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Traumatized by record collection

The first gift my little brother received on Christmas morning was an unidentifiable, black, somewhat intimidating machine. Not able to identify the contraption, he half-heartedly said "thanks, mom," cast it aside and moved on to what he thought were the real goods.

The machine sat unnoticed for a period of time -- while the other gifts basked in the glory of popularity. But soon (as in, later that day), they all broke or lost their element of fun and the mysterious contraption emerged from the rubble -- blacker and more fearsome than before.

This occurred when my brother, bored to tears, finally picked up the once-ignored machine from under a pile of gift-wrap, and asked our mother, who was standing nearby, to kindly identify her Christmas gift to him.

"It's a record player," she said. That didn't help. My brother and I looked at her incredulously, and my mother, sensing she needed to continue, did so. "You play records on it, which are essentially analog versions of modern day CDs. This device will open the door to an entire new and interesting world of music -- the vast record collection your father and I have saved from our youth."

That evening, I sat in my bedroom -- door locked to keep out pesky intruders -- and tried my brother's record player out for him. It didn't take me long to discover that most of what my mom said was not true, as records are nothing like CDs. They are terribly large and unwieldy, don't respond well to outside vibrations and are very inconvenient when it comes to switching from one track to another.

I figured that these factors together would have made it difficult, if not downright impossible, to play one of these things in a car. It was true, however, that I was opened up to "an entire new and interesting world of music" with my brother's new record player.

It was interesting all right.

As I continued to find and sample new records, I went from being accepting of my parents' musical tastes to complete disbelief. Naturally, I first sampled music by groups that I recognized, such as the Beatles, the Stones, and the Bay City Rollers.

At that point, I was thinking that maybe, as much as I might have hated to admit it, my parents' musical palette was essentially similar to mine. I mean, those are the bands I listen to. But after hearing one song (all I needed to hear) from an album by A Flock of Seagulls, it became all too clear that that was not the case. I had discovered the dark side of my parents' past.

Next, I inserted an album by Nazareth. I placed the needle on the outside edge of the record and watched as it methodically moved inward until the crackling died down to a reasonable level and the first track -- "Hair of the Dog" -- began. One chord -- one shrieking, bone-shattering, teeth clenching, chalk-on-chalkboard chord -- later, I wrenched the needle off the record and sat down, panting from shock. I felt physically unclean, as though the filth in the music I had just had the misfortune to hear had manifested itself in a physical form and covered my body.

I wanted nothing more than to throw myself into the frozen lake below my house and be pure again.

Instead, I decided to cleanse myself from the inside out -- after all, I reasoned, it was my soul that was dirty -- and placed the Blues Brothers' "Briefcase Full of Blues" on the turntable. "Ah, that's better" I said, closing my eyes and sinking into my bean-bag chair.

After recovering from my previous trauma, I decided to delve deeper into the record collection and randomly picked another one from the stack. It was the soundtrack to the movie "Saturday Night Fever." I listened to the whole first side, and all I could say afterwards was: "Really, dad? Really?"

Getting discouraged, I shuffled through the pile of records looking for one with particularly ornate or clever cover art, reasoning that it would be an indicator that good music lay inside. One that caught my eye was a record by a duo called "Darryl Hall and John Oates."

On the front cover is a picture of a can, apparently filled with oatmeal, which reads "Whole Oats." Get it? Hall and Oates -- Whole Oats -- they sound the same! Well, it seemed funny at the time, as I'm sure it did to them as well.

But when I played the album, expecting to hear genius at the caliber that went into the album cover, it was clear that the artists had put far more effort into their cover design than the album itself. As I soon found, the musicians behind many of my parents' records seemed to have done the same thing.

The device my brother received for Christmas, as it turns out, is no ordinary phonograph. With the help of a computer and the pre-supplied cord, the record-player has the ability to convert analog records into digital CDs, thereby making them compatible with modern stereo equipment.

Granted, the process is tedious and I wouldn't be caught dead listening to most of the music I will be converting (though I did eventually find a few treasures in the mix!), but the principle is sublime.

Bringing the music of my parents into the digital age transcends the chasm between the previous generations and my own, which I think is sort of beautiful. If this experience has taught me anything, however, it's that I'd better be careful what I put on my iPod, lest my own 16-year-old son dig it out of a drawer one day and discover the dark secrets of his father's wayward youth.

Nathan Kitzmann is a sophomore at Detroit Lakes High School.