Naked Wrestling in the Garden class 4 I think (A&M)

Mike,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             This is the most passionate, elegant rant I’ve read in a long time.                                                                                                                                                                                                The use of language is awesome.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Bob

I reckon back and forth.  Between today and yesterday.  I wish I could work in a record store again.  Those were the days.  Time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin into today.

Remember vinyl records?  Polyvinyl chloride.  I remember scraping at the shrink wrap and peeling it away.  The smell of the ink and the black plastic disc that flooded my sinuses when I opened an album I’d bought and most likely peddled home hanging from my handlebars in a loose plastic bag.  The package.  The liner notes.  Who produced and who engineered.  Where and when it was recorded.  Who played what.  Listening to it and following along with the lyrics.  Listening to it.  Hard.  Listening to it really hard.  Busting with pubescent adolescent concentration.  I heard it.  I listened to it.  Couldn’t get it out of my head for days.

My brain was on fire.  Music set my brain on fire.  Melodies informed my day and tones haunted my waking and sleeping.  Magical.  No other word works here.  Magical.

Joe Walsh “The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get” which includes the single “Rocky Mountain Way“, featuring the just invented Talk Box later loaned to Peter Frampton for “Do You Feel Like We Do?” on “Frampton Comes Alive”; I think still the best selling live album of all time.

I worked in my hometown record store when CDs first hit the market.  Remember the long boxes?  They said digital was perfect but it wasn’t.  It sucked.  Third order harmonic distortion was the fuckery artifact of digital.  Analog trends towards even order harmonic distortion.  Complimentary to the octave either up or down.  In tune you see.  Odd, or third order harmonic distortion is dissonant and therefore unpleasant.  Not natural.  It was loud though.  Signal to noise was through the roof.  “Pachelbel’s Canon“.  I kept smoking the system in the record store I worked in.  I’d put it on at the end of the night and forget about it and the canons at the climax would arc the system and there was the smell of ozone while I vacuumed in silence.

Back then they didn’t have four year programs for audio engineering so I moved from Carson City Nevada to Atlanta Georgia to attend an art school with an audio engineering program.

I shot a documentary about the licorice pizza.  How it was made on down to the cost of materials.  I walked with a perfect 4.0 and received the outstanding graduate award. I’d barely begun to understand how records were made.  Records begat  CD’s and digital took over so completely there is no longer even a tangible product to hold in the hand today.  Recorded music is now the epitome of disposable.  For most, it is dispensed from a device the size of an individual package of sugar free gum with thin wires leading to buds inserted in ears.  No lifting the needle, rewinding or physically manipulating anything but buttons so diminutive that they disappear beneath our thumbs and fingers for instant gratification.

For our part, We never fired a sample (a bit of pre-recorded digital to replace an analog sound), We always recorded and mixed to analog tape and never entered the digital domain until it was time to master the record.  We would physically cut the 1/2 inch master together with razor blades and translucent blue tape.  Totally old school even back then.  On every record we ever made you heard what the band played.  Honest and exciting recordings, mistakes and all with the warmth and vibe and zero digital manhandling.  We joined the band.  Alex and I.  The “we” is me and Al and the band.  I taught Al to engineer and Al taught me to produce.  Al used to explain to others that I grew up listening to the sound of records and he grew up listening to songs.

We no longer afford this form of art the attention it deserves.  Matters not it’s the latest pop catering to the lowest common denominator of societal taste or a grand and inspired performance of a historied classical opus.

The once ubiquitous record store and the culture that enveloped so many of us, has vanished completely.  At least compact discs were a tangible product.  A package.  The Tower Record chain, with it’s full to overflowing shelves and it’s flagship Sunset Boulevard store vanished with a whisper some three or four years ago.  It breaks my heart.  I adored the perfume and pulse of my neighborhood record store.  The frenetic atmosphere and the snobby clerks.  That I’d produced and engineered a record in the top ten that would go on to sell 3.5 million copies at the time would earn me nothing more than a long look I’m sure.  I never mentioned it.  I would only ask after the latest Primus or Queens of The Stone Age or Lucinda Williams with humility for example.

I never could find that one ridiculously cool recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue and American In Paris I’d worshiped on vinyl.

I was grateful that the first record I ever made was released on vinyl.  A punk record but that still sold some one hundred thousand copies.

