The 1980’s were interesting from a musical standpoint. The 80’s just left the glittery, blurry-eyed and afroed polyester cocaine-addled disco era behind, along with an impressive flareup of actual punk, as opposed to the punk poseurs of today that would no sooner hit someone over the head with a beer bottle than stick a needle in a vein. Not saying either of those things are worthwhile, but they were characteristic of the movement, which is now thoroughly sterilized for the mall and pop culture of later rebellious and angst-ridden youth. The folk and novelty music movement was appropriately put in its place as well and mostly sold on K-Tel records and 8-track tapes on the American-made television, which had yet to embrace MTV and cable box’s offerings, which began a noticeable decline in American culture in nearly every way. But that’s another post.
Which is largely what we get from musical history. If you hear music from the 1980s these days, it’s usually in a Wal-Mart or as a backdrop to some “retro” commercial and is one of a lot of crappy artifacts that somehow have persisted into the 2010’s and beyond. “Girls just want to have fun,” and that bubblegum crap sucked back then, and it still sucks. I don’t know who makes the decisions to keep those songs alive, but they must be a deaf associate of the devil himself. If you blindfoldedly threw a dart at a list of songs from the 80’s you’d likely hit better efforts. The world at large was celebrating Madonna, Bon Jovi, and hairspray, while I was sitting in a dark room in rural Virginia quietly listening to The Smiths and Jesus and Mary Chain.
I present here a Spotify playlist I’ve put together from the 1980’s that I feel represents a pretty unappealing but bubbly and poppy era much better. Better than the brown and rusty, dirty yellow 1970’s for sure, however. What persists in my mind from 1980’s pop culture, which I did my best to remove myself from in every way and did an excellent job of, was neon dayglo colors, jelly shoes, Wayfarers, raggedy girls fashions along with ultra-tight designer jeans, mesh shirts, acid washed denim and really gay and stupid men’s hairstyles. This of course was a time that calling your friends “gay” and “a retard” was a funny, largely innocent slight to them and not a reason for snowflakes to incite riots in the streets as it’s become today. Cultural shifts at work. The Meatmen wouldn’t even be able to record in a studio today, most likely.
What most people think of when they describe the 1980’s music scene is synth, electric drums, glam, and quick little pop hooks, with a visual that quickly sold. The 1980’s were the end of “ugly” bands, with the advent of MTV. If you weren’t TV-friendly and didn’t have ultra-strong musical chops, or really strong connections in the business, you could forget it. Every song had a video to accompany it, and the video sold the song. Marketing took a stranglehold on music in the 1980’s and hasn’t let go since. It’s how people today like Russell Simmons can make so much money selling awful “music.” He’s a great marketer. In my opinion, MTV ruined the interesting, if not exciting, direction music was heading in, despite the company abandoning the video music format that made it so popular. Many, many great artists were left in the dust. Luckily the internet has leveled the playing field once again.
A lot of these songs weren’t part of my library back then although I thought they were commercially catchy and appreciated them on some level. Mostly their B-sides and more obscure songs from the artists, maybe. What I preferred never made it onto the radio, and I didn’t have the resources to compile a comprehensive library of the better music available. Few did, and that doesn’t just mean money. Accessibility was a real problem in the 1980’s before the internet. We quickly forget what it was like to procure Grateful Dead tickets on the morning they went on sale over the phone, or a cassette tape that wasn’t in the Billboard top 10 if you lived in a small town. CD’s weren’t even mainstream at the time, until the late 80’s. A good CD player in the early 80’s would set you back $1000, which is like a billion dollars in today’s money. And no respectable artist would sell out to a point they had the option to release their songs on a compact disc back then anyway. That was for the Debbie Gibsons of the world. That, of course, changed quickly.
Frankie Says Relax
I didn’t listen to many of these songs back in the 1980’s as I did with say, The Smiths or Let’s Active, but they are at least some of the better songs from the 80’s, which should be curated and kept on life support by someone. The way I procured music is unlike any way children will ever have to again in history, which was to order vinyl albums from NYC or LA out of hand-typed underground magazines I got from basically head shops and subculture establishments in college towns and big cities and record them to tapes in my dorm room. I still have my JVC tape player, incredibly.
I didn’t receive any radio stations worth mentioning in boarding school which was in the middle of a huge farm, and at home, in SC we didn’t have any good radio, and we only had two places to buy tapes and albums in my hometown anyway. And they sold whatever was playing on the radio, which was typically pop garbage and heavy metal for stoned teenagers that drove custom vans. I ordered tapes via mail order from Britain and bootlegged tapes. I also managed to have roommates and friends in boarding school with awesome musical taste who I could record from and did often. I still have those tapes floating around somewhere, with the Dead Milkmen and T.S.O.L. well-represented.
