Death and Self-Gratification

So.

Long time, no write.

The problem with modern social media for me is that you can fire off whatever you want to say in a matter of seconds while on the train, behind the wheel, on the sofa or in bed within a couple of seconds, while writing a blog post not only requires a much more complicated app on my mobile phone, but also infinitely (well, at least to me) more time.  I am sure a mathematician would be able to prove this.

Today, nevertheless, it was time to get the old MacBook out, sit down and type something. Because, you know, death and masturbation. If the combination of these two subjects shocks or upsets you or inflicts any sort of conflicts within your religious beliefs, I am incredibly sorry but not able to do anything about it, though I would suggest that you stop reading, as both subjects will surface within a few paragraphs again.

A long, long time ago, in a time we old people call the mid-nineties, I was working in a laboratory at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, trying to prove that certain things happened to skin cells when you threw cytostatic drugs at them. Turned out, they do. To find solace from the daily routine of looking after your cell cultures and doing despicable things with very toxic drugs to them (turns out cell cultures don’t yet know about the concept of ‘Weekend’) I would visit a well known establishment called ‘The Barking Spider Tavern‘ that was just about near enough from my humble abode that I would find my home even in a mild state of inebriation. The amazing thing about the Barking Spider Tavern was not only their dedication to a good glass of beer (only place I knew you could get a bottle of Dortmunder Export in Ohio) but also to live music. There would be live music every night, but once every few weeks a chap called Gary Hall would hog the stage, just him with his acoustic guitar and the odd local who would provide backup vocals. As a German, I don’t really get Americana. To stand in front of a small crowd, singing songs about horses and trucks and that girl who dumped you invariably in a truck or on a horse never really resonated with me, but then I never had a horse or a truck. But this Gary chap was different: for one thing, he could really sing, he could really play guitar, and his repertoire was not limited to Horses, Trucks and ex-girlfriends. On the contrary, he was not only a good singer, he actually had a sense of humor, and his set would be sprinkled with laugh out loud funny songs. One of them, always played after midnight to protect the innocent, would be a merry little ditty about a chap who – after being separated from his girlfriend – would happily self – indulge in – to quote the song – ‘beating the meat’. This was delivered in such a joyous, happy way that even the grumpiest punter would happily sing along to ‘The Jackoff Song’ -that was its name – and so these evenings are still etched in my amygdala as the most joyous of my time in Cleveland, Ohio. After visiting the Barking Spider during a recent trip to Cleveland I was cock-a-hoop to find that Gary was still around and asked him via his facebook account about this particular track and – being the nice chap he is – he was kind enough to answer a few questions. Turns out that the song was actually by Ohio folk legend and song writer Tim Wallace who died last year of lymphoma in a hospice.

Which brings us to the ‘death’ part of this post. Tim Wallace’s death was not the usual ‘peaceful, surrounded by his family’ sort of thing, au contraire: for the two weeks preceding his death he was surrounded by a never ending procession of friends and musician who turned his last weeks on the planet into ‘Timstock’.  The photoseries on Cleveland’s Plain Dealer website just shows the exit from this mortal coil doesn’t necessarily have to be a solemn affair:

“The Friday before St. Patrick’s Day, Wallace seemed on the precipice of death,[…].  But when fellow musicians came to his bedside, bringing booze, guitars, banjos, songs and especially laughter and more than a few tears, the lifelong musician rallied. The “Timstock” parties lasted daily until midnight until this Saturday, when doctors and staff members at the hospice said he had taken the inevitable turn for the worse.”

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all go like this? Surrounded by our friends, singing and listening to music to the end. While I am not yet planning any hospice related activities yet, I am acutely aware that very few of my friends can sing and even fewer can play an instrument. I might have to incentivise this, otherwise it’s just going to be me and a ghettoblaster with 5 hours of Matt Bianco tracks, and I am moderately sure that there will be inhouse rules against this sort of thing.

So here we are. Death and Masturbation. I bet you didn’t believe this would turn out to be such a nice post, ay?

Incidentally, you can order or download some of Gary’s albums via Wildcat Recordings‘ website here.

He also as a pretty cool youtube presence, a facebook page and a reverbnation site.

If you happen to be in the midwest, there will be a Tim Wallace tribute concert (which apparently will feature a rendition of the ‘The Jackoff Song’), so don’t miss it.

Ooooh.

So, today’s blog entry is about HiFi. Not High – End with its speakers for £200,000 and cables for € 5000, but High Fidelity. Pieces of technology – new and old – that make music sound like the listener likes it and are a step up from sound bars, transistor radios and sodcasting with your mobile. A part of my personal setup until recently was a magnificent power amp, the mighty Marantz SM-80. I always wanted to own a big piece of solid state eighties hifi, as much for sheer power (150w per channel) as for the aesthetics. Just look at it. Isn’t it gorgeous in its monolithic beauty with it’s magnificent layout?

