OK, so, where were we? Oh, I remember - everything around here is a disaster.
Here's the deal: We're on a crash program to declutter, clean and paint. You can't really do the latter two unless you get serious about performing the former. It is time for us to get serious.
We've been in this house for a very long time and we seem to have accumulated stuff. Books. CDs. Clothing. Kitchen tools and appliances, and much more.
Now, this house is tiny, with a paucity of storage. Every nook and cranny is stuffed full of stuff.
The worst was the garage, so that's where I started. Cleaning this mess out, sorting stuff and getting rid of stuff, took me two weeks. Two dirty, dusty, weeks. Many, many trips to the local thrift shop.
Why all the work? Why the hurry? We are selling this wonderful little house and moving on. The process is not easy for us.
We're on our back foot with the pre-sale. We should be ready to stage by the 23rd, and to that end, we've had the painters in to spruce the place up. Plumbing inspected and repaired, termite inspector in, lots of stuff removed and placed in storage. So far, so good. We've had the movers in to specialty-pack crystal, Lladro, china, and other delicate stuff. It all takes time and not everyone works to our schedule.
We really need to have the place listed over the July 4 weekend, the realtor sez. We both are stressed by the pressure of accomplishing this. And the poor cats, with all the workmen tromping through the house! They are not happy at all, and we live in fear that despite our admonitions, somebody will leave a door open and one or both will escape into what is, for them, the unknown.
But at least after a hassle caused by the disappearance of the cable box, the TV now works again and we can record and watch stuff.
Amid all this, I'm just back from a long-planned fly-fishing trip with my old pal Eric Herbranson. It was a bad time for me to be gone. It could not come at a worse time. But I arrived home to find that Laura had the kitchen and dining room almost completely packed in preparation for the folks who will stage the house. So it's more than half empty. Stressful that our familiar stuff isn't available to us. Computers, for instance. In fact, I'm writing and posting this on an iPad. Far from optimal.
The thing is, we don't know where we're going to land. An upcoming road trip to revisit the places we're considering will help clarify that, I think. I hope. If we can manage to get the house listed on schedule, we might even be able to make an offer, should we find a house we really love. We shall see.
But if we love this place so intensely, why are we leaving? That of course is the big question. We're leaving because after 32 years of life, love and careers here, it's time for us to find someplace we love even more. Someplace in which we can hunker down for - well, for the remainder.
So, as I've said, we shall see. And we shall keep our fingers crossed.
I am very reluctant to write about this. In fact, even as I write, I'm not sure that I will be able to post this screed, as I suspect that most people probably aren't comfortable hearing about this sort of thing. Certainly I'm not terribly comfortable writing about it. But for whatever reason – perhaps someone else out there is feeling what I've felt and could benefit from this – I want to get it on paper. So here goes:
A friend and I have joked over the years about "Scandinavian angst," which I took as nothing more than an odd, unfunny joke about, or rather on, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian folk. But I also knew that there was something there, something I've felt, and that my father certainly felt, even though he wouldn't have recognized it as such.
In my dad's case, Laura and I thought that probably he suffered from depression. My mom thought so too. He was completely joyless, played solitaire all day when he wasn't napping, and generally lived an unpleasant last decade of his life.
For the last couple of years I've realized that I've become very like my dad. I have been taking no joy in the things I used to love to do. I napped frequently, my diet was out of control, I sought home and privacy rather than being with people, I questioned my ability and my worth as a journalist and my limited ability as a musician, and I couldn't make myself do things I knew I needed to do.
For example, I went to a medical appointment for something important and was given a prescription I badly needed. But I couldn't make myself go to have it filled. Came straight home instead, the only place I could bring myself to go, the place I needed to go. It wasn't that I didn't want to go for those meds; it was that I couldn't go. Laura went and got them for me the next day.
Clearly, something was amiss.
I was troubled by what was happening, or not happening, and at the end of the day, I didn't want my behavior to be like my dad's – no offense to him, he had many admirable qualities. But he missed a lot of life's joy and for me, this would be unacceptable.
