Tag Archives: High Fidelity

I Used To Be A Disc Junkie But I’m Alright Now

While the topic here is often about the music we listen to, it got me thinking about how we listen to it. Those who have read my Broadside columns at No Depression:The Roots Music Journal over these past nine years already know that I went all-digital just about the same time the magazine became a website. And I spend most of my listening time in motion … walking, riding a train or subway, driving a car, or pedaling an exercise bike. On the rare occasions that I want to listen to something in my home, my laptops and iPhone can plug into either an old-school big-ass rack system with JBL floor speakers the size of an elephant or a smaller cassette-CD-radio combo player with small but upgraded speakers. And when I say “rare occasion,” I should note that the last time either was turned on, Obama was still in his first term.

In the past year I have been having a conversation with myself about minimization, a fancy term for throwing out all the crap in my life that I no longer need. Anything printed on paper, stamped in vinyl, or shiny discs stuffed inside plastic cases are in my line of sight, along with furniture, jackets, coats, ties, pants too tight, shorts too loose, and some hideous shirts I once bought while suffering from a case of temporary blindness. When I was younger I made fun of old people who wore a mish-mash of clothes from white belts and plaid pants to frumpy floral housecoats and they seemed to ignore any and all fashion trends, but now I get that it’s a combination of not having the money to buy new stuff along with the realization that there’s nobody you need to impress anymore. My own closet is so full of stuff that all I want to do is get down to the basics. Fortunately, my wardrobe is timeless (I think): jeans, solid color tees, sweatshirts, five sweaters, one sports jacket, a “funeral and wedding” suit, and several pairs of boots.

On Thanksgiving we went to my nephew’s house and after dinner everyone sat around the cylindrical Amazon Echo while a girl named Alexa followed a verbal command to play “Alice’s Restaurant.” It was placed on a table beneath a television bigger than my car in a rather large room, and frankly the sound quality was quite good. Growing up with right and left channel speakers, and now listening with ear buds or headphones, I was rather enchanted about how this one black round thing produced such fine clarity with bass, midrange, and the top end all intact, while somehow creating a “stereo-surround” effect. And if that wasn’t enough, the darn thing told me the weather for the next week.

Now I happen to know a thing or two about products like voice-controlled smart speakers and all sorts of other wireless devices for either your home or head. And on Cyber Monday my email inbox was jammed with tantalizing offers of deals and discounts for everything under the sun: handmade beeswax candles, beaded bracelets, packages of 48-count toilet paper, clothes, food, gift cards, and even automobiles. But what caught my eye, and by most accounts the number one seasonal gift category, was the electronics. Holy moly … who could resist saving up to 66% off of last year’s Beats Studio 2 wireless over-the-ear cans, or at half-price the Ultimate Ears BOOM 2 Phantom Wireless Mobile Bluetooth Speaker that’s waterproof AND shockproof that can daisy-chain with 49 (!!!) other UE BOOM 2s? It can survive both an earthquake and tsunami at the same time and you know what?

I bought it. Amazon Prime with free two-day shipping sucked me in again. And I think it could be a game changer in my life. It’s not quite the sophisticated and sleek device with Alexa whispering today’s temperature in my ear when I wake up, but it’s going to let me toss out one of the two old-school hi-fi systems that clutter my space and I might start listening to music again in the sanctity of my home. And in the whirlwind and frenzy of the Cyber Monday sales extravaganza, I also ordered a couple of real books printed on paper, a box of a thousand packets of Splenda, one pair of shoes, three Brita water filters, and 12 tins of Altoids Peppermints. I may never leave home again.

Postscript: After two weeks I dumped the Ultimate Ears BOOM 2 Phantom Wireless Mobile Bluetooth Speaker that’s waterproof AND shockproof that can daisy-chain with 49 (!!!) other UE BOOM 2s UE Boom 2 and upgraded to a pair of Sonos Play:1. Wi-fi enabled music connected to my streaming provider beat out Bluetooth, and these babies were half price too. 

This article was originally published as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column over at No Depression: The Journal of Roots Music.