The metal scene, which should be mentioned, had some standouts, depending on your definition of “heavy metal.” Back then I didn’t care for any of it, except maybe early Van Halen(Diver Down), AC/DC(Back in Black) and bands with guitar gods at the lead, which was a prelude to my guitar obsession which has since permeated my life. This was around the time I began learning to play the guitar seriously. (I’m still working on it.) But I recognized the virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen and appreciated the simple riffs of Angus Young. Johnny Marr’s guitar work wasn’t lost on me, either.
Led Zeppelin, Rush, the Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton and a handful of other legendary bands were indeed awesome in their own right, and still are, but just didn’t appeal to my state of mind and demographic at the time, which is why I’m not talking about them much. But there was some good stuff here and there during the decade, and I did attend quite a few of their concerts during that time. The Rolling Stones, the Who and even Paul McCartney before becoming a knight put out some good work. And don’t forget Michael Jackson and the Quincy Jones and Motown empires. I’m coming mostly from an “alternative” background, however. And although I did own their albums, they weren’t played nearly like the bands mentioned here.
The journey of good, alternative music in the 1980’s went something like this:
College radio stations would play local bands that were on their way to becoming regionally and even nationally known and played at fraternity parties and campus parties that were regional. Even some well-to-do boarding schools landed some big names. My own high school had REM booked until the school feared it would draw undesirables from nearby Charlottesville/Univerity of Virginia and got another band at the last minute. Think The Replacements, Husker Du, Violent Femmes, B-52s, the White Animals, etc… College prep students would pick up on these groups and music from hanging out on colleges, as we were able to do with a great deal of relative independence, and have older siblings in college that were among the musically privvy. The prep school kids took that music home with them, and it filtered into local private schools, and from there into the “alternative” kids of public school several years later. I had almost graduated from high school in 1988 before the Violent Femmes or Psychedelic Furs hit my hometown’s alternative scene, for example, and that was mostly because of their songs appearing in John Hughes pop films, like Pretty in Pink.
We’ve finally reached a point in time that I fantasized about as an adolescent: when I can pull up any song I want at any time. That’s a luxury that only people from my generation and prior know exists. I recall well lying in bed as a teenager and imagining the future when something called YouTube and Spotify existed.
Buying audio equipment is a fun, but dangerous game. Not just the prices. Cheap stuff has to be replaced and is a total waste of money (Buying cheaper stuff and compromising in the name of saving a buck is usually a poor person’s game, but that’s another post). Medium range stuff has a better lifespan and quality but often is loaded with features you don’t need, trying to compete with all the many, many other mid-range components out there. You’re paying for those features, even if you never use them ever is how I look at it. And I’d bet most people don’t use 95% of the features their electronics offer. I’ve noticed most females don’t even bother to change the treble and bass on their stock car stereos, in fact. Whatever.
But the high-end stuff, and I’m not just talking about the out-of-this-world dream stuff that only billionaires can listen to and 99.9999% of people will never see, can last forever. Even pretty beaten up, some loudspeakers will still sound fine. That’s why there’s a strong market for used high-end audio equipment like Marantz receivers and Klipsch Heritage speakers, and partially why they cost more: they live longer. That even includes Sony, which costs more and lasts forever, even if it isn’t the highest quality and you may not want it to. Please don’t get me wrong; I consider Sony as a baseline for middle-of-the-road, discounting their flagship stuff. Not saying they’re high-end–their stuff just lasts forever, and has a premium price. They do make some seriously amazing electronics, but most is for the masses. “Lifespan” referring to how long the unit operates and “quality” being how well it performs during that time.
I have a giant old-school Sony Trinitron television I’m donating now for example that still works great but we’ve outgrown it. This will be the second giant old Sony TV I’ve given to another home. They’re tanks, and weigh as much. And I also still have an old Sony home theater system with 5 DVD carousel that has proprietary connectors so I can’t split it up, and have nowhere I want to use it. So it gathers dust. And (most) Marantz and (most) Klipsch are examples what I’m calling high-end. It’s all relatively relative, so if that’s junk to your budget, then please bear with me. I’m well-aware of the higher end gear that I wished I could afford out there. A Peachtree Nova300 Amp and SVS PB-16 sub and Klipschorn speakers would be my preference, but I have mouths to feed and heinies to diaper.
So back to business. Somehow I’ve ended up with a 5.1 Energy Encore home theater system with a Sony STR-DE885 A/V processor as my stereo.
