Category Archives: Whimsy

Getting Back to Vinyl

For Christmas 2017, my kids teamed up and bought me a decent Audio-Technica turntable. It was a thoughtful gift –one they knew I’d take an interest in. A turntable. Man, I hadn’t owned one since I was young.

It just wasn’t a priority. I left home young, got married young, and started having kids young. A quality listening experience was not really the thing. Jethro Tull gave way to a Disney song cassette, and then to All Saints and Backstreet Boys, and always in the car, it seemed.

What changes happened to the audio world over the kid decades! Everything got smaller and more mobile. Kids carried boom boxes around. Then the Sony Walkman became the rage. Then the Discman. Antiskip (anti-shake) technology came in, which buffered the audio output to eliminate jump backs in the song if the disc player was bumped.

The new medium, the CD had powerful boasts. It was smaller, more durable, and it virtually eliminated the noise associated with a needle on a vinyl disk. Kids were wearing headphones. We went digital with MP3 format, and then we compressed and compressed. It seemed that the warm air of impure sound gave way to a cold antiseptic perfection.

I don’t know. It was a world I couldn’t completely enjoy. I kept getting older, and I couldn’t find a way into the music any more.

My kids helped. They had their own musical tastes, all sophisticated and earnest in their ways. They showed me things I could appreciate. They performed music live. They got it. But it wasn’t the same. I didn’t sit down to listen to music for the pure pleasure of it.

And then I got the turntable.

It was a year before I could figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I tried to use my Sony AV Receiver with cheap bookshelfs, and then gave that up for the Bose Bluetooth system that my wife got as a purchase incentive with her new car.

It took me until next Chistmas to select real speakers. I figured really good speakers hooked up to the aforementioned Sony receiver would give me something good. But what speakers? Clearly what was already in the house was a far cry from quality audio. I went shopping. I listened to Klipsch at London Drugs, and I read article after article online. I was going to buy Klipsch. They seemed to be a well-respected brand, but to be honest, I couldn’t seem to find the right bass response in them –at least not at a price below $1000. I even tried pairing some of their nice bookshelfs with a sub. Nope. It seemed all out of phase. Not great. Maybe it was the audio room in the store, and the amp they had them hooked to, and the quality of the recording. I don’t know, but I never got hooked.

One day I stepped into a Visions Electronics store, and had them switch around to their speakers. I heard a set of Kef LS-50s and couldn’t believe it. Here was some good sound in a bookshelf speaker. Good enough, anyhow. At $1000 for the pair, they would fit the bill. I took them home and hooked them up. Not bad.

But I kept on looking online, and found a killer sale price at Best Buy on some Polk Audio LSiM 703’s. A quick look at the specs told me that they exceeded the Kefs at least on paper. So I ran down and bought them too. I had given up on the idea of massive towers, which really take up a lot of space in the home.

Long story short, I settled on Polk Audio bookshelf speakers. Well, they aren’t exactly bookshelfs. They’re pretty big, and they’re about 35 lbs. each. But by comparison, in a side-by-side test, switching from the Kefs to the Polks sounded like opening a window to let the sound out.

I played music. Christmas 2019 (a year after my turntable) saw me the recipient of some nice vinyl. I tried to enjoy it for about a week. And I appreciated the new setup. I really did, but an uncomfortable truth kept pestering me. The sound, as decent as it was, just wasn’t great.

A friend came over and told me I needed to get a better receiver. So I started looking online at specs on receivers, including the one that I owned. I started taking an interest in vintage. I really had no appetite to drop another $500 or so on a new receiver.

Another friend told me about how he picked up a vintage Marantz (the ones from the 70s with the flat wheel radio dial). I started looking even more closely at vintage, and I started to fall in love with the look of some of those old receivers, and dreaming of the sound of them. They were the ones my friends had in the 70s and 80s. They have a beautiful glow, faux wood casings, and anodized aluminum faces. They were gorgeous.

I started combing Craigslist. And I found it: a 40 watt-per-channel Technics SA-303. A quick look at the specs and I went for it. $50 to carry it away. I should have known that it wouldn’t work, but I figured for $50 I would have something that could probably be fixed. From what I had read, the chances of success were good. I got it home and took it apart. It was filthy. Not knowing much about electronics, I decided to risk another $35 to have a real technician at Hart’s TV Repair in Maple Ridge do an estimate. In the end, all it needed was a good cleaning and some Deoxite sprayed into the contacts. The total labour to clean it and run it through tests was $150 including the estimate –a lot maybe, and that didn’t include replacing the burned out radio dial lamps, which would have been another $50. I decided to do without the lamps*.

As I left the shop, I told the technician that I was in it for $216 total. He said that I’d never find the same quality for anywhere near that price in a modern amp. Okay. Good to hear.

I got it home and carefully hooked it up, I turned it on. And there it was again –Pink Floyd 70s style: warm, bassy and full. It really was like a religious experience. It sounded so good!

