Listening #93 Page 3

The fault for the second problem was mine and mine alone. Before experimenting with the various chassis-to-plinth mounting arrangements as described above, I had already established, with precision, the location of the OMA armboard. As happens with virtually any TD 124 installation, the exact position of the turntable as a whole, vis-à-vis the plinth, was subject to minute changes while using the four height-adjustment knobs—but this time, with the tonearm rigidly fastened to the plinth instead of the turntable, doing so completely trashed my arm-alignment settings. I had to start all over again, to the accompaniment of newer and even more clever combinations of profane outbursts: Anatomy, theology, and basic hydraulics were all discussed.

One imagines Weiss has more experience with the Schick tonearm, which he distributes, than the EMT 997, which he doesn't. Unsurprisingly, the former worked well with the OMA plinth: With the Schick mounted directly to the OMA plinth, I heard none of the motor noise or rumble or whatever it was that had slightly intruded a few months before, when the Schick was fastened to the armboard of the Thorens. (For those who missed that installment, fastening the armboard to a surface removed from the Thorens itself cured the problem.) The stethoscope that Weiss brought to Cherry Valley provided further evidence: With the TD 124 installed in the OMA plinth, there was markedly less motor noise audible in the Thorens chassis itself than with the TD 124 in its spare beechwood plinth—which I can't help seeing, or at least hearing, as verification of the ideas in the "I've abandoned my base" section. The unmodulated groove that serves as the final track on the useful Ultimate Analogue Test LP (Analogue Productions AAPT 1) also confirmed the goodness of the slate.

By the way, in my experience, setup conditions that provide the best sound don't always give the best results in terms of isolation from mechanical disturbances such as footfalls—and vice versa. So it was with my Thorens and my listening room, where footsteps are less audible, and less likely to cause record skipping, with the mushroom-shaped rubber bumpers between the TD 124 and (either) plinth. At least at this time of year, when the hardwood boards of my room are at their peak of expansion, some compliance is required to make the record player less perturbable—but that can be introduced between the feet of the rack and the floor, using any of various available self-adhesive pads. (I like the thick felt ones, which also allow some degree of easy, scratch-free furniture movement.)

According to Weiss, every OMA slate plinth is a custom piece, given the many variables among phono installations: "With slate, everything has to be done in AutoCAD, and it has to be perfect before the waterjet starts cutting." Thus there are no stock units, and thus no hard-and-fast price list. OMA's prices start at $2000 for the smallest and simplest plinths, and go up from there, depending not only on size but also on thickness, number of tonearm mounts, and the like. Especially to the lucky hobbyist whose Thorens turntable—or Garrard, or Rek-O-Kut, or Technics—represents a modest investment, buying a superb plinth such as the OMA seems an easily made move of reasonable value.

Grandma got run over by a condescending novelty song
Reggae bores me to tears. I enjoy some Broadway musicals, but I just don't get the whole Stephen Sondheim thing—and, for that matter, I really don't get Frank Zappa, Wilco, or Bruce Springsteen. I have little or no patience with music that's nerdy (Spike Jones), precious (most Texas swing, along with anyone who appears regularly on A Prairie Home Companion), pointlessly frothy (Paul Whiteman, Leroy Anderson), fey (Michael Franks), or nerdy, precious, pointlessly frothy, and fey (Gilbert and Sullivan). Twenty seconds of barbershop quartet music or Queen is enough to get me to leave a room.

That may sound like music criticism, but it isn't: It's listener criticism. There's artistic value in all of those composers and performers and genres; all of them bring pleasure and even enlightenment to millions of people, every damn day—just not to me. As topics go, that one means nothing more than the 97 words I gave it.

But here's something different: Two weeks ago, a visitor to our home handed me the keys to her minivan and asked me to move it for her. When I sat behind the wheel and started the engine, the radio came on all at once, and that radio was tuned to a local country station, the logo for which contains a mustachioed insect wearing six-guns and a cowboy hat. I listened to the song that was playing and heard:

I pray your tire blows out at 110 . . .

I was so shocked by the sudden, brainless nastiness of the line that I missed the next few words. I regained my composure in time to hear:

I pray your brakes go out when you're coming down a hill,
I pray you're flyin' high when your engine stalls,
I pray all your dreams never come true . . .

In much the same way that an insightful, or pretty, or clever, or just plain good string of words can burn itself into my memory after one hearing, so, too, can something like that. I retained the gist of those lines long enough to Google them when I got back inside, and discovered that I'd been listening to "Pray for You," by Jaron and the Long Road to Love. The song turns out to be a "joke" sung from the perspective of a jilted lover whose pastor has advised him to pray for those wut dun him rong. The songwriter turns out to be a slick young industry pro from Atlanta—a wonderful city nonetheless—who, after trying to make it as a rocker and getting a few of his songs "placed" in major-studio films, has reinvented himself as a good ol' boy: the latest rube du jour, who will no doubt arrive at select gigs in a battered pickup truck so the dumbasses will think he's one of them. Might as well run for office while he's at it.

Garbage like "Pray for You" would get my attention virtually any time, but it made an even deeper impression because I had just, a day or two before, enjoyed an interesting conversation about the quaint practice of banning pop songs presumed to be about drugs, such as the Byrds' "Eight Miles High," which is brilliant, and Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," which is dated, unintentionally funny junk. Forget all that altruistic twaddle I wrote earlier—I'll tell you what: I don't want my daughter to think for a second that using recreational drugs is a trivial matter, but I surely don't want her to think that it's all right to joke about the violent death of another human being, especially in the context of prayer.

Some music publishers are intent on discovering and nurturing new, original talent. Others seem interested in nothing more than grabbing people by their ankles, hanging them upside down, and shaking them until all the change falls out of their pockets. And while not all of the latter are city people—I hold the unpopular (in bluegrass circles) opinion that the songs of Tom T. Hall are right down there with "Purple People Eater" and that shitty fake-folk number about the guy who got lost on the subway (footnote 3)—I can't help noting that most of them are. And to this lover of real country music, there's nothing worse than urban hucksters who write songs so calculated to push the buttons of simple people that they sound as if created by committees of marketing experts. That's "Pray for You" all over.

Sure, I wish every town in America could still support at least one thriving record store, and I wish EMI and Decca and CBS could still make money selling classical music, and I wish there were still a system in place that could support and encourage talent and take artistic chances in every genre of music, from the chirpiest pop on up. But through a surplus of naked greed and a dearth of artistic vision, the music industry condemned itself long ago; when I hear death-rattles like "Pray for You," I wish only that it would get on with the job.



Footnote 3: "Charlie on the M.T.A.," a hit for the Kingston Trio in 1959.—Ed.
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