The sound is actually great(I’m not claiming audiophile standards, which I’m starting to believe is usually just someone with a lot of disposable income, an oscilloscope, and an attitude), and in fact excessive for my listening area, which happens to be my office as well. Excessive space-wise as well. Most of my large desk is covered in audio equipment. Cable management is a pain too in such a small space. You think it’d be easier, but you have to be creative with placement, and more importantly, how they’re hidden, yet secure. And since I’m using the same cables I used when the system was being used for a home theater system in a giant room years ago, I have miles of dirty cables piled up in corners and under chairs and rugs.
Happily, this system will be returning to service in a way it never dreamt and going in the master bedroom with a new 65 inch curved 4k tv for my wife. I’m planning on mounting the screen on the wall too, which I’m dreading. And I splurged and got a Blu-ray player for her as well. It blows our old DVD players away. And cost $42.00 shipped (I had a $5 Amazon credit). The old Panasonic RV-31 of which we have 2 and I’m donating one, work surprisingly well still and are still forward-compatible and have optical jacks, but no HDMI ports. As nicely as those still work, the new one still blows those away for modern quality and features and for $40+ it’s a no-brainer. (I don’t know why electronics firms still make Blu-ray or especially DVD players; what kind of margins are they getting for these things? You can even still buy VCRs, for about $20 made by Craig, who is obviously low-end and a brand I think I’ve seen sold at Walgreens pharmacy.)
What makes me more excited is that I got everything (well) below retail, and with bonuses, that I hadn’t even planned on, like white glove delivery, a free wall mount, extra warranties, etc… I never pay retail for anything ever, unless it’s an emergency and even then I get discounts from my banks and other creative ways so I still pay less than sticker price, always. It’s become pretty easy with the internet, but some things are far more difficult to find discounts on than others, usually higher-end products where the companies are serious about protecting their margins and their products from counterfeiters. Barbour jackets and Bose junk are examples of that.
OK, so enough blah blah; what’d I get?
I’m finding I’m using my computer as the source nearly all the time these days. Either Pandora Plus(which is worth it for the quality improvement, no ads and being able to FF/RW maneuver around all I want), Archive.org, Youtube (I embarrassingly admit) or from my own library which usually plays via VLC. A lot of streaming in other words, and nothing else really; certainly no turntable, DAT, cassette tape(I still have a working JVC from 1984), reel to reel etc… and I never listen to the radio so no tuner needed either. I either just need an amp/preamp or integrated amp. For space, cost, features needed, quality available, outputs available (many integrated amps, even some Marantz, have no sub output or optical input, and I don’t just mean headphone amps). So the field for amps narrowed quickly. The final contenders: The questionable Sprout and Denon which are both compact amps, and a Teac, which is what I ended up getting. I’ve never owned Teac before but am very familiar with their R2Rs. The Sprout looks like something Radio Shack would have sold with the cheap faux-wood vinyl sticker(that everyone else seems to love), and is either underpowered or overpriced. Your choice. The Denon looks awesome and I nearly bought it. But the wattage difference and double the price of the Teac made me choose the Teac at 100w vs. the Denon and Sprout which had 35w and ~26w, respectively. I know wattage isn’t everything and this is a majorly low-impedance system, but I’m going to be driving some big speakers and those are a big leap from 100watts. The Teac has everything I need and among the least of what I don’t. An equalizer is something I’ll probably end up getting since I can’t imagine everything not needing to be tweaked, and using online EQs isn’t ideal, to me.
I’m running an optical cable from my computer, which has a 5.1 sound card (which I’ll adjust) and some auditory tweaks I’ve made to the Teac integrated amplifier, with DAC of course. That keeps it simple and small on my desk and has just what I need. The theme of this system is “simplification and quality.” I’m going from a 5.1 system to a 2.1 again. I looked at more expensive, feature-rich options, and really tried to talk myself into a Marantz or Cambridge Audio amp, but they didn’t make sense for one reason or another. Mostly size and features; I already have a giant black box on my desk with a zillion cables and controls that would confuse Elon Musk, so replacing it with exactly the same=no good. I have a feeling I’ll eventually be getting an EQ though because of what I expect the tweaking process to be like using the Teac software. That doesn’t sound like something I’m going to be interested in. EDIT: I’ve looked high and low at EQs and there aren’t any for my purpose; they’re all for PA equipment and autos. So, software it is. EDIT#2: The speakers and amp sound so clean, I don’t need software or to make any adjustments to the sound. Just the gain and crossover frequency on the sub and common audio tweaks in my OS and a preference for “loudness” and that’s it. It sounds realistic with a broad, deep, well-defined soundstage. The amp comes with an HD audio player that they REALLY try to get you to use. I was eager to give it a try and discovered it’s junk.