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This magnificent beast has been sitting amicably next to the universal disc player and the audio/video receiver. It’s main purpose is to create enough power to make the speakers sound good, both when played loud or on low volumes. There are some speakers who need that much wattage to perform at their best, but here’s the rub: my don’t. My horn based Klipsch speakers only need a fraction of the power of what the SM-80 has to offer and so it has been bit like a rugby player in charge of tackling a gaggle of ducklings and just wasted a huge amount of energy for not doing much at all. I looked around for an alternative piece of of technology that could take over the role of the Marantz, still sound as brilliant as the monster but with a fraction of the energy usage. Turns out there is such a thing, and it even sounds darn good. So good in fact, that the people of 6Moons (who usually don’t review anything that’s not hand soldered by a farmer in Styria, costs less than 500,000 Swiss Franks and has been made with the blood of a virgin goat) gave it a prize. Yes, it’s that obscure (and good).

And small.

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Yes, that’s it. It’s tiny. So if your stereo is all about the looks, this probably won’t do.

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What is it ? It’s something called a Class – T amplifier designed with a pretty nifty chip by Tripath (no, me neither), made by Hong Kong outfit Trends Audio and has been reviewed to death by every hi-end website out there (always positive). It costs about as much as 1 cm of high end cable and was with me 3 days after the order, all the way from the Pearl River Estuary.

And it works. Really well. I knew that it wouldn’t have a problem with my highly efficient Klipschs but I wasn’t expecting it to beat the sound of the chunky Marantz, but suck me sideways, it does. I used the work related absence of the best girlfriend ever to crank up the volume and threw it a volley of my favourite tracks, be it Coltrane, Mahler or Matt Bianco: it dealt with all of them beautifully, produced a crisp and competent deep bass and outperformed the Marantz in clarity of the upper registers.

The best girlfriend ever loves it already as it managed to eradicate one big black metal box from her living room, as the Marantz is now in storage and the TA-10.2p (that’s it’s name, though I’m thinking of calling it Tarquin) is hidden by the Calvin and Hobbes collections.

A perfect metaphor.

I rest my case.

 

 

The CD Collection Has Shrunk

Being old, I still buy CDs. Well, I have since 1985 (Level 42’s ‘World Machine”), so why stop now. Unfortunately there’s now about 440 of them,  and the living room Expedits started to fill up.

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So this had to change. Enter Space Saving Sleeves, thin, clear plastic covers for your and mine CDs that make the crystal cases unnecessary and reduce the size your CD collection needs significantly. So for one Saturday afternoon I sat on the sofa and removed 440 CDs from their cases and -together with their CD booklets- files them alphabetically. The result is pretty impressive, I am sure you will agree.

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P1030239The Matt Bianco section is still about half a meter thick, though.

Ronson scores

Looking through my itunes collection sorted by purchase date, it is moderately obvious that I don’t buy a lot of music by contemporary ’new’ artists. There is Metronomy, Daft Punk, Bluey, Wickford’s own ‘The Milk’, The Submotion Orchestra and a few other stragglers, but the vast majority of new music is by old favourites such as Donald Fagen, Matt Bianco, Swing Out Sister, Prefab Sprout or Incognito. All gracefully ageing survivors of the seventies or eighties, they fill my ipod with comfort music – the equivalent of Friday’s SpagBol. So it comes with moderate surprise that for the last few days I have been listening constantly to Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Special’. Actually, this is no surprise, as it pretty much sounds like a pastiche of some of the most successful seventies and eighties styles. I have no idea how he came up with up the idea of making a seventies/eighties homage album, but it’s all there: James Brown’s rare grooves mixed with old school rap, Alan Parson’s soft rock, Steely Dan chords, Moogish bass lines with synth licks that sound like they come straight out a Juno and there’s even the real Steve Wonder making an appearance. This oevre was bought on the reputation of ‘Uptown Funk’ which must have been the first single that excited me since – wait a minute, I’ll get there in a minute – sorry can’t remember. This bastard child (the single, not Mark Ronson) of Cool and the Gang, Prince and Bootsy Collins is such a joy to listen to that even on the way to work one does a bit whistling (or even throwing in the odd dance step on arrival, severely upsetting the staff). Apparently Ronson is the stepson of Foreigner’s Mick Jones – a man with a knack for the odd million seller – who made Ronson listen to his newest records in the middle of the night, so maybe this is some sort of psychological workup of his involuntary exposure to eighties pop in the middle of the night, but It’s a long time since I had so much fun listen to new music, so I couldn’t care less: I am happy to have paid my dues to support Ronson’s apparently fabulous lifestyle a bit longer, and long may he exploit the previous decades a bit further.