A Letter from Natalie to Members of the Audio Asylum

Throw your hands in the air!

In our July issue, I open “The Entry Level” by discussing some recent nights spent with my dear friends, Natalie and Nicole, dancing and drinking and laughing at our favorite local bar, Lucky 7, in downtown Jersey City. I go on to discuss the loneliness I sometimes feel when the night is over and the time has come to walk back home, beneath the pale yellow light of streetlamps and through the neon-puddled streets.

I know that sounds sad and all, but, come on, I’m writing about music. I’m trying to be evocative, emotional, musical. When I go on to mention that Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” plays over and over in my mind as I walk past Hollywood Fried Chicken, I’m obviously being silly, right? I’m mixing pathos and absurdity to create a fun and interesting read.

Everything I write is true, to some extent, but everything is not necessarily the stuff that makes up reality. I take scenes from my life and bend them, distort and manipulate them, leaving room for insinuation and ambiguity, in order to create compelling stories. I attempt to relate those stories to music and hi-fi. I do it for my own pleasure, and I hope it brings you pleasure, too.

(Don't worry: The stuff I write about sound, however, is all as accurate and straightforward as I can possibly make it.)

Anyway, I think it was my July issue column that got some people talking over at the Audio Asylum, the popular online forum for hi-fi enthusiasts. Regor Ladan started the tread. He wrote:

I enjoy the Stephen Mejias column but when is the boy going to get from the Friend Zone to the End Zone?

I think this was a fun and lighthearted jab, and most of the comments that followed were in the same vein. I shared the thread with several friends, including Natalie and Nicole. I mentioned to them that I was surprised by some readers’ willingness to form opinions about me and my love-life based on the three pages of text they’d read in a monthly magazine. But, to be fair, I suppose I was begging these readers to do exactly that.

While on the topic of fairness, I think I should mention that I never asked Natalie and Nicole if I could write about them. I just did it. And while I always meant my words to be sweet and gentle gifts to the girls, the fact that I wrote about them without their permission sort of seems like a shitty, inconsiderate thing to do. Having said that, however, I should also add that the girls’ reactions to my writing—their smiles and their thanks and their continued friendship—would strongly suggest that everything is okay.

After going through the thread on the Audio Asylum, Natalie started thinking about a response. A few days later, she sent me 1088 of the sweetest words I’d ever read. I’ve posted her thoughts below. She explains a lot of stuff and answers some of the forum members’ questions. She even included some photographic evidence. But, before I turn it over to Nat, I want to address a few of the forum members’ concerns in my own words:

1. I write about loneliness because I think it’s an interesting topic and because I think it’s an emotion closely tied to music and hi-fi. In the very first installment of “The Entry Level,” I made clear that loneliness would be a frequent subject for me. There are all these audiophiles around the world, sitting in their listening chairs, listening to beautiful music, alone. Musicians in their bedrooms, with their precious guitars and synthesizers, recording songs to their laptops, alone. Engineers in studios, arms stretched out across mixing boards, hoping to capture a perfect sound, alone. Readers, sitting in their homes or offices, posting comments to online forums, attempting to make human connections, but nevertheless alone. How can we not talk about loneliness? It’s an important and inspiring thing.
2. While submitting this idea that loneliness is an emotion closely tied to our hobby, I hope to also show that the enjoyment of music and hi-fi can be a fun and stimulating social event. And that’s why I like writing about listening parties, dance parties, dinner parties. Parties.
3. Jersey City is a wonderful place to live. I love it dearly and plan to be there for a long, long time. It’s my home and it will continue to appear in my writing.
4. I’m not gay. (Duh.)
5. To elaborate, I love women.
6. I really, really love women.
7. I’ve often wondered about how to reach a younger, more varied audience. I figure the best way to get women to read the magazine is to write about them. I figure the best way to get young men to read the magazine is to write about good music, cheap hi-fi, and, of course, beautiful women.
8. I love women even more than I love LPs.
9. But these loves are sort of similar. Just as I endeavor to fill my life with good records, books, and art, I endeavor to fill my life with good people. In that way, I’m a lot like my friend, Kristen: I just love surrounding myself with beautiful things. Don’t you?

And now these words from Natalie:

I couldn’t help but notice the buzz Stephen has created by writing about our fun-filled weekends in Jersey City. I want to start with answering one important question that a reader had: Yes, Nicole and I (Natalie) really do exist! We are only two of many women that are lucky enough to have Stephen in our lives. He has been such a great friend and such a wonderful hi-fi mentor. You read that correctly, he is our friend. I know what most of you must be thinking: “What’s the point of a guy hanging out with a bunch of girls if he’s not gonna get anywhere with them?”