The sources I typically have are high bit rate mp3’s, and a lot of Pandora and Spotify premium, with settings on extreme. And of course, Youtube and the other junk everyone uses. I’ve used every medium out there over the years, mostly because I’ve had to, and the hassle of vinyl and tape and even CDs isn’t worth the quality difference, to anyone who claims to be able to hear one. You’d have to really try with some good, trained ears and a really good system and even then, it’s pretty subjective. The only people who are into records these days are lazy butts who never got rid of their collection from when they were stoner teenagers or hipsters with a big new income that don’t know what they’re doing.
The Teac’s connected to a Klipsch R-112SW which is a Reference series 12-inch sub that I already have hooked up and looks like a giant piece of black furniture. It has to be broken in, but it still sounds a lot better than most of my other furniture though. I was wondering what difference a “better” sub would make to a pretty decent, but nowhere nearly as powerful system as the reference series, would be. Turns out a lot. Not WOW!, but a big enough difference to make a big, noticeable difference. Bass frequencies are different animals because they’re omnidirectional. I didn’t get the 115SW because a 15-inch sub would be totally excessive for my current needs. The bass is tight and precise, not muddy or furry. Or boomy, which is a typical problem people have with subs. Although subtle, my wife can now sense the bass frequencies 2 floors away when I have the 112SW turned up a little which I’ll have to be careful of at night or naptime. Plus the 15-inch sub, which must be MASSIVE, would have more than doubled my price for the 112SW. With some of the money I saved, I got a Klipsch wireless adapter (WA-2) for the sub so I can put it where it sounds best and has no cables(except the power of course). It’s too nice-looking to have a long cable running out of it and as I mentioned I’m simplifying. There are quite a few wireless sub adapters out there, and even though the WA-2 isn’t the cheapest or best-rated in the world, depending on what site you’re on–it’s 5 of 5 stars and rave reviews on Klipsch.com– it’s custom-made by Klipsch for the 112SW and 115SW models, which I’ve learned is often a valuable feature and renders it the best choice. I never considered wireless satellite or bookshelf speakers because there’s no way I can be convinced there isn’t signal loss and/or other quality compromises that I don’t want to make, even if some high-quality firms are making them now. Most wireless speakers lack character as well and are boring. Since sub frequencies aren’t directional, I’m not as worried.
There are quite a few wireless sub adapters out there of the universal breed, and even though the WA-2 isn’t the cheapest or best-rated in the world on some websites(no reasons were given for poor reviews, and I doubt they were by verified purchasers), depending on what site you’re on–it’s 5 of 5 stars and rave reviews on Klipsch.com– it’s custom-made by Klipsch for the 112SW and 115SW models, which I’ve learned is often a valuable feature and renders it the best choice. Especially when if you ever want to resell them. I never considered wireless satellite or bookshelf speakers because there’s no way I can be convinced there isn’t signal loss and/or other quality compromises that I don’t want to make, even if some big-name, high-quality firms are making them now. Most wireless speakers lack character as well and are boring in every way. Since sub frequencies aren’t directional, I’m not as worried. Wireless satellites are great solutions for setting up home theaters in rooms with weird layouts.
Klipsch is a brand I’m loyal to. I heard a pair of Klipschorns when I was a teenager, which is also what we had in our music department in high school, and my roommate in high school had some giant, groovy 1970s Klipsch speakers he yanked from his older brother as well, although I don’t remember the model. Heritage, though for sure, so possibly Cornwalls. Whatever they were, they shamed my bookshelf Advents, which I hated. No mids at all and barely any bass. So I was exposed to some really good audio right after growing up to that point with a furniture-sized console tuner/turntable from the 1960s and a lame transistor AM radio from Radio Shack. My music selection for the longest time was limited to my mother’s old classic and classical records and the terrible pop radio station in town playing terrible pop 1970s and 1980s music. (“Terrible” is redundant.) So hearing what high-quality audio could do was like hearing music for the very first time. Hearing it play music I loved was transformative, especially for someone who came to really enjoy listening to and making music as much as I do. And now I can even choose what I want to hear!
I finally got my hands on a pair of nice (used) Klipsch KG-4 speakers when I was in my 20’s and had them promptly stolen from my house in Atlanta, along with a bunch of other easily pawnable items I had grown fond of. I used the insurance $ from the Atlanta heist to get the Energy speakers and AV processor that are turning our bedroom into a man-cave for my wife. Energy is a company in Canada that isn’t super well-known but makes some very good equipment despite their obscurity and cheesy name. They’ve certainly become a lot more established since I bought them 20 years ago even though they’re still a pretty small and obscure audio company.
