Playing a Compact Disc is nothing like playing a live show.
Wild, right? This is just the latest of the profundities to explode into my mighty brain as I slouch on the orange couch, staring at stacks of CDs, contemplating life and stuff. It came to me on a lovely Sunday morning. The sun was shining, the birds were cheeping, and I was still high from my band's performance two nights earlier.
One gray and rainy day, just weeks before I sat down to write last month's column, DeVore Fidelity's John DeVore zipped across Brooklyn, through the Holland Tunnel, and into downtown Jersey City, where I sat waiting for him at a gas station on the side of the highway. He slowed down just enough that I could jump into the car through the passenger-side window. We traveled west along Route 78, through dairy farms and deep woods, to the home of Michael Lavorgna, editor of AudioStream, Source Interlink Media's exciting new website devoted to computer audio. Our mission: to help Michael set up a new listening room.
My thirst for vinyl can be blind and wild. I know this when I find myself dashing through the midday sun, from the Stereophile office and up Madison Avenue, into Grand Central Station, onto the 6 train to Astor Place, and into my favorite record shop, Other Music, like a man in lust or love or, worse yet, possessed wholly by need. But unlike some of my more dogmatic friends and colleagues, I have no real problem with the Compact Disc. It's just that CDs often lack a certain intangible charm, the ability to make my heart race.
On Thursday, August 11, Cut Copy performed for a massive crowd at Brooklyn's Prospect Park, putting the perfect end to what had been a beautiful summer day. Concert photos by Natalie.
The enormous sky above Brooklyn's Prospect Park was a dazzling watercolor. Warm, soft shades of yellow, orange, and violet swept across a saturated canvas as the sun slowly dissolved into the horizon and day reluctantly gave way to night. It was the second week of August and, though no one wanted to admit it, the days had become noticeably shorter.
I walked alone through turnstiles that led to the large band shell where thousands of people would congregate for the final night of "Celebrate Brooklyn," a summerlong series of outdoor concerts. This year's season included performances by a wonderfully diverse and talented collection of artistssome obscure, some renowned, all worthwhile: Andrew Bird, Larry Harlow, Animal Collective, Real Estate, The Feelies, Los Lobos, The Bad Plus, Dr. John, and dozens of others.
We were sitting near the pool, in a cozy, private cabana on the outdoor terrace of the Trump Plaza Residences in downtown Jersey City, surrounded by all kinds of beauty: To the north, the old Powerhouse Building stood proud, strong, and silent; to the south, Exchange Place's Colgate Clock was just beginning to glow, extending its tireless arms toward Lower Manhattan; to the east, the Empire State Building soared into the humid evening sky, its white-lit spire making thin veils of the summer clouds; and to the west, the redbrick row houses of Harsimus Cove hummed with the sounds of quiet domestic life. Before us stretched a long table covered with delicious treats: cheeses, meats, and crackers; olives, grapes, and hummus; bottles of beer, vodka, and wine. We were at Shana's place, with Natalie, Nicole, and DanielaKristin was there, too. And all I could think about were loudspeakers.
Natalie and I spent this afternoon searching for treasures at Iris Records, on Brunswick Street in downtown Jersey City. It had been weeks since my last visit, and I was happy to see that things had been busy. The small store was overflowing with new arrivals, crates and boxes covering almost every square inch of the floor and arranged neatly on several tables, all titles meticulously organized by genre and price. To offer all of this new stock in the best possible condition, store owner Steve Gritzan has even purchased a VPI HW-16.5 record-cleaning machinean indispensable tool that every record store should have on hand. Even better: In addition to all their great used titles, Iris now carries a small selection of new LPs. Gritzan says he can order just about anything I might wantif I bring him a list, he'll get started on it. This is dangerously convenient; Iris is only a few steps from my apartment.
Around midnight, Natalie decided to move the party from her and Nicole's apartment (see last month's column) to our favorite local dive, Lucky 7, just a few blocks away on the corner of Second and Coles, in Jersey City. We threw wide the old red door and stepped into the stench of stale beer, the sound of cheap speaker cones tearing at the seams. I love Lucky's as much as anyone, but the music there on a Saturday night is always too goddamned loud.
Natalie was either impressed by my impeccable taste in music or high on Brussels sprouts: At some point during the meatloaf dinner at my place (see last month's column), with a smile so wicked and dazzling it could knock a stylus from a groove, she asked if I would be the DJ at her next house party.
"Yeah. I've loved everything you've played tonight."
Delighted, I tried not to show it. I turned from Natalie's brilliant smile to stare at the hi-fi, as if the hi-fi would be the guiding light for my next few moves. I was worried, of course, because worrying is what I do. I hadn't DJ'd since college, and while I'd been looking for a reason to set up a turntable and speakers at Natalie and Nicole's apartment, I hadn't exactly expected this turn of events.
But first a confession: I'm not the hip young man you might like me to be (or the one I might like me to be). I'm actually sort of old-fashioned. While my taste in music is nearly as uninhibited and adventurous as that of anyone I know, I prefer to enjoy that music in ways far more restrained and much less modern. I think I would have been right at home in the 1950s, wearing Ray-Bans and Levi's, listening to (and loving, equally and deeply) the music of both Jack Scott and John Cage, and playing my records on a record player.
I heard from Kelli recently. She said something about moving all of her music into the clouds.
Dinner with Natalie and Nicole was still three hours away and, thanks to the Okki Nokki record-cleaning machine that I wrote about last month, I had a half-dozen newly cleaned LPs begging to be played. A gray and listless day had somehow blossomed into a clear, brilliant night filled with promise and anticipation. Outside, tattooed against the dark violet sky, a strange, enormous moon hovered over Jersey City, and flooded my listening room with enchanting white light. It was time to enjoy my new records and better acquaint myself with the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 loudspeakers ($350/pair), and the only way to do that would be to compare the latter to a known quantity: the PSB Alpha B1 ($279/pair). John Atkinson had reviewed the PSBs in our May 2007 issue, and admired their naturally balanced treble and superb midrange. Soon after, the PSBs won our "Budget Product of the Year" award, and I could not resist the urge to buy a pair. I've lived happily with them ever since, most appreciating their ability to make sense of the densely arranged, sometimes poorly recorded noise- and psych-rock albums I tend to lust after. How would the Wharfedales compare?
As sleep slowly withdrew from my coiled body, I noticed the strange words Don't disturb me while I'm dreaming playing over and over in my mind. Where had these words come from? I wondered. I had little time to ponder their origin before they were gone with the retreating night, and I was left with the sudden sting of loneliness. There are days when I feel a million miles away from everyone I've ever cared about or loved. My younger brothers and sisters, ex-girlfriends, teachers, old classmates, roommates, bandmates, even casual acquaintancesI miss and long for them all. This, a cold, gray Saturday, promised to be one of those days, perfect for steeping in melancholy. But I had too much work to do and could not allow myself to dwell on silly inner things. A vacant pillow laid pointlessly beside me coerced me from bed.
It's an early Sunday morning in Jersey City, and I'm sitting on the old orange couch, keeping myself warm with a cup of coffee, wondering which record to play next. The mellow fall sun is peeking through my white cotton curtains, casting happy shadows throughout my listening room.
It's probably impossible to pinpoint the moment at which I became an audiophile. I'm tempted to say it happened when I heard in my home, for the first time, a true hi-fi: an Arcam Solo CD receiver driving a lovely little pair of DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3 loudspeakers.