So I went to my doc and reported what was going on.
He asked a number of questions and then said, "Jon, those are the symptoms of depression."
He wrote me a prescription for a substance that increases the production of certain chemicals in one's brain that help produce a feeling of well-being. Trolling the Web for information suggests that science isn't exactly sure how/why the stuff works.
I came straight home from that appointment. Again, I could not bring myself to head to the pharmacy; just couldn't do it. Had it filled the next day.
But once I got my hands on the stuff? It seems to work, in a subtle sort of way. I don't know how much of an impact it is supposed to have, or whether my doc will adjust the dosage. These are things I will learn down the road. It's early days, in other words. But there is progress; it seems to be having an impact on the way I live life. I guess we shall see.
So, depression, the black dog, Scandinavian angst, whatever you want to call it, apparently there are effective treatments. I'm hoping that over time, mine continues to be effective.
I have done photography since I was a student. I really like it. I like to make pictures and I like to look at them. But now, I think that digital photography has crossed an important threshold.
I think where the threshold is depends on how comfortable one is with ever-advancing technology levels.
And I find that I have not merely reached my threshold, I have stepped way past it.
First, last year I upgraded my DSLR camera body. As you probably know, these things aren't really cameras. They're more like computers that just happen to wear lenses. And this new computer/camera is very powerful. I won't say that I've mastered it, because I haven't. But at least I'm more comfortable with the thing than I was at first, and I now understand many, if not all, its functions. OK, so far, so good.
But once you make a photograph, what do you do with it? Do you download it to your computer's hard drive and then enjoy it and send it to friends as-is? I doubt many people do that and that's where, for me, the trouble starts.
I do use the Internet to send a few photos to friends and family. But when I find a shot I really like, I print it on 81/2 x 11-inch photo paper with a pro-level printer. I install the prints in plastic display sleeves and then clip those sleeves into one of my photo books, large three-ring binders, where I can look at them.
Again, so far, so good. But before I hit "print" on a shot, like almost everyone else, I use one of Adobe's Photoshop programs to enhance that shot – boost contrast and sharpness, make the sky a little more dramatic, bring out detail in dark areas, stuff like that.
Now, mostly these are all things we used to do in the darkroom. Back in J-school, I started out shooting a Speed-Graphic, which used 4 x 5-inch sheet film. You controlled focus, shutter speed and aperture. In the developing process, you controlled time and temperature and if you did that correctly, you got a decent negative. And in the printing process, you dodged and burned to bring out detail, and selected the paper grade to give you the contrast you needed. It was complex, but at the same time, simple.
We still have these elemental controls, but now our computers are our darkrooms. And in those computerized darkrooms, so much more is possible.
And the possibilities continue to grow. The problem for me is that every few months, the various Photoshop programs become more powerful and complex.
Because I have been unwilling to pay full-pop for the regular, full-featured Photoshop program, I have, for years, used something called Photoshop Elements. It's kind of Photoshop-lite. It's worked well. I started with Elements 3, upgraded to Elements 7 – which I used for a long time – and last year upgraded to Elements 13. And now there's an Elements 14, which promises many "wonderful advances."
Ah, but recently Adobe moved standard Photoshop to the Cloud and initiated a subscription program.
So, OK, the cost of a year's subscription was reasonable, I thought, so I bought the sub. What I got was not only Photoshop but also something called Lightroom. Both are incredibly powerful and also incredibly complex. I do not know what to do with it all.
And as if to make my point, aftermarket suppliers now are offering what are called plug-ins that automate the functions of these programs. With them, you hit a couple of keys on your computer keyboard and Hey Presto, the image becomes more dramatic. Or at least some programmer's version of what is more dramatic. This is supposed to simplify the process. I don't think it does.
I'm finding that the complexity of these two programs, and their attendant learning curves, get in the way of the enjoyment of, you know, actually making photographs. I mean, I don't even know what some of the stuff in Photoshop does. I don't want to be a computer geek and don't have the qualifications to be one. I just want to be able to produce photos that are halfway decent. Yes, I'm mostly satisfied with halfway decent photos, though I aspire to better than that - maybe three-quarters decent, relying on an excellent starting point, a really high-quality image from the camera. That would be pretty good.