I have a Klipsch Groove Bluetooth speaker for my shop, or kitchen, or backyard, or wherever; it’s super-handy and sounds really good for what it is. I love it, and they’re available for a good deal at World Wide Stereo, which is a great company, if interested. I’ve also had several pairs of Klipsch Promedia 2.1‘s for my computers over the years. They’re the best computer speakers out there in my opinion and have been for years, which is why they’ve been unchanged for so long. The price, too: stuck at $150. Some would say Harmon/Kardon Soundsticks are better, but they don’t sound as good to me. They look cooler though; there’s no denying that. (Until you quickly get tired of how cool they look.) The Promedia 2.1s sound great for computer speakers but aren’t without faults, which Klipsch should have addressed by now. The speaker wire is a joke that comes with them. Klipsch shouldn’t even include wires if this is the best they can do. So you have to special order some decent cables. Also, the power switch is on the back of the sub and is totally inaccessible. The jack for the sub connector is really flimsy too, so watch for people tugging on it. That may sound crazy, but 2 (TWO!) sets of these were ruined by my stepdaughter poking her fingers into the woofer cones and someone, maybe my dog, tripping over the sub cord. So that was the end of buying those. Also, you can buy just the control pod for them from Klipsch which makes me think it might go out a little too often. I had no problems with mine. What I’m setting up is basically my own extreme version of the Promedia 2.1.
So as you can see, acquiring Klipsch speakers hasn’t been the real problem; keeping them working and in my possession has been the issue. You have to play defense I’ve learned when you have small children and reckless teenagers around. Epoxy those grilles on.
Something I just learned is that Klipsch seems to have acquired Energy at some point over the years after I bought those Energy speakers. I find that amazingly cool and vindicating for buying such an obscure brand because of purely sensory reasons. They look really nice as well. The Klipsch Group includes Klipsch, of course, Energy, Mirage and Jamo. Not exactly household names, but some fairly premium stuff at their high-end models.
This time around I sprang for a pair of cherry Klipsch Heresy III‘s, which should pair with the R-112SW nicely. The best of both worlds. Old-school Heritage series speakers and New-school Reference series subwoofer living together in actual harmony. A 2.1 setup with an integrated amp and single optical input source. That’s as simple as it gets. And some killer soldered 12 gauge cables from Amazon. I found a local contact that is delivering the Heresy 3’s to my home office white glove, fresh from the Klipsch factory for $500 off and no sales tax. And I live out in the country. Swish! As an aside, what I’d really like is the special edition California walnut Heresys, but they’re the same sound-wise and would be $925 more, even with my newfound Klipsch hookup, which I just couldn’t talk myself into. Even though that was the exact amount I ended up saving by looking under every rock possible when putting this system together.
Something I found incredible is that the dealer I bought the speakers from said in 7 years I was the third customer he’s had. And one of the others was from Indianapolis. He said Louisville won’t support a high-end audio store. People around here would rather watch TV and spend their budget on screens from Sam’s and best Buy instead of very at high-def audio dealers who usually can’t afford to keep a respectable and updated inventory. And he’s right.
And I’ll be using the same speaker stands from my first set of Klipsch’s I had which I’ve still been lugging around with me. Full-circle!
May 28: OK; I’ve had the system running almost nonstop for a few weeks now and have some thoughts of course.
Here’s a photo of the setup. I usually have this office very very dim, so I didn’t have the best lighting.
As you can see, the speakers are in place, and although I cleaned and updated the speaker stands, you can’t see them. Doesn’t matter; even if I get a glimpse of them, they’re still better than seeing a stack of cinder blocks. And floor placement, which they have the risers for, isn’t a possibility or desired.
The speaker placement creates a great sound stage. If you close your eyes, you have the best seat in the house. And they are incredible sounding, with the sub and the amp. You can see the little amp to the left of the monitor, and the remote on the left side of my desk mat-thing. And the amp is LOUD. The headphone jack and circutry work great and sound amazing. Having an upgraded DAC somewhere in your computer setup really is necessary.
Something I learned along the way was that this Teac amp is actually 26w, and I had seen it listed at 100w. That was wrong, but I found out too late. I was worried I’d be disappointed, but I’m not at all. I learned a lot about audiology, I guess is the word, when putting this system together. Wattage isn’t everything. Impedance is important, as is whether you’re at 4 or 8 ohms, and a few other technical issues that you need to know for things to work properly together and produce optimal sound. The Mhz and bit rate of your sources need to be checked once installed for example.