Since then, I listen to  music every day –down in the living room on the couch. The radio sounds fantastic; the phonograph sounds fantastic, and maybe best of all, I’ve hooked my old 5 CD carousel up to it, and it sounds fantastic too (As a family we have accumulated well over 100 CDs over the years). There have been moments listening to some tunes, where I’ve touched the feeling of being 17 again. If I just sit back and let go, it takes me there.

Right on, Man. Right on.

*I bought the lamps online. I’m going to see if I can solder them in myself.

 

 

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Happy Canada Day! It’s no small thing.

It’s no small thing that without fear, I walked 2 km or so by myself to Lafarge Lake to check out the Canada Day festivities there today as the afternoon wound down. I never gave a thought to safety. No need. And as darkness began to settle on the day, I walked home –again without fear. This privilege, this safety: it’s no small thing.

At the park were thousands of people, most of whom look different from me. And they chattered away gaily in all kinds of different languages, including English.

There we all were, an odd mix of cultures, having a few family laughs on Canada Day: politely making space for each other, selling and buying food, bouncing babies, swinging toddlers, handing cash out to teenagers. It was a glorious bustle –a magnificent mix of Canadians: all equally participating, all equally alive, all equally able to be themselves without fear of some snide comment or dark resentment. It’s no small thing.

The day Prime Minister Harper coined the terrible term, “old stock Canadians” seems like so long ago, though it was just last fall. Today, such a notion would have been a sacrilege. Who among us could have claimed to be any more deserving than anyone else? The very thought of it is absurd.

I’m home now. My wife is still at work, on her evening shift.

The house is quiet.

Thousands of miles across the country, in Nova Scotia, I have a new grandson whom I’m going to visit in a few days.

The world has its problems. This vast nation is imperfect; there can be no doubt about that.

But today I am glad for Canada.

A note to progressives: You can celebrate Canada Day

If you’re conflicted about celebrating Canada Day, think about this. Who says Canada Day should be about pride? Ignore the people who would have you believe this.

Canada day is not at all about pride; rather, it is a celebration of community.

No matter what we’re proud of or ashamed of, we’re here. Today we go outside, meet our neighbours and “be” together: sing some songs, eat some food, watch pretty lights in the sky. It’s about being alive together in this good place.

Happy Canada Day.

Peace and love to you all.

Miner49er

Our Dangerous Obsession with the Self

When I consider the great acts of selflessness from the soldiers of history, I am always amazed. Who in his right mind would charge up a hill in the face of trained infantry and artillery when death is imminent? And yet over and over throughout history, that is what men have done for the sake of the cause.

When I lift my eyes from the history books, and rise to the reality of my modern world, I can’t imagine such heroism in myself or in many other men. Maybe, ranged as infantry, I would do the work I was told to do and welcome death, but it seems unlikely.

In most modern people, no cause is greater than the self. And it seems that society has encouraged us to be this way. I’m sure that more educated researchers than I have remarked on this phenomenon, but you don’t have to be a scholar to notice it. We are obsessed with who we are and what we desire as individuals.

For example, sexual orientation in its various forms has found its way into our lexicon, and we now make distinctions between homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality (Have I missed any?), as if these should have some kind of social consequence. Where historically, a sex act was called homosexual or heterosexual, now a person is.

And it’s not just that we recognize these orientations; we study each orientation and entrench it in theory. We try to discriminate one from another. We look for places in the brain or the genome that can explain our sexual attraction. We categorize, define, and moralize, and to what end? We are fascinated with individual differences, to the point where such a mundane thing as the object of one’s attraction becomes the defining aspect of the person.

Similarly, we try to break down personal proclivities into small bits of personality: This person is hyperactive; this person introverted; this person artistic, athletic, melancholic, and on and on.

We have become obsessed with the person –the self. Survey after survey on social media asks “What kind of ‘X’ are you?” We are so focussed on individual proclivities, that I believe few people can put their society ahead of themselves any more. They can’t seem to take an interest in what is going on around them. They don’t read the news, or criticize it. Instead, they’re fascinated by what Harry Potter character they’re most like, or what Disney Princess they are. Many of us don’t worry about the erosion of an environment that can sustain human life, or the erosion of political systems that sustain human freedom. This apathy, it seems to me, is the poisonous fruit of egocentrism – our fascination with our individual needs and desires rather than our collective needs.

I wonder if we’ve lost our way. I wonder if this naval-gazing will hurt us in the end. I often think that we’re so consumed with our focus on the individual that we fail to act against, or even notice, those who would capitalize on our inaction.

It’s interesting that major religions, which arose from the most ancient philosophies, combat the focus on self, and encourage a devotion to a greater power or a greater good. The original philosophers looked at the wonders of creation, saw darkness and light, life and death, and realized that there is an otherworldliness about us –  that the individual is rather insignificant in the great scheme of things. They spoke of a “kingdom of God”, as though the whole interconnection of human beings and nature is itself an organism – of which individuals are only a part. They bade us to look away from ourselves, and not toward ourselves.

Maybe they were right.