Those of us girls who have been friends with Stephen for a very long time also have other attractive, smart, and fun girlfriends, and one of them may just be “the one” for him. Before I get more into that subject, I want to briefly describe why our circle has become very tight.

What makes a group of people suddenly form a tight bond after years of knowing each other but never (until now) developing a real friendship? One word: Music.

I met Stephen in 1997 at one of Nicole’s infamous parties. Stephen went to college with Nicole’s brother-in-law, Peter, so he was always around. I would see Stephen at the parties and we’d bond over music while drinking a beer and out of nowhere we’d end the night with a good ol’ rap battle. We always managed to stay in sync. Unfortunately, life got in the way of all our friendships and we all moved elsewhere after college.

Cut to 13 years later. Nicole and I started hanging out more often due to unfortunate circumstances in my life which had all my friends standing by me, including Stephen. (No one died, but maybe someone should have.) At this time, I had already been living in Jersey City for about three years, but I now had just one month to find a new apartment. Nicole was planning on moving from her own home in Bloomfield and also needed a roommate, so we decided to move in together and found an amazing apartment in Jersey City. Stephen had also been living in JC, but he and I hung out with different groups of friends at the time. It wasn’t until Nicole moved into the area that we all started hanging out again. Our JC circle of friends kept growing from then on with people we met through others, at local parties and at our favorite local bars (like Lucky 7).

This move, along with our great circle of friends, marked a new era of amazing parties. I have always been very fortunate to have very talented friends. I may not be very artistic but I do have an appreciation for art and if it were up to me, there wouldn’t be a visible space on the wall due to it being covered in art work. A good friend gave me the idea of displaying loaned art on our walls and turning our apartment into a gallery. We have a very high ceiling, tons of white wall space, and we have many friends in the area that wanted to network and get their work out there. Genius plan! All we would need to do is make our apartment inviting and entertaining. That’s where music comes right back into the story. I couldn’t deal with listening to my iPod and using crappy Dell computer speakers at another party, it just wasn’t right.

Stephen would always comment on the new equipment he was reviewing. Since I owned a lot of vinyl, I’d been in the market for a turntable, but had yet to purchase one. One evening when Nicole and I went over for Stephen’s famous meatloaf dinner, he had quite a selection of turntables he was reviewing. At that moment he was using the Music Hall USB-1 turntable coupled with Audioengine 5s and playing a great selection of music by Ornette Coleman, Dominant Legs, Sunny Day Real Estate, and my favorite, Bon Iver. The sound was outstanding! I could have just closed my eyes and envisioned myself watching the performances live. I had to get one and I most definitely had to purchase this system before my first art party! Before we left, I expressed my interest in purchasing a turntable, most likely the same one that he was reviewing.

Natalie now owns the Music Hall USB-1 turntable.

I decided to have the first party soon after and wanted Stephen to be the DJ since I couldn’t get over his selection at the dinner party. Stephen happily (more fearfully) agreed to DJ and offered to set up the Music Hall USB-1 turntable with the Audioengine 5 speakers. It was perfect! Well, not really. He started to freak out because every time we would walk across the room, our footsteps would cause the record to skip. For those of you that don’t know Stephen very well, he is great with acting like everything is going to be okay. However, those of us that do know him very well can just hear the screams that are silently going on in his head while he is trying to think of a solution. Luckily, he remembered that he brought along a set of Bright Star Audio’s IsoNode anti-vibration feet. He placed them between the turntable and bookcase which completely absorbed the vibrations. The party was a hit and there were quite a few people commenting on how great the sound was. I believe Stephen may have been a bigger hit though, since his music selection had people talking for weeks and got him future gigs, one being my birthday at a local bar.

Stephen picked the tunes for Natalie and Nicole's party. Here he holds up El Guincho's Pop Negro. The system featured the Music Hall USB-1 turntable and Audioengine 5 loudspeakers.

This was the beginning of a beautiful relationship of student and hi-fi mentor. Every weekend, we all get together after a long and grueling work week. We go to our favorite local bar where the drinks are cheap, the music is good, and everyone knows your name.

Going back to the initial question of this blog post, “What’s the point of a guy hanging out with a bunch of girls if he’s not gonna get anywhere with them??” I now appreciate hi-fi and even consider myself an amateur audiophile. Of course, we all love having Stephen around and I like to think he gets something out of buzzing around us besides the occasional brunch invitation and free beer. Actually, you might be reading about us less often from now on—we like to joke that he’s going to kill us off—because cute girls have equally cute friends…and one of them might have taken a liking to our unlikely protagonist.

