Happy New Year!

I'm fortunate to own some very nice hi-fi gear: Different turntables, tonearms, and pickups for different records. Two pairs of really superb full-range loudspeakers. A choice of mildly exotic amplifiers—my favorite combination of which (a stereo preamplifier and a pair of monoblock power amps) sells for a little over $21,000. The average American consumer would think that's insane.

The average American consumer would be correct, but only insofar as it applies to his or her own buying habits. After all, we're nothing if not a nation of customers, and the customer is always right. From where I sit, the discretionary buying habits of my fellow countrymen are not only grotesque but almost heartbreakingly sad. Especially during the holiday season, when I'm dashing off this piece, it seems as if most of them are buying goods simply for the sake of buying goods, in bulk and motivated not by need or even desire, but by the same level of reflexive titillation that makes a crow dive for a gum wrapper.

I blame the marketers, of course, but today that's the same as saying I blame the corporate media. Indeed, on daytime television in particular, it's virtually impossible to see or hear a single crumb of information that's not calculated to sell: a book, a movie, a beverage, a snack, a product for which there is no apparent human need. It's been said that watching television can be like driving past an especially nasty car accident: dreadful and demeaning, but you can't take your eyes away from it. Having now spent the better part of two hours watching the Today show on MSNBC, I would take that a step further: Watching television is like seeing a sewage disposal truck with a talking mule at the wheel crash into a burning whorehouse. It's harder on the spectators than on the casualties.

If the marketing weasels who control Today and other such shows are on target, the average American is blowing his or her money on the sort of useless shit that makes God Himself shake his head and cry for us: Inflatable lawn ornaments (choose from Santa, the Easter Bunny, Casper the Friendly Ghost, or an 8'-tall Tiki Totem). Gourmet jelly beans in over a hundred different flavors. Gourmet popcorn and an old-fashioned cinema-style popcorn cart from which you can dispense it to your admiring friends. Monogrammed Post-it notes. Reusable "ice" cubes made from a space-age polymer. A ring with a fake jewel that opens to reveal a container of lip gloss. A limited-edition Precious Moments teddy bear in camouflage fatigues.

Nor can I ignore consumers of more generous means, to whom an even greater constellation of treasures is available: Jimmy Choo sandals for $900. A Judith Leiber handbag for $8000. An almost startlingly inept and condescending sketch of a "family" from someone or something called Kstudio for $300.

Nor will I let you literary types off the hook—at least not those of you whose coffee tables are home to such deathless works as Marlena Spieler and Sheri Giblin's Grilled Cheese: 50 Recipes to Make You Melt, or whose faces will be recognized at their local Dog and Cat Spa, or whose credit-card statements still bear the scar of having an asteroid or nebula named for a loved one.

The people who sell all of those items and a hundred thousand like them have one thing in common: They think you're an idiot.

Well: Are you?

I sure as hell don't think so. I think you're pretty smart for caring enough about music that, in your spare time, you'd want to read about playing recordings of it. Have I told you today that I love you?

A better question: Do the people who make the audio products you cherish think you're an idiot? For the most part, and with the exception of maybe four or five cable companies (you knew I was going to say that, just as you know that it's true), it seems to me they're doing their best to make things that play music as convincingly as possible. Inefficient and bumbling? Some. A little too greedy for their own good? A few. Larcenous, dishonest, condescending, and snarky? None whom I've met.

But forget all that, because . . . Happy New Year! It's 2039! I'm dead! And so are lots of you! Wheee!

The Jimmy Choo sandals fell apart after one year. The gourmet jelly beans could be traced to over 100,000 deaths attributable to diabetic shock. The Judith Leiber bag got left on the back seat of a taxi in West SoHo. (The woman who lost it complained to the cab company and the driver was canned for no good reason.) And the descendants of the people who wrote, designed, and published Grilled Cheese still laugh at all the people who made them rich.

But you listened to that Wadia CD player every day until you died, and it never failed to make you happy. The Linn LP12 and the 20-odd cartons of LPs you left behind are still packed away in the attic of your old house, where they'll be discovered some day—and will change lots of lives for the better. Someone on my wife's side got hold of my Shun Mook Mpingo discs, and even though they talk about me and laugh whenever they take them out, it's all pretty good-natured. Every solder joint on my beautiful Shindo Corton-Charlemagne amplifiers is still good: I know because my daughter has them now, and she plays her records through them all the time.

I could probably be happy anywhere. But I like it here best of all.

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