So here's where I am: I've been fooling with Photoshop CC, as the Cloud version is called, for a couple of months now. I think that the advance of software functions has gotten out of control, providing functions that most of us hobbyists probably don't need. As a result, I find Photoshop CC very unwieldy and I find the few plug-ins that I've tried to be unsatisfying. Yes, I could haul myself over to Samy's Camera, the big camera shop here in town, and take one of the Photoshop classes the shop offers. That would be two days or evenings and a good chunk of money out of my limited supply of money and time. Or I could just backfill and continue using Elements 13, plug-in free. In a sense, that's like sticking with black-and-white film, I suspect.
I have no wish to revert to my little Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, an example of which I still have, or, for that matter, to the last great film camera I bought, a Canon EOS1 that is gathering dust in a closet. But I'm thinking that if I just stop and think, use my DSLR's abilities to their fullest, and then do what I've always done with Elements, I'll probably get results that are more than satisfactory and save myself much frustration.
So that's where I am, at least this morning. I mean, is photography, in its totality, an art? Or is it a technological exercise? It's a little of both, I suppose, and always has been, but on a sliding scale. But more and more, I feel the urge to back away, at least a little, from the technological side. That's because I think that this explosion of photographic technology has meant, at least for me, not more control, but less. At least, that's how it seems to be working for me. So I plan to step back across to the comfortable side of the threshold. We'll see, I guess, how long that satisfies.
As a retired gent, I'm always on the lookout for interesting and creative ways in which to waste time.
I found one last summer when I did a bit of restoration and carving on an old wooden wine rack that Laura, always on the lookout for cool stuff, dragged home. You can see the result here. And as always, to see the images here fullsize, just click on them.
I'm not sure that I precisely recall from whence came the impetus for this next bit of madness. But it came. I found a vintage Ducati decal in the junk that litters my desk, a leftover from a restoration that did not go at all well. Which is why it is a leftover.
I thought that I just might try to reproduce that logo, which I find quite attractive, in wood. So I did. With, of course, a bit of artistic license.
First step was to obtain a bit of wood. I ordered that, a plank of basswood about 13 inches long, online.
Next, I scanned the decal, scaled it up, and printed it out on regular paper.
Next, I determined and marked the exact centers of the plank and printed logo, and applied orientation lines to both. Then I taped down a sheet of transfer paper so it would cover my work area, and then I taped the logo print atop that, making sure it was centered and dead square.
Then I traced the logo with a pencil, which left a carbon outline from the transfer paper on the basswood. I reinforced that outline with a pencil.
Next, I masked everything but the work area.
Then I started carving, using only hand tools, some of which easily date from pre-WW I Germany.
I do not have an artist's hands, much less an artist's sensibility, so the work was rough. I refined it as much as possible, managing to not slice fingers open with very sharp chisels, a result always to be sought. And when I thought I'd done all I could do, I started painting, using acrylics.
Here's the result. I'm pretty pleased with it. I have no idea whatsoever what I'm going to do with it. Hang it in the garage, maybe?
Or maybe sell it? Would the appropriate price be $750, or $851, or $906, all capacities of famed Ducati motorcycles? Or maybe $350, the capacity of the engine of my vintage racebike? Naw. Maybe I'll just keep it. In the meantime, I'm on the lookout for more ways to waste time.
As some of you know, I recently underwent a spot of surgery. This was aimed at solving a problem called spinal stenosis, which was wreaking havoc with my legs and knees.
I thought, "Well, fine, no problem." That's because I'm never ill, ever; and because I've undergone umpteen orthopedic procedures, including three knee replacements, and I've always bounced right back. And I mean, right back.
But this time has been different. I came through the surgery just fine, problem apparently solved. But I exited the hospital with a couple of stubborn infections. My doc has a handle on both and I'm feeling pretty good, though Laura and I both are gobsmacked at the concept of leaving the hospital sicker than you were when you went in.