FSonicSmith's picture

To Stephen;

Please don't get self-conscious and don't change a damned thing. Seems to me that Roy Hall started this with his (hilarious) manufacturer's comment. The unfortunate truth is that S'Phile is constipated with old has-beens in need of literal and figurative Viagra (and fiber). Most of us are just jealous. We wish we could be young and hip and hang around with hot women who are merely friends; it beats the living hell out of our fixed and stagnant daily routines. Ignore the jokes at your expense; no one with half a brain perceives the jokes to represent "reality" either.

michaelavorgna's picture

Injecting some real life into hi-fi is just what the hobby ordered.

Audio Asylum? I heard most of that content is actually generated by an algorithm that simply rehashes the same tired arguments over and over.

JasonVSerinus's picture

Gosh, I've been hanging out with bunches of girls for many, many, many more years than Stephen, and I've never even wanted to get anywhere with them. Perhaps that makes me what Stephen isn't. Or perhaps it further affirms that many women are simply wonderful to be with, and that not all men are ruled 100% by their crotch. Or both.

Stephen, please never forget that some of young men who read Stereophile, or who may someday read Stereophile, have never ever wanted to get anywhere with women. And some of the women who read Stereophile, or may someday read Stereophile, haven't either, while some have. Some present and potential readers might, just occasionally, enjoy a photo of a handsome man other than you - not that you aren't handsome enough - holding an LP or cuddling up close to a loudspeaker as though it were Santa Baby personified. And let us all remember that the majority of young men in the world who may someday read the likes of Stereophile have very different skin pigmentation than those currently writing for this magazine, and have different sensibilities that need addressing or at least acknowledgment. 

Natalie, you are totally fabulous. Stephen, you are totally fabulous. Both of you are totally you. And that certainly goes for Michael, whom I look forward to meeting someday, and the visible and anonymous members of Audio Asylum.

joyeous's picture

Hi Stephen,  I am an avid redear of your column, in fact the only column I read is yours when it comes to Hi-Fi recviews. The reason is very simple, you make it real and you make good hifi accessible to people like us who love music and love life in general but get intimidated by the review style of people like Fremer or Atkins. They are very good at what they do and review unbelievable HiFi but it is usually very technical and hi-brow. I connect with what you write, your review of artists is amazingly refreshing. I love Mogwai and your review hit the mark. Sometimes on days where i need to take my mind off things annoying I love going to Daves Record Shop in Berkeley and just going through his stacks of old jazz vinyl, I never quiet new how to understand the feeling of satisfaction I got in that shop until you wrote your coloumn about running your fingers over dusty record packaging. And yes, I love women too, I am married to a gorgeous one and have a 19 month daughter and I love them all because I love women. I have had women as friends and women as girfriends and I loved each one of the moments I had with them whether they were friends or lovers and it all connected centrally with music. I still remember walking home after last call from specs (local bar in North Beach, SF) and instead of going home walking up the stairs to Jacqui's apartment who would have just finished her shift in the bar she worked and drinking copious amounts of alcohol and always, always listening to new music. She introduced me to Sigur Ros and Mum... and you know what, I loved her, still do and never ever wanted to get to the end zone with her.. 

returnstackerror's picture

Stephen, I only occasionally read your musings and the palette of words and the pictures you paint would definitely place you as a “romantic”.


Having now discussed your “girls” several times recently, I think many people would come to the conclusion that potentially there is something unrequited going on when we have a man with a romantic outlook on life who keeps blogging and writing about two ladies in particular on a constant basis.


Now…the counter point is… most audiophiles are older and married so maybe we forget what it was to be young.


Being/becoming  a DJ/reference resource to ladies is a great angle and its also a great filter. Many married audiophiles have spouses that have no interest in equipment and/or music.


So I commend Stephen (who is single and I am sure would like to be in a relationship) using music as a way to find a soulmate that shares his love of music.



R Browne's picture

Having fun with friends (including women) with the sharing of music and hi-fi. What a new concept. Is that allowed?

ErikM's picture

Good life young fella'!  Don't change a thing...

Kingston99's picture

Keep up the great writing Stephen! Sex and rock&roll go together like bread and butter. This hobby could certainly benefit from more stories about girls and their views on music and audiophilia.  

P.S. more photos please!