I own a stereo that I spent nearly a decade assembling.  Lots of time researching and listening to the various components.  Me and Shaq, Shaquille O’Neal, had the same audio dealer.  A crazy liitle guy named Elliot with a house in the dense foliage just south of the boulevard.  The amplifier, preamplifier, transport, digital to analog conversion and speakers ran me nearly fifty thousand dollars.  I paid thirteen hundred dollars for the power chord (AC cable) alone that plugs into the wall from the power conditioner with it’s oxygen and crystal free copper buss bars that provide pure virgin power to the components that reproduce sound in my living room.  Both pieces of equipment designed by a retired NSA physicist.  Two hundred fifty watts a side into eight ohms and twice that at into four.  When I crack it wide open with nothing playing it is dead quiet.  It doesn’t even hiss.  Two speakers, five feet tall, 180 lbs each, hybrid ribbon and soft dome tweeter array, no subwoofer, no surround sound and it sounds like God to me when I play anything at all no matter how quiet.

They call me an audiophile.  I kinda don’t like that.  I used to be a vegetarian and I didn’t like that label either.

Beethoven’s Ninth will blow your hair back like that old Maxell tape ad from the eighties on my system.  So will Fiona Apple‘s first record.  I love the lushness and hips on that recording.

It is simultaneously a pinnacle of scientific achievement in sound reproduction and hopelessly archaic in the eyes of most people under thirty five.  Small grapes for the ears vs. speakers that weigh a large man.  Data compression and convenience versus all out raging sound.  I fear the mixers are wearing the ear grapes these days.  Paradigm gone.  Window open.

Yet, God as I understand it in my living room.

Sometimes I feel as though the majesty of popular music enjoyed for hundreds if not thousands of years has been eclipsed by the frozen diet meal and a hard disc recorder.  I’m genuinely afraid that art is no longer more important than microwave popcorn.

I need to tell you this.  The difference between humans and animals is not reason.  That is embarrassingly silly.  The difference is isn’t even humor.  My cats crack me the fuck up.  The difference is art.  Human beings everywhere would do well to understand and remember that.

Drinks for my friends.

9 Responses to “Naked Wrestling in the Garden class 4 I think (A&M)”

  • Temy:

    You’re a damn good writer. I always enjoy reading here. I think you’re right about the art. I remember well using the penny to get the record to play. In my old age I’m all for all things very fast and very effortless… like death.

  • David Lee 3:

    A good one.
    Your stereo system sounds enviable.

  • admin:

    @Temy:
    Thanks. Try not to be so morose.

    “using the penny to get the record to play”

    Life is always shitty in some ways and beautiful in others.

  • admin:

    @D Lee Three:
    I’ll play it fer ya some time I hope.

  • gary:

    I agree with Temy about your writing… but you already know that. Your system sounds incredible… compared to my pedestrian yamaha – klipsch setup. Why not another foray into recording?! You obviously have it…

  • admin:

    Klipsche is cool but I’m not a fan of the horn. Horns honk.

    One does not foray into recording. It’s a grind. It was my purpose but I was a younger man.

    Here’s the deal. It sounds good at any volume.

  • VictoriasSecret:

    Last comment. I think you should spend a little time to edit your work. Your ideas are all over the place. If you could go through and create a more succinct format, it would serve the reader well by guiding him/her toward the ‘final destination,’ if you will. When I read your posts, I get lost really quick. You zig-zag and then suddenly do a jumping jack. I think you could better organize your material.

    By the same token, I wish to God I could write the way in which you do. It’s like your thoughts seamlessly flow from your brain onto paper. For one, you have amazing thoughts; my brain is not nearly as sophisticated. Second, you are quite opinionated and that’s a great trait for any writer to have. Last and most importantly, you know how to draw in an audience. You got it man. Nevertheless, keep working on it! I do believe that you have hurdles to yet jump, but I’m also equally certain that you’re not that far away from reaching your Final Destination!

    By the way, I am so so sorry if my critique offended you! I’m an idiot who is probably 6 to 10 years older than you, and here I am talking junk, even though I haven’t even managed to establish a successful blog yet! This, Sir, is the effect of too-much alcohol! Lesson: Don’t Drink and Write! NEVER!

  • admin:

    I ALWAYS drink and write. Then I smoke pot and edit.

  • admin:

    Who are you? Really.

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