I can’t say enough good things about the speakers and the sound, except any improvement in any way would be super-expensive and extremely marginal. They put you right there where whatever you’re listening to was recorded. Ideal. The 12 gauge Mediabridge cables look very cool with them too. They’re very big and very heavy. The speakers and the cables.
The best way to care for the cabinets, in case anyone wonders how to care for such types of finished wood, is definitely not Pledge, lemon oil, or Murphy’s. Pledge and Murphy’s being the worst stuff for wood around. Lemon oil is great for some finishes and woods, and some people report happiness using it on their speaker cabinets. I use it a lot of some of our furniture. But Watco Danish oil natural is the best thing for these and is also exactly what I use to treat and coat my workbench top with. Great stuff. Tung oil could probably be used too but I know the Danish oil works, and I don’t want my speakers to be guinea pigs.
The Teac amp is great but with some annoyances. Neither digital readout nor illuminated dials were something I had considered but in my office, where I keep it as dim as a tomb, I can’t see where the volume is or anything else, really. It’s all analog. Which wouldn’t be that big of a deal except I have other people in the house to consider. The amp, as I said, is LOUD. And the volume knob isn’t motorized, which some people complain about. I can see their grievance now. I’ve never not had a motorized volume knob, but the difference between when you use the remote and the knob isn’t equalized smoothly when automatically adjusted. Picking nits here, I realize. Like the fact their software stinks, which you pretty much have to download, unless you’re into maintaining your own drivers. It was an afterthought. The driver works well, but the HD media player that comes with it is trash. The player has to be used with a USB cable while it’s running, is outdated from the get-go, and doesn’t work well, if at all. It’s no-frills, which would be fine, but I never had any success with it all, but I don’t care. VLC is far better. Anything is far better, honestly. And I aim to not have any more cables than necessary, and a USB for a crummy piece of software I won’t use isn’t one. If I were the product manager of a product made for streaming data from the internet and for people who typically aren’t technophobes, I would make quite sure I had some appropriate software. Especially if you expect users to use it as much as Teac seems to. End of rant. It doesn’t make the amp itself any worse.
The Bluetooth feature of it is awesome. It works well and pairs easily and the sound is fine. If there’s an infinitesimal reduction in quality for some reason, I can’t pick out where it is. I use an optical cable running through a Sound Blaster sound card, then through the computer’s processor which I’ve optimized as well. I think people probably often forget that step. A lot of settings have to be adjusted for best performance in hidden little OS menus here and there.
Although I was already looking for an equalizer, the Teac amp is more than adequate, and the quality is so good as-is, I can’t see the need for anything else. I don’t want it running through a bunch of sound “enhancing” software, effects, or anything more than I absolutely need to. I wouldn’t even know where to start to improve it at this point, really. Without spending a fortune and ending up with an entirely new system. The only few issues I have could be fixed, but I already know the next steps up are from what I have and it’s a doozie price-wise. It’s why I didn’t get them instead. This stuff is like guitars; you’re always in search of the perfect one, or one that’s just a little bit different and maybe better in some indescribable way. The system I have is almost zero impedance. Source-to-ear is as short as I can get it. High-quality sources, high-quality equipment, arranged ideally. Maybe one day we can transmit such things to the correct parts of our brains inductively but until then… I think I’m done. For now.
EDIT: Not long after I wrote this, my Energy speakers fell apart. Literally. They’re about 20 years old, yes, but they’ve been well-cared for. However, the glue that holds the front of the speakers to the housing failed. In addition, the plastic “rim” that also is responsible for keeping the tweeters and cones in place cracked all the way around, specifically with the center speaker, causing the front of the speaker to become detached. I repaired them as best as I could with some appropriate glue and clamps, but my confidence has been shaken as to their longevity. Just something to note.
This Grateful Dead show at the Beat Club in Bremen, West Germany, April 21, 1972, was the show that turned me onto the Grateful Dead around 35 years ago. Got on the bus as the hippies say. It’s not even one of their best shows, although certainly one of the most unique on video, and Donna was squawking away, but it didn’t matter. 1972 is one of their top years. And a show with Pigpen and Keith is special. Out of the many keyboardists the Dead have had, Keith Godchaux was my favorite with Bruce Hornsby second. This was one of Pigpen’s last shows.
