Sunday, August 17, 2008

New Life

Another Sunday is upon us, and I enter the two-week period of my departure to Pittsburgh.

Today might have passed without a word, were it not for the one thing in this world I love to kick more than myself: the stereo.

Last night I disinterred William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's 1962 recording of Brahms' 3rd Symphony in F, and the Tragic Overture. This record had been among the karma-fattening load I donated to A.K.A. in an attempt to thin my holdings. I must have been a little loosey-goosey when I put in on the pile.

Nevertheless, there it was, back on the rack, marked $.99 in that scant classical vinyl bin in the rear of the store. It was like looking at a malnourished racehorse, the musky stable water reflecting poisonous in his eyes. The misspent nobility, and the enduring light. I reclaimed him, rode him home. We had a party.

It was the last record I would ever hear through the Technics SX-303R stereo receiver my folks bought me back in the mid-90's. In the night it finally gave out, kaput, still so warm with the sound that this morning, with coffee in one hand, I pressed the other on the top grill and found a resonant D sustaining. So long.

My pals, Brian and Cher, had mentioned months ago that they had a receiver to spare, and that if I didn't mind lugging it home it was mine.

The Technics SU-8080 might better have come fitted with white-walled tires and leather seats. Add a steering wheel and some plush dice and you have what in 1966 was called with no small amount of awe and national pride, the Lincoln Continental. Heavy. All knobs and switches. No effeminate lights, no LCD displays. Plug it in and it disturbs the peace, begins to steal the oxygen from the room. I'm not by nature a fetishist, and I'm certainly no gear-head, but this device is something else.

I took a shower, Windex'd the picture of my folks, put on a white shirt and my suit, re-read E.B. White's obituary (it's a kind of fit-all ceremonial text in my life), and sat in a businessperson's erect position with my writing hand folded below my chin (oh yeah, I shaved) and weighed the appropriate record with which I might inaugurate this symphonic box of warfare.

Nina Simone's recording debut, Jazz as Played in an Exclusive Side Street Club, was made in 1958, when she was 25 years old. It has remained one of the finest composites of a jazz and folk style with a classical technique. To say it's good, great, or even a classic is selling short how tremendous its presence is, and how enduring is the sound it makes. Perhaps David Berman said it best in a poem about being young and high, in which a prize girl exclaims, "all water is classic water".

Jazz as Played... is so fundamentally and inherently correct and fine that it is redundant to say something nice about it--this too. It blemishes it to say it is perfect, as if saying so introduces the possibility that it may not be so.

This too.

I figured it would suffice, and started with side two. "Good Bait" played, producing a dignified sound. But it was "Plain Gold Ring" moments later that fused the record to the turntable in a kind of self-curating wisdom and marriage. I laid down by a half-drunk glass of water and lemon, and a saucer covered with olive pits and an orange segment, the dog was sleeping on the futon by the record sleeve. The whole scene was reminiscent of the advice you would've gotten from the first few issues of Playboy--provided the scope of the advice did not include yours truly as an example. I'm a mess, but I leave amazing trash.

I refuse to pass out Sunday apologies (you can get those wafers elsewhere), so I'll simply reiterate that there is a round romance laboring through the day, needing from us our gentleness of spirit, our laziness. One might wear gloves and goggles, but miss the reward for the precaution.

I'm telling you, you need a wheelbarrow to carry this thing around.

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