Friday, January 27, 2012

The Sound Of Youth

It was a great cube of wood, that first stereo. To be fair, it wasn't really a stereo, since that would require it having two speakers by definition. This did not. But what it lacked in speakers it made up for in sheer girth. It was furniture and, like so many other things in the late 1960's, had been state of the art before transistors. It played records and that was my main concern. To do so, I had to lift the massive lid and prop it open as I reached deep into the recesses of the machine where the felt-covered turntable sat. I had options: I could play my 78, 45, or 33 1/3 RPM by moving the lever just to the right of the platter. I didn't play 78's, since they were all carefully stored away in my parent's record collection. But with he proper attachment to the spindle, I could play a stack of 45 singles. The one I remember best was "In The Ghetto" by Elvis. I am still haunted by the mournful sound of his voice coming from inside that big wooden box. "In the Gee-yet-toe."
And LP's? I could stack those up too. The long spindle gave me the opportunity to play three or four albums in sequence. If I played one record at a time, I could repeat it endlessly by leaving the arm that held the next record in place to the side. The tone arm would pick up, move back almost to its perch, and then drop magically down on the leading edge of vinyl to start the trip all over again. This is how I memorized the soundtrack to "Young Frankenstein" and "Bless The Beasts And The Children." It was because of this repeated exposure that I became distressed when I heard "Nadia's Theme" getting all kinds of airplay on the radio. That wasn't "Nadia's Theme," it was "Cotton's Dream" from "Bless The Beasts etc." Suddenly I was hearing this instrumental everywhere, but without a mention of its connection to the movie that I had taken as my touchstone five years earlier. Even worse when it became the theme to "The Young And The Restless." How could this be?
I was young and restless, but I wasn't ready to watch a soap opera. I wanted to listen to the music I associated with alienation and loneliness. That was the sound my big wooden box of music made. It wasn't long after that that I got my first real stereo, a JC Penny plastic contraption that could be snapped together for transport. I wouldn't take that old box anywhere. It was part of the firmament, and when I let it go, I felt it. It was the sound of my youth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I needed grief counseling when I learned my dad had given away the Grundig turntable/radio console that lived in my bedroom and provided my first childhood soundtrack - Mills Brothers, Burl Ives, and Danny Dunn & the Homework Machine.