What does it say about me that the best stereo of my adult life is the one in my new car? Seriously, I’m hearing nuances in old CDs, falling in love with new songs.
Gadget geek that I can be, it’s never really extended to my music. I bought a CD walkman back in the day, which I used on the New York subway on the way to and from work. I was gifted with an mp3 player when they first came out and used it commuting on the bus and metro, but when I hear music I want to sing along, so this could lead to potentially disruptive moments for others. I did use these devices occasionally, but have never really liked earphones to make them a daily staple. The earphones sound too tinny, with an all-too-obvious tinnitus link. I do prefer my iPhone’s earbuds to earphones, but only like to wear them on a lunchtime walk-no longer than that.
No, home stereo is where it’s at for me, but that too, has been problematic. I had a big CD/tape combo unit and downsized when I moved from New York to DC. But the smaller unit, a CD/cassette/radio which replaced it, gathers dust on a shelf. It still functions as a radio, but not much else. I’m not sure what went wrong with its CD player, but everything is plastic crap these days, not worthy of repair. The tape player probably still works, if I still had cassette tapes.
Speaking of plastic crap, reminds me of my first record player. When I was a teenager I had my own portable turntable (bright blue plastic!) that I could use to play records and singles in my bedroom. I think it had a built-in radio as well. And a handy shoulder strap. Horrible sound. It was OK to use if there were no other options, but I mostly played my records on my parents’ stereo when I was alone in the house. Before my current car stereo, the best sounds I can remember came from my parents’ stereo, which was partly constructed by my father. The tuner and amplifier was built by my dad, down to inserting the last tube, and he showed me how to connect it all up, clean and replace tubes, etc. So if anything went awry-one of the huge wooden speakers lost sound, e.g., I would know just what to do to tighten the wires and get it sounding just right. In fact, learning the “back end” of that stereo system is probably why the maze of wires behind my computer doesn’t faze me as much as it could. The turntable was a Garrard, state-of-the-art at the time my dad bought it I’m sure, as my gadget geekiness is inherited. Unfortunately, I think I may have “leant” the turntable a few years ago when moving to my cousin, along with my lps. It seemed like a good idea at the time, as I wouldn’t have space for them in my new digs and he was and still is into vinyl. Sigh.
I was introduced to some amazing music on that stereo. As a small child I was serenaded to sleep with the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. My Dad loved classical music and favored Chopin and Rachmaninoff, but also would throw us a bone with the more kid-friendly Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Grieg’s Peer Gynt. My mom’s Broadway recordings of My Fair Lady (with the original cast of Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews) and Pajama Game were also fun to listen to, as well as providing glimpses into her pre-married life in New York. But what I liked the best were their Ella Fitzgerald Rodgers & Hart Songbook and Sarah Vaughan Gershwin albums. I like to sing along.
My mom also brought rock and roll into the house with Revolver and the aforementioned Sgt. Pepper. Many years later I played the first albums of the Clash and the Police on that same stereo the summer before I went off to college. And now I’m driving around and playing some of these old favorites and getting lost once again in bass lines and choruses, as my daughter sings along from the back seat. You can’t go back in time, but I have been wondering lately if I should invest in a turntable and ask my cousin for those records back . . .