But never mind. It's all good. I've told Laura I'm now ready to hunt bear with a broomstick. More to the point, I'm ready for a little trip we have planned.
Here's the conversation that followed during a chat about a return to normal activities:
Laura: Oh, no, you don't, buster. You are not Superman.
Me: Oh, yes, I am!
Laura, thoughtfully: Well, OK, maybe you are. But you're an older Superman.
Well, just how do I counter that? She is, of course, correct. As she always is. So we're still going to embark on our little weekend adventure. But I will practice as much discretion as I'm capable of, take it easy, let the meds continue to do their work.
Because this business of getting older is not for wimps. But it also is not for people who give up easily.
Over the fullness of time I've had to undergo a number of surgeries. This includes three knee replacements, a knee reconstruction, spinal surgery and so many knee arthroscopies that I've lost count. They've all gone pretty well.
It's all been the result of living what Laura calls "a dangerous life." So when the prospect of another surgery arose, I wasn't too concerned. But it turns out to have been more difficult than I thought it would be.
A week ago this past Friday I checked into Glendale Adventist Medical Center so that a neurosurgeon could perform a triple laminotomy on me, lumbar 3, 4, and 5. This has not been a walk in the park.
Walking in the park, as it were, was part of the problem. I take long power walks most days but the fun of this was curtailed when I noticed that my left knee was refusing to lock. Instead, it wanted to collapse. The problem was the sciatic nerve. Signals to these nerves, in both legs, were being interrupted and corrupted by arthritis and plaque on my spine. That had to be fixed. Hence the surgery.
I looked for a way around this. Nobody in his or her right mind submits gladly to this sort of thing. But at the end of the day, there just was no choice. So I figured, let's just get it over with. What could go wrong?
Turns out, plenty.
The doc began his three-hour cut at about 2 pm on Friday and by about 4 on Saturday, they turned me loose to go home.
I felt great on Sunday, pretty good on Monday, less good on Tuesday, even though I'd stopped the pain meds. I was experiencing abdominal problems. Opioid-based anti-pain meds do that to me. I got so jammed up that I might have well been sprinkling my diet with concrete.
Always in previous surgeries, I came home, rested for a day, and was up and around. Period. Even after all three knee replacements, I was up and functioning within a day or two. Not this time.
I felt awful on Wednesday, with a cough and a fever, so I remained in bed and made arrangements to see my regular doc, who saw me the next day, Thursday.
I try to not let this stuff get me down, but I felt so poorly that I could not face stopping at the pharmacy to fill a couple of prescriptions. Laura, who has, as always, taken stellar care of me, ran that errand for me. Good thing she did.
I will not go into the worst of it because it's just not very pretty. But at a minimum, I was hallucinating, seeing vivid colors and asleep or awake, imagining wild scenarios, things completely out of character for me. I wish I'd written it all down. When I closed my eyes to rest, this didn't stop - a movie was running full-speed on the backs of my eye-lids. This was, I'm sure, the result of the residual effects of the anesthetics and anti-pain meds. And I had a rollicking fever.
Thursday night/early Friday morning sometime – I'm not sure how awake I was for this – I had the very real impression that some dark entity stirred, took a long look at me, then disappeared. Fortunately, Thursday afternoon was when I'd started an antibiotic course designed to defeat a respiratory infection I'd picked up. I haven't seen that dark presence since. As for the cough and fever, was it pneumonia? Maybe. Whatever. It's about gone now.
I'd been focusing so completely on these problems that I'd almost forgotten about the issues that the surgery was designed to fix. Yep, those are fixed. I'm very happy about that. Mobility restored, ability to sit (which means drive) for long periods also restored. So it's all good.
And if it is, that's because, in no small measure, of Laura. As usual, she is tireless and has taken incredibly good care of me – better care than I would have been taking of myself. I'm very grateful for her, and for her help. Thanks, sweetie.
