Sunday 22 September 2013

I’m not an Audiophile, I just listen to Great Music!

When it comes to music listening there are really only two categories of people, those that listen to music and those that are obsessed with the equipment for listening to music. It is a very human trait to want better and shinier things, and I have to confess that for a while I was distracted by the desire for the latest and greatest shiny new toy with all the bells and whistles one man could possibly play with, but thankfully that was just a fleeting and short lived phase.

I remember as a youngster growing up in a very typical middle class family in Pretoria South Africa, this would have been back in the seventies when I was young, carefree and ignorant of many of the realities of the world outside of my school, friends and neighbourhood. We were neither rich nor poor, there was always food on the table and my folks could afford a stereo system that was adequate to our music listening needs. We bought and listened to a wide variety of music and in our house there always seemed to be music of one sort or the other playing.

At that time I shared a bedroom inside the house with my younger brother, and because I was older I had the bed by the window! It was always good to be the older sibling wasn't it? It was a large bedroom with a dark wooden floor and a high ceiling fairly typical of houses built in the late 1800’s. As it turned out our house was also the original farmhouse of the Rietondale farm, but the entire area had been consumed by the fast expanding city of Pretoria and the farm was no longer to be seen, although the storage rooms behind the Green Valley Café next door that had been the stables on the farm were left standing to testify to the fact that there had indeed been a working farm there once upon a time.

It was during these happy go lucky childhood times of the early seventies that a friend of the family gave me an old portable radio, a Panasonic if I recall correctly, that promised a world of musical freedom previously unknown to the oldest child in a family of five having to share stereo time with my two younger siblings and my parents. Freedom at last, and a gateway to a world of music and ideas I had not previously known!

There was of course the undisputed king of popular radio in South Africa Springbok Radio, with their ever popular “Springbok Radio Top 20” program on Friday nights, the “Radio Jukebox” show, the “David Gresham Show” hosted by the “Gruesome Gresh” himself, “Keep it Country” hosted by country legend Lance James, and who could possibly forget “Memories Are Made of This” by Isador Davis, Evelyn Martin, Paul Beresford and Eric Cordell? Great times and great music!

There was also the infamous “pirate” radio station broadcasting directly from Lourenço Marques in Mozambique going by the very cool name of “LM Radio”. It was an AM station and operated until 1975 when it was shut down by the newly formed government in Mozambique after they gained independence from Portugal on the 25th of June 1975. During it’s reign as the number one music station in South Africa you could listen to the “LM Hit Parade”, the ”Anything Goes" show, and a host of variety shows. Many famous radio dj’s started their careers at LM Radio and went on to become household names in South Africa long after LM had been shut down.

Then there was Radio 5 and Radio 702 which was a music station when it first started.

The music that we were listening to as young people growing up in South Africa is what changed an entire generation away from the thinking of our parents and liberated us from the old “verkrampt” (closed) mindset of the Nationalist Party apartheid government of the time. We were no longer bound by the traditions of our parents as we came to a new consciousness, an awakening if you will, of the ideals of freedom and equality. Songs like Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin', Rodriguez “Crucify Your Mind”, the Beatles "Revolution", and of course "Peace Train" by Cat Stevens.

Life went on, the political landscape of South Africa changed and we had our first miraculous free and fair elections. Music went digital and the internet changed the way we interacted with our fellow human beings forever. Crime and an uncertain economy led many South Africans to seek greener pastures elsewhere, as have millions of people in other countries, from Eastern Europe to the Middle East. And in the new modern thinking world, to a large degree the old traditions, morals and values of the previous generation are gone for better or for worse. But still we have the music.

I love nothing more than to sit down in the evenings with my beautiful wife, crack open a mellow aged bottle of smooth red wine and listen to the flowing melodies that our talented artists have given us through the ages. Classical wonderlands full of dancing happy souls flitting nimbly through flower covered meadows, jazzy melodies straining through smoke filled basement bars, the groans of blues crying out from dimly lit stages while a pianist lays his heart bare or the light skipping rhythm of contemporary pop that leaves one feeling a simple happiness of heart and mind.

Through all of this my memories are of the music, and not much of what we played them on. I remember buying my first “real” hi fi system when I started getting a regular paycheck, but I cannot for the life of me what brand it was, or what the specs were, how many watts it put out, or even what it cost. But I remember the hours of music appreciation in my outside room behind my parents house that I was promoted to when they finally decided that I was too old to share a room with my little brother. Long evenings, sometimes stretching into the early morning hours, together with a few friends, talking politics, poetry, chicks, rugby, philosophy, swapping jokes and smoking too much while drinking cheap wine bought in five litre boxes. But I don't remember the brand of the hi fi…

I remember when I was living in a commune in Pietermaritzburg with seven other guys in a big old house that we got cheap because the owners were going to level it to make way for a new petrol station. One fellows father was selling a nice hi fi set up down in Durban and because I had some spare cash at the time I travelled down to have a look at it and travelled back home again with the system tucked safely into the boot of my red VW Golf. I set it up in my bean bag filled room and it stayed there for several years as a procession of friends came and went from that room and all the while the music was central to everything we did during our leisure hours. But I for the life of me cannot remember what the brand of that system was either, or what the specs were. I only remember the music, and the wonderful memories of friendship, love and laughter that went right along with it.

I have never really understood people’s obsession with equipment, whether hi fidelity, cameras, or phones. These are not the things that last. The memories that remain are of music, photographs we hold in our hands and show to each other years later, or conversations we have had on the telephone (or Skype). Don't get me wrong, I love to have good stuff, but it is there as a facilitator towards a greater goal. I currently have an old late 1980's Rega Planar 3 turntable coupled with a similar age Rega Elicit amp and some aging but great Snell E3 speakers that go together to provide me with a really wonderful musical listening experience, but at some stage the amp will finally break and be replaced by something else that can do the job I require of it and the Elicit will fade into obscurity along with the nice camera I used to have. The memories that remain will be of wonderful evenings sitting with my wife, the love, the conversations, the intimate moments that define our lives and make us into the frail emotional creatures that we are.

I suppose at the end of the day, when all is said and done, I am not an audiophile, I just listen to great music!

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