My first wife used to have this Madison Avenue market research job, and her main assignment was to do surveys-to find out what women wanted and what men thought was important. Not surprisingly, she discovered that women desired economic security and status in the community way more than sex or power or even love. Shockingly, sex was usually seventh or eighth on the woman's list.
What really surprised me, though, was what men claimed was important to them. I mean, yeah, sex was always at the top (usually number one or two). But incredibly, right there on the top of the list next to sex and way ahead of money or power or even fame was music. I am not kidding you. And this wasn't only in rock-till-ya-wear-dentures America, no sit. This was an international phenomenon. In some countries, like Sweden and South Africa, music was always the most important thing in men's lives. Above sex! And age didn't seem to matter. Boys and men not only claimed to like music, they claimed it was essential. Men everywhere needed their daily serving of beat, their jumping, jiving jungle Oats! They needed rhythm and percussion. And the women? They never even mentioned jungle Oats.
Me? I'm a jungle Oats addict. I like 'em served hot. I mean, like, I don't just buy CDs and put them on while I work around the house. I don't buy records for background music. I buy them to kick my own ass. I've got to buy recorded musical programs. I need new CDs on an almost daily basis. I can't stop myself from buying them. I have spent my last twenty bucks on a CD-many times! It's like overeating or gambling or sex. It's like Haagen-Dazs, lobster, or 100-proof bourbon. I tell myself it's not an obsession-it's a spiritual and intellectual pursuit. But I know the need goes deeper than that, I reassure myself that what I'm doing is becoming a music scholar. Yeah, right! Do you want to know why I really do it? Do you want to know why I can't walk past a Tower or a Virgin without slipping inside? Do you want to know why, once I start cruisin' the aisles, I can never buy just one? Why I don't read Rolling Stone without going out and buying a new CD? You want to know why I'm this way? Because I'm terminally lonely. That's why. Simple, ain't it? And I've been lonely like this since birth, and I'm startin' to think it might be the permanent condition of my heart.
Recently I've discovered that I have the kind of loneliness that can only be described by a succession of four to five musical tones-typically in a minor key. Play Floyd Cramer's "Last Date" or Wilcols "Airline to Heaven" or Leadbelly's "Good Night Irene" and I slip immediately into the fetal position and start sobbing! Three lousy chords from a pop instrumental like "Last
Date" and I'm tear soup: I get the stabbing pain in the heart, the deep melancholy, and the whole sentimental loneliness package.
So, what's up with this' Why am I this way? And am I the only guy who feels like this?
I know a lot of my readers get sentimental when they listen to music. I know most of my readers use music as a self-prescribed mood changer. In fact I suspect that a lot of my readers are hardcore music junkies too. I don't think people read magazines like Listener because they are audio equipment junkies disguised as music junkies, like many cynics suggest. I don't think people become audiophiles just so they can isolate in the basement with their audio gear. I actually think it's the other way around. I think people read audio magazines because they are music junkies-and because they are lonely. Like me! I think their interest in high-quality audio reproduction is spawned by their need for two fundamental things: to connect as deeply as possible with the music that excites them, and to feel like a part of the larger spirit-of-humankind that continues to make that music possible.
People who read audio magazines most surely love music, but I think the real reason they read magazines about audio equipment is that they want to feel connected to the larger group. They read the magazines to belong to and identify with an extended family of music-oriented people. They want to feel like an important member of the society of songwriters, musicians, conductors, engineers, instrument builders, etc. Remember, all music, even recorded music, is an event. And no musical event is especially worthy or complete without its proper audience. The listener is always at least half of every musical equation.
Maybe some of these reader-listeners don't always know a lot about music theory or music history. Or maybe if they do, they don't feel comfortable talking about it. Talking about how audio equipment is designed and how effective a component may be at reproducing what is on a disc is probably easier, less abstract, and less stressful than discussing the art of making music. And that's cool with me. In fact, that's why I love this hobby. Audio as a hobby brings a diverse group of music-loving people into some kind of stimulating resonance. It creates relationships that strengthen and deepen music appreciation.
I also think I may have hit on the reason the audio community is currently stalled at the crossroads where two channels and five channels meet, I think my sobbing and loneliness are related to why stereo ain't already dead. I think it is this society of music lovers that is keeping stereo reproduction alive. I think the whole hi-fi thing is a strong force with considerable momentum-directed simply at the enjoyment and understanding of music of all types.