Also, thanks to my regular doc. The surgeon, meanwhile, did his job, I guess, but then disengaged - when he pulled my staples yesterday, that's all he did. He didn't ask me how I was feeling or if my legs were working properly. I'm really grateful for my regular doc, who continues to stay focused.
There is one little thing, though. I've noticed that the bottom of one of my front teeth is now chipped. It wasn't chipped when I entered the hospital. Go figure.
In any case, now, not quite two weeks later, I'm probably 80 percent good, with my back much improved. I'll take that. I just hope that I don't ever have to endure anything like this again. Clearly, it's time for me to begin living a far less dangerous life.
Today I took several hours to cruise the Grand National Roadster Show, a hot-rod and custom-car show at the L.A. County Fairplex in Pomona. The place was jam-packed with people on hand to view what must have been more than 1,000 cars of all kinds.
But wow! Lemme tell you about the people. A little bit of everything - though not many preppy, Ivy League-types. Lots of ink, lots of facial hair, lots of bald heads, some ink on bald heads, saw a woman with tattoos on her legs that began, with the same designs, where the tops of her cowboy boots left off. Also rather more obesity than I would have thought.
The big thing for me was just total awe at the amounts of money folks have spent on these cars. Incredible.
I found lots of the usual, seen-one-you've-seen-'em-all cars, but also a good number of interesting and unusual vehicles. Especially, I liked the race cars - a number of lakesters, several drag-racers. I thought I'd post pictures of just a few of them. When I can remember what the hell they are, I'll make a notation. But for the most part, just check 'em out and enjoy. And honestly, what you will see here barely scratches the surface - the variety was amazing.
Here's a nice, vintage lakester with plenty of patina. These things used bodies made from the fuel belly tanks of WW II aircraft.
Here's another lakester - a car meant for top-speed runs at Muroc, Bonneville, etc. What's cool about this one is the very pretty and carefully made hand-shaped aluminum bodywork.
This was, I gathered, a design prototype for the 1957 Chevrolet line using the old fastback look from the early 1950s. I really like this one!
I also liked this one a lot. A Plymouth, I seem to remember, with kind of an unusual look. And, naturally, a vintage Chysler Hemi engine.
Here's a take on a Caddy that I liked because it is so, so, so - well, wonderfully and extravagantly overdone. It it was a convertible it would be just perfect.
Love this! It's a hot-rodded version of a Lincoln V-12, the engine that powered the old Lincoln Zephyrs. Tell me: When did you last see one of these?
This is the only El Camino I found. It is so wonderfully overdone that it deserves an award, sez I.
Here's an Austin-Healy 100 with a big, honkin, American V-8 engine shoehorned into its flimsy little chassis. I assure you, this thing would be truly frightening to drive. And yes, I want it because, yes, I am crazy.
People will make hot-rods out of nearly anything. This is an ancient Dodge from the 1920s, I seem to remember. Yes, if I was smart, I would have shot photos of the data cards with the cars. It's very well known that I am not smart.
This is special. It's a Ford flathead motor wearing a pair of Ardun hemi heads, hunkering there under that blower. You just do not see these anymore. I once found a pair at the Harrah's Swap Meet in Reno. I didn't buy them. You will remember, please, that I am not smart.
And this, a kind of funky rat-rod that I also liked a lot. I especially liked the interior. See the next photo, please.
See what I mean? My pal Stew Crane, also a ranch kid like me, observed when I showed him this shot that he and I both have spent a lot of time in seats just like the ones seen here.
And that's it, for now. This was a very fun experience, a perfect way to spend a pre-storm Saturday. Yes, El Nino is slated to bring us a huge storm tomorrow. So this was a good day to be out while tomorrow will be a great day to remain in.
I've been kind of interested and, I admit it, perversely amused by, the people finding common cause with the band of lunatics who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
Their deal started as an expression of the desire to "return land to local control." Sounds good, right? But that's just code for an attempt by an arrogant and ignorant bunch of hotheads for preserving an archaic and vastly inefficient way of life enjoyed by a relatively small group of people at the expense of the American public.
