Thursday, September 15, 2011

That Old Glenburn of Mine!

There have been more records in my life than squares of toilet paper. And considering how full of shit I am, that's saying something.

When I came along, my folks lived in a duplex in the north end of town, in a very old college neighborhood. It was the perfect place for a boy: There was a service station on the corner, with no end of trucks pulling in and out, and best of all, a railroad track just across the street.

I have only vague memories of my folks' first console stereo, a munchkin box from W. T. Grants, which was little more than a faux speaker grill on stubby legs. After that Hobbit delight passed came Big Sears--a seven foot behemoth, awash in fake oak laminate, with the obligatory plastic sunflower designs on the front panels.

The turntable was a Glenburn, and despite its Michael Myers-treatment of records, I'll always have a soft spot for this player. With its ridiculously-thin tonearm, cork turntable mat, and springy sounds during the change cycle, it was the first player I can remember watching on a regular basis.

In those days, the family TV set was still just a plastic Ford-Philco on a roller cart, with a speaker the size of a transistor radio--so Big Sears dominated, and rocked every hour. I knew good times were coming when Mom took down that brown paper sack of 45s from the hall closet--all records from her high school and college years: Mostly Beatles, Herman's Hermits, and "Georgie Girl" by the Seekers.

I liked watching 45s play the best; without regard to my fruit fly-attention span, you could really SEE the records as they played. The fact that the Glenburn used a crooked 45 adapter, and that its spindle faced bottom left instead of the universal upper right, certainly helped. How many hours did I spend, watching that orange-yellow swirl spin around and around? I'll never know; a lot!

There were albums, of course, but since you couldn't see them being played (only the top record in the stack, waiting for its turn), those had to be appreciated strictly for musical content, and not just the carnival aesthetics of spinning: Bobby Sherman, Tammy Wynette, and Leroy Holmes doing an album of western themes.

There were also 8-track tapes, but they were mostly blasphemous. At least with albums, eventually you could watch the top record as it turned. With tapes, there was only the occasional blip of the blue channel light as it jumped from one to four. Boo!

By the time my sister was born, the neighborhood had taken an unfortunate turn for the worse, so we moved further south to Red River. Despite its name, Red River was just a clump of very modest one-story brick houses; there may have been snooty aspirations, however, since instead of numerals, the house numbers were spelled out in a gaudy black font. So it wasn't "170," it was "One-Seventy!" Snooty. Or worse, Wanna-Be-Snooty.

I was immediately disappointed with the lack of railroad tracks. However, there were plenty of deep rain gullies in the field out back, and these became our trenches, hide outs, and secret trails. And there were enough wild blackberry bushes to keep our fingers purple all summer.

Around this time, the Ford-Philco was traded in for a big floor-model Quasar TV, and this spelled doom for Big Sears. During this time, I can't ever remember my folks using the stereo, except to placate me, and usually with Dad's old Bill Cosby albums.

By this time, most of Mom's 45s had passed down to me, which was exciting, but also unfortunate: Once records were played on my little Imperial machine, they couldn't come anywhere near Big Sears again. I suppose Mom thought the Imperial did bad things to records, maybe akin to wiping one's butt and then not washing one's hands. But in fairness, the Imperial hadn't widened the center hole of Barbara Streisand's "Stony End" to pre-1920 Harmony 78 size. Whatever.

For Christmas I got a GE Wildcat (in the bile-gray), my first ever record changer. Never mind that the automatic function didn't even last until my next birthday. Later I got a console of my own. Poor Big Sears.

By the time I started 2nd Grade, we had moved again, and Big Sears was relegated to the basement family room, where it would languish, used only occasionally by me--at least until an unfortunate incident in the early 80s.

My folks had bought me a big box of 1950s records at a garage sale, among them a nice set of Golden kiddie records. While playing "The Chocolate Cowboy," I noticed the 78 speed on the Glenburn was a little slow. For some reason, I thought this could be corrected by FORCING the speed switch further to the left.

Not only did this brilliant home remedy NOT work, it had the opposite effect: The speed knob snapped off in my chubby little hand, and the switch itself became forever lodged on 16 rpm. Sixteen, that pointless mystery speed; it couldn't have been 33, at least--I had plenty of 33s. No, 16--the least-seen records ever, in those pre-internet days.

Oops. I removed "The Chocolate Cowboy," turned the Glenburn off, and closed the lid. My only saving grace was that since nobody ever used the stereo anymore, maybe they wouldn't notice.

But my conscious got the better of me, and I confessed my sin to Mom. To my surprise, she wasn't even mad. The following summer, Big Sears was sold at a garage sale for two dollars, to a woman who only wanted it for the radio.

And with that went the last console stereo my folks ever owned. Granted, one of my Magnavox consoles spent a good amount of time in their living room (which, to my chagrin, my old man actually used on occasion). Now Mom has one of those blasphemous Crosleys, but I've never actually seen her use it. In fact, I don't even think its been plugged in, which is surely a blessing, considering it would be more Ridley Scott's "Alien," than Micheal Myers, on unsuspecting vinyl.

I miss Big Sears! But more than that, I miss the days when people actually used it because they wanted music, and not just to "simmer that boy down."


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  2. Dad had a Soundesign tri-mode system (bought in the late 60s) and a Sony TC 366 reel to reel deck, in the living room. I still have that Sony. Wouldn't take anything for it. Great memories....

  3. Man, I don't blame ya! I wish I still had the console, and never mind that it was so much laminate and fiberboard.

  4. The similarities are uncanny. We had a Curtis Mathes console that I mainly played as a gradeschooler. I had my own red white & blue Imperial (that I tried to pass on to my kids this year but it dragged on to the shelf it went). In 3rd my own portable record changer that folded into a hard plastic shelled suitcase...I would love to have that one back but can't even recall the manufacturer now. Grew up with my parents' Atlantic, King, Imperial, etc. 45s plus did the weekly Friday night run to Woolco's with my dad to get a model car and a 45...I can remember getting KunG Fu Fighting and Convoy like it was yesterday. Plus I played the hell outta Dad's Bill Cosby lps...Chicken Heart scared me to no end.

  5. A little slow with my response time, I admit, but yeah, the similarities are uncanny. My Imperial was also red, white and blue. I wish I'd kept it! I see them on ebay every now and then, but it wouldn't be the same. Was your portable a GE by some chance? That plastic shell sounds about right. Sounds like your folks had good taste in labels! Too bad we didn't live closer, I was always the only record (and model car) nut on the block. Chicken Heart!! I've still got those, at least!