Until recently, my favorite shirt was one I'd found on a clearance table at Macy's: a red paisley thing with long sleeves and a button-down collar, not unlike the ones seen in photographs of Peter Holsapple or the young Syd Barrett. When I first found it, this shirt was dusty, and appeared to have been marked down at least a half-dozen times before bottoming out at a price that wouldn't buy a six-pack of Mountain Dew at the local stop-and-rob. Maybe it was on the verge of being discarded, but I suspect that the people at Macy's had simply forgotten it was there.
When I was seven years old, my father brought home an air-conditioner: a flimsy, hulking thing that sat in an open window just as a frame of X-ray film sits in an open mouth. It worked by consuming a steady diet of ice cubes and water, then blowing a fan across the slurry and into our grateful living room. It was loud and it stank and it wasn't very cold at all.
In the early 1980s, not long after I moved to New York City, I went shopping for a new pair of speakers. I already had a Rega Planar 3 turntable, an NAD 1020 preamp, and an Amber Series 70 amplifier (the second-most-powerful amp I've ever owned); what I now had in mind was to replace my aging EPI 100s with something bigger. Like them though I did, the EPIs were too tight and light for my new apartment, and I was certain I could find something with more bass and better scaleand still stay within my less-than-lavish budget.
In spite of having one end of my listening room devoted entirely to record shelving, there are now 15 cartons of LPs and 78rpm records scattered throughout my house, said bounty enduring as a source of distress for The Management. That prompted me to set about building a new record cabinet and equipment support to handle the spillover. That prompted me to take a fresh look at how my records are catalogued. And that prompted me to cull from my collection every mono record I own, thinking I would keep them separate from the rest.
In last month's column we met May Belt, whose contributions to domestic audiomade alongside her husband, designer Peter W. Beltall have to do with reflexive perception: conditions under which a listener's comprehension of music can be altered, given the presence or absence of certain nonsonic stimuli.
In 1862, skepticism among the educated was exemplified by the medical establishment, which ridiculed Joseph Lister's notion of "animals in the air." By contrast, the professional skeptic of 2012yes, it's now possible to make a comfortable living in the fieldfinds himself inconvenienced by 150 years of discovery, and makes do with ridiculing Lister for his Quaker faith. I guess that passes for progress in some circles.
Years ago, while editing Listener Magazine, I received a call from a record-company publicist with whom I was friendly: The drummer Ginger Baker, whose work I admire, was promoting a new release, and we were offered a 30-minute telephone interview with the artist. I jumped at the chance, but wound up leaving the article in the canpartly because it was so short, partly because its subject was so cranky. As with vacation trips to certain locales, second prize would likely have been 60 minutes with Ginger Baker.
Phono cartridgesalong with mothballs, hobnails, laundry bluing, hot-water bottles, lighter fluid, fur coats, and typewritersare among the most outdated of consumer goods: To most people who make their living in the world of consumer electronics, every new cartridge that hits the shelves is little more than a coughing spasm from the death-room down the hall. You can imagine, then, the welcome accorded new samples of the even more anachronistic pickup head, which combines phono cartridge, headshell, and barbell into a product one seldom sees outside the school librarian's junk drawer. New pickup heads, which tend to look the same as old pickup heads, are manufactured in pessimistically small quantities, and seldom get much attention.
My guest, an occasionally nice person, didn't mean her question in a nice way. It was pointed and derisive: a needle intended to burst whatever it was that made me think filling a room with thousands of LPs was a good idea. She didn't wait for an answerit would have been "Not quite"but I half think she half expected me to see reason on the spot.
I set out on a fishing trip but returned less than an hour later, empty-handed. You asked me, reasonably enough, "What happened?"
"I spent a half-hour digging in the garden for worms, but couldn't find any."
"You could have driven to Mr. Zetterstrum's farm, knocked on his door, asked his permission, and spent a few hours overturning the cowflops in his pasture. I'm sure you would have found one or two worms that way."
"You're right. I guess I didn't want to go fishing that badly."
As Mick Jagger has sagely observed, things are different today. Now I don't get complaints only when I give a bad or mixed review: I get complaints when I give a good review, said complaints coming not from the reviewee but from his competitors.
In a related story, America's park rangers and amateur videographers report a near-epidemic of wild animals getting their heads stuck in carelessly discarded food containers. In one such instance, a six-month-old black bear cub in Florida scarcely avoided death when a glass jar was removed from his head, after being stuck there for nearly two weeks. Employees of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who saved the cub, named him Jarhead, for all the obvious reasons.
In 2010, sales of motorcycles equipped with sidecars accounted for only 4% of total motorcycle sales in the US. But that was a significant increase over 2009, which was itself an increase over 2008. While numbers remain low overall, sales of sidecar motorcycles are going up at a decent rate, while sales of most other motorcycles are in the toilet.
Word went out among the small, frightened woodland animals in this part of upstate New York: If you come down with rabies, go to Art Dudley's place and die under his shed. The latest was a raccoon that showed up last Saturday morning with a face full of burdocks and a head full of pain. Before wedging himself beneath the floor of my freestanding shed, the dying animal produced a series of moans and yips that frightened even my dog, a Jack Russell terrier who appears to have been a Somali pirate in a previous life. For the remainder of that sunny afternoon, my family and I holed up inside the house, unenthused about being bitten by an unpredictable animal with a diseased brain and a foamy mouth. (Feel free to imagine your own political joke in this space. God knows I did.)
It wasn't so much a vow as a prediction: After selling my last pair of Ticonal-magnet drivers and the homemade horns I'd carted around to three different houses, I supposed I would never again have a Lowther loudspeaker in my humble house.
That remains literally true: The 7" full-range drivers to which I'm listening today are from a German company called Voxativ; the horn-loaded cabinets from which they play were also designed by Voxativ, and are made in Germany by the Wilhelm Schimmel piano company. And, with all due respect to Lowther, the 75-year-old English loudspeaker firm that launched a thousand DIY fantasiesnot to mention a thousand very lively wavefrontsthe Voxativ drivers and horns take the Lowther concept further than anyone else of whom I'm aware.