And now it's resulted in gunfire and death. It's a tragedy any way you look at it. And trust me, we haven't heard the last of it because there are plenty more of these troublemakers/troubleseekers where this first bunch came from. In this gun-rich country there always will be. And let's not even think about the court cases that no doubt will ensue.
That land they want to return to local control is federal property. If it's federal property, it's ours. We own it, all of us, and the feds manage it for us. That's a good deal. They do a pretty good job, given the enormity of the lands involved and the very small budget they're given to work with.
If locals managed it, you can bet its uses would be perverted to answer to prevailing local interests - much more logging, mining, grazing, off-roading and more. There's too much of that being done already but if these troglodytes got their way, these activities soon would go totally out of control and some of the things we cherish – protection for endangered animals and sites, for instance – would disappear.
(Disclosure: I covered a bit of the first so-called "Sagebrush Rebellion" when it erupted back in, what, 1979 or so. These were the issues that surfaced then. They still exist now.)
This ranching way of life these people are trying to preserve is archaic because for the most part it involves raising beef cattle on public lands, paying a pittance of the overall management costs of that land for the privilege of doing so. Those costs are borne by the Bureau of Land Management. The feds. That's us. Or at least our tax dollars.
How these ranches remain in business is a mystery because as far as I can tell, not only is the beef market shrinking, but by far the majority of beef we buy comes from cattle raised in feed lots.
This is important. The ranges most of these western ranch cattle wander aren't composed of verdant pastures. Sure, sometimes, in some places, they are, but much more often, especially across the Southwest, they're composed of dry, scrubby near-deserts that cause the cattle to meander for miles to find something to eat and drink.
The inevitable result is that the meat from such cattle is not as tender or flavorful as it might otherwise be. Feedlot cattle, on the other hand, don't get a lot of activity and that means their meat can't get tough and stringy, and it tends to be more heavily marbled, which is better for flavor. Additionally, the feed for such animals can be controlled and they can more easily be given veterinary care.
(Full disclosure: I was raised on a ranch. Our cattle were raised in feedlots, and very humanely, at that. I eat beef and I use leather products. But not very much of either. I've been around these animals far too much, and have far too much respect for their beauty and dignity, to want to be much of a part of their deaths. In fact, I can make a good case for vegetarianism.)
If these people want to be cowboys and ranch people, if they want to exist in some romanticized version of the past in which they can live the cowboy dream, fine. Let them be and do that. But let them pay for their way of life just like the rest of us must. Let them either graze their cattle on lands they own or on BLM land that they pay a fair price to use. I would have no argument at all with that.
For one reason or another, I've not been getting the enjoyment from listening to music that I used to get. Listening used to be one of my reasons for living. Now it's not. I'm not at all sure why. But I think at least part of it is because of the iPod. Or, rather, because of my ineptitude when it comes to the iPod.
I know, I know; lots of people love the things. I do, too. I mean, who wouldn't? It's a miracle device capable of containing a universe of sound and culture. Indeed, if yours has sufficient memory, you can put your entire music library onto it. That's good.
But for me, it's also been bad because I think iPods, in a couple of insidious ways, screw up the listening experience. First, unless you've downloaded your music from CDs, if you've instead downloaded songs from the Web, they resulting files are decidedly compressed and low-fi, especially when listening through the Apple-supplied ear buds. The music sounds like your cat crapped on those ear buds.
Second, if you have your iPod set on "Shuffle," as I do, the number of tunes you'll hear before songs start repeating seems to be alarmingly small, a very annoying thing. It's like a juke box loaded with 100 45-rpm oldies that will only play 15 of them. I find that I've got stuff in my library that I haven't heard in years since I started relying upon "Shuffle."
And third, selecting individual albums, one by one, to listen to is a fairly clunky process. At least for me. This clearly is not good, especially when one is attempting to drive without rear-ending a big rig or T-boning an Amtrak train at a crossing.
