It was around 7pm on Tuesday evening when I bumped into Nicole and Ms. Little on Newark Avenue, in downtown Jersey City. The girls were on their way to Kristen's shop, Kanibal Home, for their weekly book-club meeting. (Or was it Writing Club? Knitting? Screen printing? Butterfly pinning? I can never keep track.) I was on my way home, not to read, write, or listen to music, but . . .
"Hi, honey," Ms. Little said. "Going home to play with your cartridge?"
I made a face, nodded, sighed. Sensing some sharp-witted remark forming in Nicole's filthy mind, I beat her to the punch: "Yup, that's what I call it."
There I was, sitting on the orange couch, with just a few hours to kill before my scheduled departure to Denver, ColoradoI'd been invited to the eighth annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, where surely I'd be moved to tears by some of the greatest, most advanced, most expensive hi-fi systems known to manand I could not believe the awesome sound coming from my modest little stereo.
I couldn't have known it at the time, but Swans' "Lunacy" (see last month's column) would be the very last song I'd ever enjoy in my cozy listening room. Last timeswhether with things, people, places, or, I suppose, especially with ideascan be difficult to accept, tending to overshadow all other times, their lingering memories leading to remorse and games of "what if."
If there's an audio company that has it all, it's Jade Design, parent of Emotiva, Emotiva Pro, and Sherbourn. Before my visit to the company headquarters, in Franklin, Tennessee, I had invariably seen in the company's founder, Dan Laufman, a special kind of contentment, an ease, a happiness. Or was he merely arrogant? I couldn't be sure.
In March 2008, when I bought my PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers, I decided that I should also buy PSB's matching SubSeries 1 subwoofer (footnote 1). It seems odd to me now that I would have considered the $449 subwoofer a necessary complement to speakers that sold for $279/pair. What was I thinking? Was I rolling in money? Certainly not. Was I merely young and fancy free? Yes and no. Was I sex-starved? Quite possibly.
It wasn't very long ago that I boasted, in my casual, self-effacing way, that I didn't really like headphonesthat I didn't need headphones. Because most people in the New York metropolitan area would rather die than communicate with each other, they use headphones as a sort of fortress of solitude, shielding themselves not only from their physical environment but from all other living creatures. I, however, claimed to enjoy listening to the sounds of the world around meeven screeching tires, blaring sirens, and the drone of air ducts could be musical. La-di-da.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.