Club kids stride through a record store, past racks of new 12-inch dance singles on their way to the disco. It's a fast-food commercial. A cough drop placed on a turntable needle causes a scratchy record to suddenly sound clear and pristine. In a child's cartoon, the young hero accidentally breaks a Beatles 45 from his teen-age brother's record collection, learning a lesson about honesty.
Many current TV programs, whether featuring a hip-hop DJ scratching in a club, or an album rack in a sit-com living room, indicate that the vinyl record is a potent signifier more than 20 years after the industry declared it dead. Yet these persuasive memetic messages aren't for generations who remember vinyl first-hand (boomers and older X-ers), but are targeted at collegians, teen-agers and even kids as young as 5.
To Karl Hendricks, it's become more of a mindset and lifestyle choice. He works as a buyer at Paul's CDs, which, despite its name, is one of several local shops selling plenty of new vinyl. Hendricks' own daughter, Nell, is a vinyl expert at 9 years old. "When we go to Jerry's [Records], she looks for records all by herself. She'll even go back into the singles boxes and dig out Led Zeppelin. There are some other kids like her."
Zach Braden, who works at The Exchange's Squirrel Hill location, concurs. "There's one in particular who looks about 11. He comes in by himself -- not with a parent -- sometimes with a bag from Jerry's. He randomly picks out stuff for $1 that he wants to check out," Braden says. "I've never asked him, but I've always been curious -- how did he figure out he can go out and buy records?"
Maybe he's stretching his allowance. Or maybe there's something deeper -- a cultural drive for youngsters to be as nonconformist as their older siblings. "With younger kids, buying records sets them apart from the others who are playing CDs," adds Braden. "It's the extra step to prove your worthiness."
And if ad agencies and TV writers keep incorporating these images into their visual barrage, it may be a while yet before vinyl fades away, if it ever does. Hendricks sees a potential for vinyl to outlive CDs, as music moves into a purely digital realm. "I'm seeing many older teen-agers buying records exclusively, which is something I thought would never happen again. I guess in their mind there's no reason to buy a CD that you can get for free."