One of my mentors, John Crabbe—my predecessor as editor of the English magazine Hi-Fi News—used to insist that a magazine's soul is its "Letters" column. If a magazine was able to publish a lively collection of readers' letters, said John, it would enjoy a lengthy life. Conversely, if its letters column was dull or nonexistent, then no matter how much advertising it had or how many readers it could boast, it was just a matter of time before it had the lid shut on it. In the 28 years since John told me this, I have not found an exception. The kicker, of course, is that there's no easy way of ensuring that a magazine has lively letters to publish.
Hanging above the expensive desk in my penthouse office atop Manhattan's prestigious Stereophile Tower is a photocopy of a New Yorker cartoon, in which a bewildered-looking guy complains, "There has been an alarming increase in the number of things I know nothing about."
There is one date I dread every year: my wife's birthday. After nearly 16 years of marriage, I have exhausted every last iota of my spousal resources in trying to think of a suitable present. Nothing too ordinary, nothing too out of the ordinary, nothing that will trigger those dreaded words, "You did keep the receipt, right?"
Perhaps it's the air in San Francisco, or more likely the fact that exhibitors and attendees were equally upbeat, but I came back from Home Entertainment 2003, held at the grand old Westin-St. Francis Hotel days before I write this month's column, jazzed. I was one of 15,123 consumer, international press, and trade attendees, according to the official stats, and we were treated to more than 100 exhibit rooms showing and demonstrating 225 brands of audio and home-theater gear. Stereophile's full report on what we saw and heard at the Show will appear in our September and October issues, while our web coverage can be found starting here(footnote 1).
At the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show in January—see the report in this issue—Sony and Philips held an SACD Event at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. There were trippy lights. There were the Grand Pooh-Bahs of Sony, Philips, and the record labels. There was loud multichannel Big Brother and the Holding Company. And there was Sony's main SACD man in the US, David Kawakami, supplying the pep talk.
There's a widespread myth that writers who get published are more talented than writers who don't get published, and that musicians who make records are more talented than musicians who don't make records. But anyone with any talent who has ever tried to earn a living as a writer, a musician, or any other kind of artist understands that the correlation between merit and success is, at best, loose. Some successful artists are talented, and some talented artists are successful. But for every talented artist who manages to make a living there are a dozen more, equally deserving, who have no choice but to keep their day jobs.
"What? What??? No Smiths?" asks reader Steven J. Wilder in this issue's "Letters" (p.9), regarding my interjection in the "Honorable Mentions" sidebar of last November's "40 Essential Albums." Hey, I think The Smiths suck—okay, Mr. Wilder? Morrissey's self-absorbed adolescent whining had no place on a list that included music from such grownups as Morrison, Mitchell, and Mingus. I'm not alone in this sentiment. Jon Iverson, www.stereophile.com's webmaster, almost stapled together the pages of Mojo magazine's April 2001 retrospective of Morrissey's and Marr's music so he could skip over it without running the risk of the veins on his forehead exploding.
Surfing the Usenet newsgroups and the Web audio forums recently, it struck me that the old wisdom is correct: If you keep your mouth shut, you won't say anything with which anyone can disagree. A topic that seems to be of perennial interest is how Stereophile chooses the products it reviews. Yet the more I have explained how it's done, the greater the criticism that is heaped on the magazine.