysthymic disorder, a chronic condition that is considered less severe than clinical depression yet typically features similar symptoms that exist over a greater period of time. Prior to my diagnosis, I had likely endured dysthymia for five to seven years with very little therapeutic and no medical intervention. It took a lot of time for me to seriously consider that my symptoms were not caused by my circumstances but merely aggravated by them. The real cause of my recurring malady, or so my experience suggests, is a chemical imbalance that can be corrected to a degree by the appropriate medication.
Those ignorant of depression and its insidious nature might conclude that I had “nothing to be depressed about” when the condition first manifested itself in my late twenties. After all, I was a happily married new father of stable employment living in our own home in a pleasant suburban neighborhood. A loving and caring network of extended family, friends and neighbors enriched my life. I had plenty of outside interests to enhance my leisure time. How could I have been depressed? But, of course, the illness doesn’t work that way.