"And terror like a frost shall halt the flood of thinking."
By the time you read this my daughter will be four years old.
This morning I took Julia to preschool, but when we got there I realized I'd forgotten to bring her lunch, so I told the teachers I would return with it later on. I went back at noon, brown bag in hand, and walked into the classroom just as everyone was settling down on the big story rug for a big story. When Julia saw me her face lit up and she shouted, "Daddy!" She jumped up and ran to me and gave me the biggest hug ever, in history. While she was hugging me she continued to say, "My Daddy! My Daddy!," and patted me on the back the way she does lately.
All you parents out there know what I'm talking about, don't you? It's hard to stay worried about skating or ringing or jitter or other distortions with vaguely Christmas-y names when you've got something like that going on. It's hard to get all worked up about the future of DVD-A or even a good format like SACD when you've got something like that going on. It's even hard to stay mad at those lovable nuts in the audio press who brought our hobby to the edge of extinction in the 1970s by caving in to their advertisers and promulgating The Big Lie (if it tests good it sounds good — and everything tests good) when you've got something like that going on.
Then of course we have the opposite end of the spectrum. In September of last year, four teams of gullible zealots tried to appease both their deity and a wealthy, cave-dwelling theocrat by flying commercial jetliners into the World Trade Center and other targets. There were children on three of the planes—unaccompanied children on at least one that I am aware of—and they and thousands of other innocents died in fear. Islamic fundamentalists celebrated gaily and called for more, and Christian fundamentalists blamed liberals for pissing off G-d. Every American got a serving of terror and grief without historic precedent, although some carried it back to their tables more gracefully than others.
Apart from the obvious, the worst thing that happened to me that day was the destruction of a building where Rob Doorack, Lenny Tamulonis, and I used to work in the late '80s and early '90s, alongside several thousand other people. Just two weeks earlier, while searching my files for a particular Gizmo photo, I found a wonderful picture someone had taken on my last day at 7 World Trade Center, with a going-away party and a cake. Lenny had switched the letters on the cake to read GOOD BYE RAT.
Those were the days!
I thought the events of September 11th had changed us forever. I'm pretty sure they changed me.
But a month later I got a letter in the mail from a Listener reader whose name I recognized at once: an apparently older man who occasionally sends us profanity-laced reminders of how much he hates tubes, how much he hates high-priced audio products, and, when you get right down to it, how much he hates us. No mere envelope could dam this most recent outpouring: He had even scribbled a personal insult to me below the return address!
I don't mind telling you: I felt miserable when I saw it. Not that I can't take being criticized: For better or for worse, my skin is a lot thicker now than it was seven years ago, when I founded Listener. The thing is, I couldn't help but wonder,
Isn't there enough hate and anger in the world already?
Aren't hobbies supposed to be places where you go to get away from misery? Or have I just got things backward, as usual?
A year ago I would have simmered and seethed and then written a pointed response, no doubt wickedly funny, no doubt using the word "ass" at least twice. I am in a different place now. I am both too happy and too sad to bother. Audio is where I make my living, but it's also the place where I go to have fun, and I will not see it spoiled by one or another lonely old man.
I sent the letter back unopened, but not before my daughter and I decorated it with the nicest stickers we could find: some iridescent red hearts, a bunny in a sunbonnet tending her garden, a couple of Hello Kitty" stickers, a pink unicorn (also iridescent!, and a pink sunrise with the words SMILE, G-D LOVES YOU! Julia and I mailed it on our way to preschool.
So I guess I've come full circle and I guess I could leave it there. But in case there's anyone left in Listener-Land who still doesn't get it, let me remind you: This is indeed just a hobby — a nice one — and there is indeed enough hate and anger in the world. If you've got some to spare, please haul it someplace else.
I used to feel sorry for those guys who approach hi-fi with the kind of dimwitted macho angst normally associated with paintball and automatic weapons collecting, but now they just make me sick. They're in the way. And when they go public, they make our hobby look bad. Hi-fi is a very nice neighborhood with plenty of room for newcomers, but when I see one audiophile attacking another in print or on the Internet it's like watching my out-of-shape neighbor walk outside in his pee-stained briefs and bend over to pick up the newspaper: G-d may love him, hut nobody else wants to see that sort of thing.
Thank you, friends, for your attention and for your continued support. And welcome to the eighth volume of Listener, which I hope you will read in the spirit in which it was made.
As we went to press we learned that Keith O. Johnson of Reference Recordings has received his fifth Grammy nomination (best engineering, classical) for his label’s recent collection of music by Respighi — which Wayne Donnelly reviews in this issue. Congratulations to Keith and all at RR.
This issue we welcome two new writers (Caroline Wright and Paul MacArthur) and one new column (Phil Sieg's DIY-oriented "Adventures along the Wire Route"). Please note that our news section, which begins on page 22, isn't usually so overrun with obituaries and we presume things will perk up soon.