I also think the reason I listen to music is really not all that different from the reason most people listen to music, and it's what keeps two-channel relevant: We listen to music because it makes us feel less alone. And I think that, so far, multi-channel has not proven more effective at doing the music-makes-me-cry-and-dance-for-joy thing. When I play my CDs and LPs I don't just feel like a music lover; I don't just get inspired; I feel very much like a card-carrying member of the Family of Man. I feel like I belong to something bigger and more powerful than myself. I feel like I have a purpose for listening to music: to upgrade the condition of my heart. I identify with what feels like some kind of universal soul. It may sound stupid, but plain ol' music from the good ol' stereo makes me feel real connected to maybe some kind of big-ass cosmic artistic consciousness. How about you? I'm a hoping that you, too, feel like this-at least once in a while.
Sometimes I go into a high-end store pretending to be a customer, and always the first thing the salesman wants to know is, Am I looking for five-channel? Am I looking for something to watch movies on or do I "just" want to play music? Right away, I get defensive. 1 turn into a smart-ass. I feel like being rude. I say I'm looking for a "knee-loosener" - "You know, the musical high-fidelity equivalent of wine and candle-light." I want something to relax my dates when they come over for dinner. I want the kind of sound that will get women in the mood for love. The salesman always thinks I'm serious and follows with, "So... how much you figure it should cost you to get those knees a-quivering? " I tell him I only got about $500-and then suddenly I realize I'm talking and talking but nobody is listening. Suddenly I'm alone-again.
Streaming video won't help me reconnect with humankind. DVD-Matrix widescreen surround-sound? Been there, don't work. Online shopping won't help. Neither will the personal ads or the 1-900-FUN lines. I don't need a lover or a new camera. I need music. Maybe even some loud music. I need to feel my hands shake while I slice the plastic wrapper with my pocketknife. I need too much haste while I peel off the sticky label and the silver tape. I need to see the green "play" triangle on the illuminated display. I need to hurry up and sit down. I need to let out my breath and feel like I'm home again...in Mama's kitchen, and there's a chicken in the oven, and I need to wash my hands and get ready. Yes-sir-ree-bob-ski! That is why I listen to stereo. That is why I always need new music to hide in my room with. That is also why it ain't too important whether my audio is DVD or JVC. Don't tell me about sampling rates. just tell me-when's supper gonna be ready? Can I lie on the couch? Who's listening to Lil Bow Wow? Super Audio CD2 Fine. I like it a lot. Napster? MP3? Can't live at home without it - and please, pass the peas-and-carrots! Yum!
I absolutely can live without home theater. I can live without big-screen PC. Explosions and car crashes aren't gonna relieve the aching in my heart. Neither is a chat room or a dot-com microbrew. I need at least one - but better yet both - of the only two pure and proven antidotes for the born-with-tube-blues problem: real music in stereo... and some of Mama's special ribs.
I been hearing that "two channel is dead" for more than a decade. Even longer with vinyl. But I'm mad cool. I got a smart assed reply, too. I tell them, Hey, dude ... don't ya know I'm dead, too! I am out of it. I am dead to the noise of the advertising and marketing machines. Their spy cameras can't see me. I'm off their radar. He] I, I still listen to Iggy Pop. I am not their kind of guy. I am immune. I'm a dodgy character. I don't buy their shit - unless it puts me where I want to go.
No question: I love movies. I love DVDs and MP3s. I love 5.1 channels. I love expensive soundcards. I use all of these technologies to do more than entertain myself; I use them to learn about who I am and where I reside. For me, they are study tools. But music as art is a whole different (read: higher) level of affection. I L-0-V-E music, and I am as bad as those Swede-Africans: I can't live without it.
Music makes me into who I always was but didn't know it. It changes my mood, and it changes me. And so far, it doesn't appear that I need more than two channels of music to accomplish these things. in fact, more channels seem to dilute music's effectiveness.
Truth be told: I tell the guy in the stereo store that I'm just looking to kick back, get lost, and find myself in some good tunes, just a little stereo will be fine. I ain't got ears like a dog, so I don't need nothing too fancy. My old stereo is broken, so I need something new to play my CDs on. I ask him how much I have to spend to feel really, really good with the lights turned out. I tell him I don't do programming, so make it simple to use-but I can't live without a remote. I tell him I can get some more money. Maybe even a few thousand dollars. Would that be enough? I just want to get inside myself. Lie on my bed. Talk on my phone. I want hot, dense, delicious music flowing all around me. I want to swim in it. I want to smoke it. I think some big, deep bass would make me bounce harder. And if I can make out the words, that would be mad right, too. But basically I want sex and ideas and break dancing to flow right out of the speaker boxes. I want to be surrounded, but I don't need surround sound. I want streaming live action. I want to join in. I want to connect with my buds before dinner. I want to jump around, jump up, and smack down.
Can ya help me do it? I'll bring ya some of my mama's fried chicken.