Good Ether

Hear music as ether. Good ether.

With zero apologies to Marcel Proust, music not madeleines better allow ourselves to re-immerse ourselves in the past and fully revivify it. Not so much live music at that as tunes sound engineers have massaged down to their last notes. To me, too much concert music sounds ragged. Live performances allow bands license to mess with the perfection which either narcotized or motivated me in the first place.

I generally prefer my ether unadulterated and exactly the way I’ve come to favor it.

Finally felt comfortable enough since moving to Las Vegas to buy a stereo. The device has Bluetooth capacity. It will allow me to pull favorite New York stations through my laptop and onto better sounding speakers.

Yet that wasn’t the reason I laid out for the technology. Something of an aural Luddite, I still purchase CDs. I know it’s far more convenient and tech savvy to download and digitally store tunes. Yet I prefer the heft associated with a platter. Unfortunately sheer bulk axed any possibility of dragging albums along with me across the country.

It killed me having to leave behind The Clash’s London Calling. That and Andy Williams Christmas Album.

Unlike digital recordings, doesn’t having to physically manipulate music before it can be enjoyed enhance listening pleasure? There should be some effort before indulgence, shouldn’t there? Besides, small devices and absorbing through earphones or buds reduce the big sounds. Stuffing one’s ears with those things probably induces tinnitus, too.

A room filled with music can conjure plenty tangible from air.

That wasn’t the spur behind acquiring a stereo, but it surely eased the purchase. What’s not to like about wiling away lazy hours stretched out on the couch carried back to less involved times when only extreme pessimists could’ve possibly foreseen our encroaching possibly dystopian United States of America?

Was hearing music in New York, the Northeast in general, better than other parts of the country? Were yours truly cultural chauvinist, yes. I can’t imagine being as seduced by New Wave, New Romanticism, and alt-rock had I lived beyond the rough border formed from Pittsburgh to Baltimore. After all past those outposts weren’t tastes more attuned to hard rock and country and western?

While I’d spent my late teens and early 20s away from the East Coast and acclimated myself to wailing or shredded guitars, twangy or shrieked howling, and tequila sunrises amid endless shots and beer chasers, the lure of clever lyrics and the challenging melodies emphasizing them enthralled me.

Practitioners of new music used fine strokes when painting with language.

That’s one distinct advantage Britons have over Americans. Their articulation makes most of us on this side of the Atlantic sound like Der Trump. So sad. But then Americans are prose people. Though not very prosaic ones at that.
We’ve nailed the plain, simple, unadorned aspects of our condition. Chuck Berry, Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, A-to-B, no detours on the way to Heartbreak Hotel nor plumbing beyond lovin’, cheatin’, leavin’, ‘n’ hurtin’.

We love simplicity.

Although there’s nothing wrong with indulging maudlin sentiments and drowning them in the local honky-tonk before wearily climbing into one’s Tennessee Cadillac (that’s a pick-em-up truck, greenhorn), the same issued from the pens and mouths of, let’s say, Paul McCartney or Morrissey soar and plummet. Even incidentally aren’t a much higher percentage of Britons exposed to poetry, be it doggerel or the high-faulting stuff? Besides enjoying greater exposure to verse, pentameter isn’t disdained and frowned upon over there as here.

They adore the mental challenge and reward of fingering through verbal density.

I have no doubt that more than a fair segment of Americans look upon poetry, if they ever see and read it, as effete and unworthy of our dynamism. Another reason we’re prose people. No need to gauge shadings or work through metaphors and similes when one can just muscle to the meaning. Why think when the gist is presented on a platter already minced?

Nonetheless who on either side of the Atlantic can resist “And we’ll have fun-fun-fun now that daddy took the T-Bird away!”?

Rhythm and blues, soul, “race music” (as some called it during the late 40s through 50s), early rap, whatever labels pop culture awards black-based music, will be absent in this post. R&B and soul were the ambient background sounds throughout my growing up. Like sonic wallpaper. So accustomed to hearing it in my former home of Quarropas, so immersed in it there, no seminal moments can be attached to, say, hearing The Supremes or Al Green or Afrika Bambaata.

Their regularity nixed discovery or expansion. But still most of the Stax, Philly International, Motown, Atlantic, et al, output had pleasing beats and could move both left feet of even the most rhythmically challenged.

These days, after hard hours of chasing and catching dollars here in Las Vegas, it pleases me to return home and power up the local alternative music station. Somehow winter’s shortened days, their deeper, steeper, sharper shadows that surrender into earlier nights, fit the mood. Not so much melancholy, nor seasonal affective disorder, but the peace and exclusion evenings bestow clear the mind of clutter and permit it to meander. Often the trail leads backward into twilight.

Music-aided contemplation is a trait I must’ve inherited from my parents. Tastes distinct through having come of age in different eras (father was mother’s senior by 13 years) neither denied him- or herself a little getting lost in his or her respective ether.

A thorough 21st century man can barely imagine how father reflected back on 1930’s era roots music as well as big band sounds stretching through the war. Despite careful handling of lacquered 78s, one gleaned every scratch inadvertently created through countless plays.

Father’s essential radio station broadcast from midtown Manhattan, a short bee-line to his Quarropas A.M. dial. Nonetheless what light flurry of static didn’t push these already distant recordings farther back?

Doubtlessly what father heard transported him back to days and nights when the hardest parts of his life stood behind him. For him it would never get tougher than first enduring the Jim Crow South during the Depression then surviving the Second World War unscathed.

Perhaps he remembered a woman before mother, who he’d believed instead would be his “one and only.” Or maybe he just marveled at the relative luxury he’d entered after so much initial hardscrabble living. Hearing some gut bucket bluesman rasp about misery or a polished band’s syncopation enhance the soigné surroundings of some long-shuttered nightclub restored those past evenings’ chatter, company, liquor, and Chesterfields or Luckies.

Didn’t these songs mirror aspects his life? Or permitted him a few hours of respite? In any case, his overarching theme always seemed “Glad to have made it this far, so well.”

Mother’s music was dreamy. Although Jim Crow was no less pernicious in her part of the South, later birth spared her the depth of the Depression. Growing into adulthood, she listened to singers elevated into idols.

She was partial to crooners who flattered backed by lush accompaniments and clever chanteuses heartbroken, angered, thwarted, and mesmerized by men. What woman isn’t?

Reaching age in an America somewhat different than during father’s attainment (no Pinetop Perkins for her listening pleasure), it makes sense that mother fell under the sway of those who sang convincingly about the possible and conditions that intrigued a curious and intuitive woman.

Who knows how mother might’ve channeled all this inquisitiveness had what constituted mainstream society then not already decided where to slot her before she even spoke a word. Towards her end, that was mother’s lament. There was plenty she wanted to achieve, perhaps might’ve if given opportunity.

She listened to entire albums not just selected songs. No brain surgeon precision with the stylus for her.

Again, afternoons slipping into evenings, the turntable set on 33, the volume turned just loud enough, summoned her memories and with them conjecture.

As she did with all her possessions, mother took exquisite care of her albums. Many of the cardboard covers enveloping her platters still retained shrink-wrapped protection. Before putting on her music, mother habitually wiped both sides with a chamois. After a snap – or was it a pop? – indicating the needle had found a groove in the vinyl, sounds one couldn’t imagine any fresher than when it first emerged however many musical tastes ago resumed its witchcraft.

While such ether may transport us, we’re fortunate it seldom leaves us trapped behind. The short stays assure we never tire of our revisits there.

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