Where and how I grew up in South Carolina, good music wasn’t exactly easy to come by. I was born a poor black child, you see. Good music anywhere was tough, but especially in a little town of 500 in S.C. To get true alternative music back then, before alternative was mainstream and was actually an alternative to pop instead of being pop, you ordered records from magazines out of New York. My mother, fortunately, saved a big box of 45s from the beach house from the 50s and early 60s, and a stack of LPs that dated back to the late 1800’s I think. Seriously. Inch-thick discs of classical that played at obscure turntable speeds. But what was played mostly on the old Victrola was a lot of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Enrico Caruso, and other opera and country and western selections mostly. My father’s musical reach was the hook from Ray Stevens’ “The Streak,” and that was about it. We had a radio of course but with poor reception of crummy stations, who bothered? If you wanted to buy a record or cassette tape, you had the Record Bar at the mall, which sold mostly the same crap that was on the radio, or the seedy cinder-block building on the other part of town that sold classic rock and some good stuff, but was known more for their vast porn selection than their music. So I only went in there when my dad took me.
I had listened to Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor and the usual South Carolina fare that all my friends listened to, but I also listened to a lot of those old 45s of my mother’s. Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis were two artists whose hits I listened to a lot. All sorts of obscure hits from those decades were in that stack, and a lot of them were fun for a kid to listen to, like “Splish Splash,” etc…but I got a good feeling for the dawn of rock and roll and pre-rock. The Beatles totally saved humanity from some seriously terrible music. Paul Anka? Tiny Tim? Seriously?
And then one day, in the early 1980’s, I saw the cut of “One More Saturday Night” from this show (@30:20 in the video below). I saw it once, my jaw hit the ground, and that was it. Which made sense since VCRs were still a new technology and what you watched was whatever was on one of the 3 stations. But few things have hit me as resolutely as that did. Like Jehovah’s favorite choir. Seeing these guys play such energetic, raw rock and roll and the colorful wild hippie set and such intense and competent musicianship, and I was sold. (You have to think, this was the 1980’s and synth and bubblegum crap music was everywhere. Seeing guys actually playing instruments like that live and sounding so unique, real, musically complex(they have 7 people on stage) and completely awesome was amazing!) The modulation gets the blood pumping, too. Musically it was familiar. A big influence on Jerry Garcia’s guitar playing is obviously Chuck Berry which you can hear in One More Saturday Night and of course his cover of Johnny B. Goode and Promised Land among other songs that leak out the influence from that era like Not Fade Away. Plus Keith’s piano playing, with his runs and trills and ragtime feel was reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis. And no racks of stupid synthesizers everywhere like Devo-or far, far worse in the 80’s- but just Keith over on the side banging away at a piano with a bottle of Coke next to him. I still love watching and listening to it, even though musically it’s not their finest version. It’s pretty good though because of the energy. That’s easy to say though when you have a trillion shows under your belt. It’s still great and I still love it like the first time I saw/heard it in fact, if not more because I know the Dead pretty well now.
And before I get a bunch of emails telling me the Grateful Dead are terrible, I realize this is my opinion and they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Their time signatures are non-standard, which a lot of people don’t like, and the nontraditional arrangements are too much for some people as well. Jerry’s style involves coming in just a little late on vocals and guitar every now and then I’ve noticed, which he does on on purpose usually, which also may put some people off very subtly. Or maybe it’s just Donna, or whatever, but save your time and breath; I know it. I’ve heard it before a time or two. Thankfully, we don’t all have to appreciate each others’ music. I mean Slim Whitman was great and all…
I’ve also heard so many of their shows so many times now, I find I can pick out more and more unique information just by listening to them, like a sommelier can tell you about a bottle of wine by taking a sip. and this new sound system I have is revealing some amazing details I’ve never heard, like heaving breaths and picks hitting the strings and new percussion and subtle runs and phrases I’d never picked up on. In some cases entire instruments that you couldn’t hear in the background. It’s like hearing a lot of these shows for the first time again, which is pretty great. Especially with the frequent releases of all their best shows professionally remastered, like Cornell 5/8/77 etc… in really good audio quality.
The Dead’s sound evolved of course from a jug band quickly to rock and roll, and within that the songs and styles were dynamic. Psychedelia to country and western to old spirituals to jazz numbers to everything in between. Even a polka thrown in here and there. It’s partially why they’re the longest enduring band ever. This period in the 70’s was my favorite(minus the horrible disco-Dead with Go to Heaven-style “Street” songs. My least favorite Dead songs are Dancing in the Streets and Shakedown Street. And Looks like Rain.), with the early 80’s and late 60’s right behind. Those were different eras in several ways. The repertoire pivoting each time for one. Different instruments. Different hairstyles even. Lots of stuff. The worst being when they added the MIDI and went digital in the early 90’s. That’s also when the Dead became seriously mainstream and took on a life of its own. Weird to say when they packed a million people into their shows. But the partying and parking lot scene were out of control. It became about nothing but partying and the music was highly secondary. That’s when I stopped going to shows. It goes from novel at first, to distracting, then annoying after a while. I blame MTV, as I do with a lot of the decline of the general quality of the music scene in the US. How hot you were became more important than how good you were musically. That’s a big conversation for another time.