Sure, when I'm out on my daily 4-mile walk and I actually take music along, I listen to things on "Shuffle." Using this option helps take my mind off the task of fumbling with the device while trying to not trip and fall over on my beak. I have enough trouble not doing that when I'm paying attention to my surroundings. But whenever and wherever I'm listening, I also find that I'm missing the experience of enjoying an entire album, track by track, whether it's a collection of Beethoven piano sonatas or a record by the Beatles.
But here's the thing: For reasons I have completely and totally forgotten – I do that a lot these days, now that I am more than a little elderly – I have two of the things. One is several generations old, the other is even older. Naturally, I've been using the newer of the two. On that one, it is indeed not possible (I think) to shuffle albums. But I've just discovered that on the older of the two, it is possible to shuffle albums.
So here's my solution. I shall swap iPods. Ingenious, no? The one I plug into the stereo in the garage when we want tunes out on the back patio when we're out there cooking or dining and generally not paying close attention to the music will be the newer one, which is all too happy to serve up whatever crazy musical mix its little silicone brain decides upon. For everything else, I'll use the older of the two.
Sure, it's got a smaller memory than the newer one (and as noted, who am I to bitch about having a smaller memory?), but still contains an immense library of music.
I'm going to give this a go to see how it works out. I'm not sure whether this will reinvigorate my enjoyment of listening and the associated reason for living. But it can't hurt.
Some good amount of time back, catastrophe stuck: The receiver that powers the two small JBL speakers out in the garage failed. Well, hell. Got to have tunes, and also NPR, while I'm messing about in the garage.
So this week I bought a new receiver. This thing is a budget-priced Yamaha, selected in no small part because a Yamaha CR-620, purchased almost 40 years ago with the first payment from my first book, continues to power my office audio system with spectacular results.
So, this new piece of electronics? Better than I could have hoped. It delivers crisp, clean sound, with terrific stereo separation. You remember stereo separation, don't you? That's where there are not only distinct left and right channels of sound energy, but also noticeable zones between the left-and-right extremes so that one can hear, and place, the instruments in the entire arc of, say, a concert orchestra in a recording of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, which is in my view the finest musical composition known to mankind.
This new Yamaha receiver sounds, I think, even better than the device powering the primary audio system out in the living room. That would be a solid mid-fi piece built more than 30 years ago by NAD, purchased with the proceeds of yet another book. I mean, this thing is a serious piece of hardware. But to my astonishment, I think this new receiver sounds better.
As a result, I have kind of rediscovered the wonders not just of stereo, but also of high fidelity, with highs that freeze one's ears and lows that rattle the bones of one's core.
We've lost our appreciation for those values, I think, not least because of laziness, indifference, and the evils of the iPod.
I've had an iPod for years and have listened to a lot of music over the thing. But the thing about music is that it is composed of sound waves. With anything that requires earphones or earbuds, you don't get that. Or at least if you do, they're tiny, emasculated sound waves. What great music requires is great, heaving, powerful waves of sound, waves that pick one up and deposit one in a towering country of sublime art and consciousness.
And there's another thing. The ethic always has been to listen to a record all the way through. But not with an iPod. With one of those, so many folks, me included, listen with the "shuffle" mode, so that whatever is contained in the device's ice-cold, uncaring memory is delivered in random order.
Nooo! I want all of Beethoven's 9th, all of that Crosby, Stills & Nash record, all of "Abbey Road," delivered at one time so that I can concentrate on the music, not hop from musical flower to musical flower like some demented, deranged honey bee.
I think we've lost our image of musical quality, not least because of the march of technology. I want to hear not just stereo separation and faithful fidelity, but also nuance; I want to hear the bass player cough, the clacking of the keys on the oboe. Don't you?
If you don't - well, if you don't, then I reckon you have different expectations of music than I do. That's fine. But I'm happy with my new garage receiver, enjoyment of which has me thinking of all these things. The neighbors, however, who so far are tolerating the expanded sound pressures emanating from our garage while I'm out there fooling about at my workbench, may be somewhat less happy. But hey, those little JBLs can only be cranked up so far before they explode and catch fire. I plan to avoid that situation, if at all possible. So it's all good. I promise to not push things that far.