The Crackle of 78s and Record Store Memories

DREAM ARE MADE OF

While last week I struggled a bit with my post-operative pain-reduction opiate-derived haze, the last few days have found me up, walking, talking, thinking, moving, rehabbin’, writing, interviewing, plotting, scheming, making music, listening to lots of it, and sitting up straight as an arrow on a sturdy chair with some lumbar support. Today I bought a bagel, got a haircut, found a lightbulb, ate an apple, and have been listening to that great eight-disc set from Yazoo Records called Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be. It features music of the 1920s and ’30s. Fiddle tunes, banjo songs, rags, jigs, stomps, religious selections, blues, and some of the best traditional American music culled from 78s. They got lots more too, like that R. Crumb collection pictured here. A great record label indeed.

The other night I visited the website of an old friend from England that I’ve not checked in on for quite a while. I guess you could say it lives on the edge, as it’s a music collector’s site where hundreds of fans come to talk about any and every type of musical fetish one can have, and they upload their record collections to share. Records. Vinyl. Plastic. Most everything is pretty damn old. And ranges from the very popular to the absolute obscure.

Reading through all the notes and stories that people write reminded me of the customers we used to get at the record store I worked at about thirty years ago in Santa Monica. Straight out of High Fidelity (the film, not the magazine). The guys who wanted Japanese pressings of all of the Johnny Otis Savoy recordings, who talked about Jam singles and EPs, needed the German mono version of the Fantastic Baggys’ album, bought picture discs and colored vinyl, would argue about who was the best or who was the worst, and would come in with lists of songs that Carol Kaye played bass on.

What ever happened to those guys? I’ll tell ya. They live on my friends website. And there’s got to be hundreds more just like it and thousands of people still into it. Some folks sit around and reminisce about the old days and ask whatever happened to the neighborhood record shop. And others have used technology to recreate a virtual experience of it. Like I said, it lives on the edge. But it’s out there.

I’m not even gonna get into all the television shows and films I’ve been watching during this recuperation thing, but I will mention a documentary called The Last Mogul which is about the life of Lew Wasserman, the man who, along with founder Jules Stein, helped build MCA (Music Corporation of America…now Universal) into the giant media company that it eventually became. From the Jewish ghetto of Cleveland, to Chicago and New York City, and eventually Hollywood, although it focuses mostly on the film industry, there is plenty about how the music industry was built from the ground up. MCA booked almost all of the early big band acts, from Jelly Roll Morton to King Oliver to Kay Keyser, into the speakeasies during Prohibition, and are credited with creating the modern touring industry that we have today. Mobsters, molls and musicians. A great book when I read it years ago, but an even more interesting visual and audio history. Netflix it.

I had to skip seeing Lucinda Williams twice last week, and also Dom Flemons. He played a free show down in the city at Madison Square Park on a threatening damp but ultimately dry Saturday afternoon. It might have been some of his videos I watched or the reading of an extensive interview he did a few years back, but he got me into this “back to the past” funk that I’m in. Tell you what, next time he comes rollin’ around, I’ll not miss it. He’s a helluva performer. 

How’s you email inbox? Mine overflows every day, and for the past three weeks I’ve been unsubscribing each morning to all sorts of newsletters and companies and charities and whatever. Publicists and marketing companies? For the most part, gone. Hey musicians — save your money. If you need to turn someone like me onto your music or promote a new album or tour, just find me here and hit the contact button.

Here’s one giant exception to that rule. Hearth Music. When Devon Leger sends me a message talking about someone his company represents, I listen. Because it comes straight from his heart. Or hearth. The man has great ears, is an accomplished musician himself, and has built a marketing firm (the big tent version, that can cover soup to nuts) that represents some of the finest traditional, folk, bluegrass, and Americana music being made today.

Case in point: Meet the Locust Honey String Band. Based in Asheville North Carolina, the band features singers Chloe Edmonstone on fiddle and Meredith Watson on guitar, with the banjo pickin’ of Brooklyn New York’s Hilary Hawke, from the duo Dubl Handi. Their new album is in heavy rotation here in the Hudson Valley farmhouse, fitting in right along with all those killer 78’s from Yazoo, with the early string bands and Southern musicians. Grab a copy of Never Let Me Cross Your Mind and put on your dancin’ shoes.