I recently remembered that I used to make the A/V guys at my high school play and replay the “One More Saturday Night” clip for me on Saturdays when I was stuck on campus, because only a few qualified geeks students could hit Play/Stop/Rewind on the highly-technical VCR on the cart in the A/V center. Which was basically the library attic if I also remember right. What made me think of that was how things have changed since those days. I’m watching it now, at my total leisure, on a giant high-def screen on an audiophile-grade sound system. I can’t wait to see what media consumption is like in 30+ more years. I’m sure the guys in the band couldn’t begin to imagine their humble shows would one day be broadcast like they are. Bobby, with the ponytail, turns 70 this year. And he’s the youngest by quite a few years, since he ran off with the band when he was 16. In the decades following this performance, both keyboardists and the guitarist would be dead, the bassist will have a liver transplant and they’ll add another drummer. And make a ton of great music playing a few thousand shows in between, all available at our fingertips.
Spanish lady comes to me, she lays on me this rose…
Bob Dylan fan or not, you have to be impressed with anyone that can perform this entire song. It’s long.
Interestingly, it was written by a team of people (Written by Falana Brown, Tarik L Collins, Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Mercedes Martinez, Tracey M Moore, Denard Smith, Scott Storch, Scott Spencer Storch) and not Bob Dylan. In any case, it’s a cool song and story and worth saving here for easy access.
I don’t expect this video to be posted very long. It gets taken down all the time for copyright reasons. But in the meantime… It’s my favorite version because of the accompanists. Bob Dylan is around three feet tall, which you can kind of pick up here as well.
Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night
Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees a bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out my God, they killed them all
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world
Three bodies lyin’ there does Patty see
And another man named Bello, movin’ around mysteriously
I didn’t do it, he says, and he throws up his hands
I was only robbin’ the register, I hope you understand
I saw them leavin’, he says, and he stops
One of us had better call up the cops
And so Patty calls the cops
And they arrive on the scene with their red lights flashin’
In the hot New Jersey night
Meanwhile, far away in another part of town
Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin’ around
Number one contender for the middleweight crown
Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down
When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road
Just like the time before and the time before that
In Paterson that’s just the way things go
If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street
‘Less you want to draw the heat
Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the cops
Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowlin’ around
He said, I saw two men runnin’ out, they looked like middleweights
They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates
And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head
Cop said, wait a minute, boys, this one’s not dead
So they took him to the infirmary
And though this man could hardly see
They told him that he could identify the guilty men
Four in the mornin’ and they haul Rubin in
They took him to the hospital and they brought him upstairs
The wounded man looks up through his one dyin’ eye
Says, wha’d you bring him in here for? He ain’t the guy!
Here’s the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world
Four months later, the ghettos are in flame
Rubin’s in South America, fightin’ for his name
While Arthur Dexter Bradley’s still in the robbery game
And the cops are puttin’ the screws to him, lookin’ for somebody to blame
Remember that murder that happened in a bar
Remember you said you saw the getaway car
You think you’d like to play ball with the law
Think it might-a been that fighter that you saw runnin’ that night
Don’t forget that you are white
Arthur Dexter Bradley said I’m really not sure
The cops said a poor boy like you could use a break
We got you for the motel job and we’re talkin’ to your friend Bello
You don’t wanta have to go back to jail, be a nice fellow
You’ll be doin’ society a favor
That sonofabitch is brave and gettin’ braver
We want to put his ass in stir
We want to pin this triple murder on him
He ain’t no Gentleman Jim
Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay
And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way
Up to some paradise
Where the trout streams flow and the air is nice
And ride a horse along a trail
But then they took him to the jailhouse
Where they try to turn a man into a mouse
All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance
The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance
The judge made Rubin’s witnesses drunkards from the slums
To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum
And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
No one doubted that he pulled the trigger
And though they could not produce the gun
The D.A. said he was the one who did the deed
And the all-white jury agreed
Rubin Carter was falsely tried
The crime was murder one, guess who testified
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game
Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell
That’s the story of the Hurricane
But it won’t be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he’s done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world