Oh me of little faith

I’m not sure to what or to whom I can attribute the version of Christianity I came to understand and embrace. Somehow, I was able to escape the message of intolerance that some people learned. I grew up seeing an unified message of love, humility, and acceptance of others. Religion has been no opiate for me, but rather a challenge to be virtuous. In spite of all of Christianity’s absurdity, I still love it and see it as the source of my moral compass. And perhaps more importantly, it is part of my identity.

I miss the familiarity of my Roman Catholic rituals. I recognize them and understand the mannerisms of the faithful. I can relate to these people. My religion serves as a sort of archive of positive directives. I love the stories of Jesus – of his remarkable beatitudes and parables. I love the ritual and symbolism, the cult of it – the music, the architecture and coloured glass. I love it all, and I want it in my life, and yet, my devotion goes cold when it comes to faith, to the point where I can’t sustain it.

If a person is going to be a Christian, he’s going to have to face the ugly reality that much backward thinking and cruelty have been carried out, not just “in the name of God”, but as Christopher Hitchens pointed out: “by God’s mandate”. If a person accepts that all of the scripture that he subscribes to is divinely inspired, he must accept a god who has not only allowed, but has mandated acts of war, of sexual abuse, of mutilation.

Contextualizing the antisocial behaviour of the faithful as a product of the understandings and realities of their time, does not excuse God, who is eternal. If God’s will is that man behaves in a civil, peaceful, other-centred manner, would he not have made that will more obvious before the 4th millennium BCE? How can we take the characterization of a benevolent God seriously if we believe literally the stories of the Old Testament? This paradox is a problem for Christianity. Often God orders his faithful to participate in acts of cruelty – sometimes reprehensible cruelty.

The claim that such a god is “all good” seems, at best erroneous, bordering on farcical. Really, the behaviour and attitude of the god of Judeo-Christian scripture is very man-like: good hearted for the most part, but petty at times, and capable of cruelty to the point of asking a man to slaughter his only son as an offering, and vindictiveness to the point of being willing to flood the whole earth.

The only way these stories can be thought to represent a loving, compassionate god is if we understnd them to be the creation of man. The story of Abraham’s sacrifice can only be understood to represent a compassionate god in the context of the whole story. The reader understands the compassionate nature of god and the faith mandate when he discovers by the end of the story that God has never intended that Abraham should actually carry out the slaughter of his son. But if the story were literally true, one would have to imagine a god who is capable of orchestrating such a cruel stunt in the first place. Surely no compassionate being would be able to behave in such a way. For this reason, it must be assumed that this story is a mythical creation of the author, and reflects man’s understanding of who God is, and not an actual historic event.

This literal interpretation of something mythical is the biggest problem with Christianity. It allows people to justify their antisocial behaviour and to level judgment on others.Christians are deluded when they point out that the overall message of Christianity is a message of peace and tolerance. In reality the messages are myriad and often paradoxical. Without a predilection for peace and tolerance, Christians can, and often do, participate in all kinds of terrible endeavour.

If we could only embrace the mythology symbolically and try to understand it in a unifying context, then we could better understand and embrace morality, and we could participate in ritual unapologetically in a more aesthetic (and less dogmatic) way. We could try to connect to mysticism without having to learn intolerance.

It is literal interpretation that corrupts religion. For example, if we must believe the most central premise of Christian faith: that Christ is the incarnation of God born of a virgin, then we have to accept the embedded misogynistic corollary that female purity is connected to virginity. On the other hand, knowing that the incarnation story is a mythology forged in the (mis)understandings of its time (and one that has been repeated in many different mythologies), one can examine the story holistically in terms of its philosophical implications about redemption. Ironically, without the faith imperative, one can examine spirituality in a purer way.

The Marnie Tree

Claude and Joyce Watson had three children, a son named Roger, and two daughters: Diane and Marnie. They worked hard to forge a good living for themselves and their kids, and eventually they were able to buy a dream property at Christina Lake. It was undeveloped at first, until Claude erected a plywood walled one-room cabin to sleep in – a woodshed really, and an outhouse. Once the “shack” had been built and stained in a redwood colour, Claude got busy landscaping. He bought a cement mixer and using stones from the beach, built rock retaining walls along with concrete stairways. Joyce helped Claude select and move the stones into place. A poet and painter, Joyce took great delight in the spectrum of colour that the rocks reflected.

When Marnie, the youngest, went away to school, Joyce planted a little spruce sapling which became known as The Marnie Tree – a symbol that was never defined by any words except for the name that eventually became attached to it. Time marches on. The old shack was eventually relegated to the role of tool shed and replaced by a lovely well-equipped cabin. Later the shack was dismantled entirely. Through all renovations, the Marnie Tree was preserved. Claude, Joyce and their firstborn, Roger have now passed away, and the property has gone to Diane and Marnie. The Marnie Tree has come to be a significant monument for the family. Children get older and age lays claim to youth, but the tree grows more splendid year after year.

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Christopher Watson and Amanda Watson, two of Joyce and Claude’s great grandchildren, sitting under The Marnie Tree.

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Joyce and Claude’s Christina Lake home. The spruce to the right is the Marnie Tree.

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Joyce and Claude’s cabin. The rock walls are still hanging in there.