Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Thinking about my late mother

Recently, I've been thinking of my late mother. She was not an audiophile, at least not in the standard sense. But she could hear the difference quality audio makes. More on that later...

My earliest record playing memories involve the family stereo system. I may talk about this system for some Thursday Throwback Memoir. For now, suffice it to say that it was pretty much rock bottom. My mother played records a fair amount when I was young, low end system or not.

I have memories of some evenings when she'd sit in the darkened dining room listening to a record. I have one memory of us playing one record one day when I was home from school. Was I sick that day? Vacation? I can't recall—all I can recall was that day we played a record. She once told me that she'd often play records while supervising me as I played as a very small child.

What impresses me now is the diversity of her record collection. Some of it might cause some to roll their eyes—she had several 1970s Neil Diamond records. But there was also Beethoven, Carmen (her favorite opera), and flamenco guitar. As the years passed, she got very interested in a variety of world music.

Listening to some of her records helped me cope the month after she died. Some were old favorites she'd had since forever. Some were actually ones she'd never listened to that I'd bought for her at a yard sale. Her health was seriously bad at that point, but buying those records represented an act of hope—maybe things would get better. As it turned out, they ended up being more for my healing than they were for her.

As I commented before, she was not an audiophile, but she did appreciate quality equipment. As I mentioned before, I dragged her along with me when I went to hear my first good system when I was a teenager. She was more likely, I thought, to be taken seriously than an obvious high school student. And, at the time, she was talking about a new audio system. Not at the Linn Axis level, but it made a good excuse to go and hear one.

Funny thing, but I don't think she expected to hear much difference between a Linn Axis-based system and what she was used to. And yet, she immediately heard a huge difference. Proof that you don't need to be an audiophile for years, or have rarefied golden ears, to hear a difference. At least between “good quality” and “mass market dreck.”

Indeed, looking back, I'd trust her reaction more than mine in one way: she was less likely to get seduced by technological claims. She had about zero interest in the technology—all she cared about was playing records.

This last thought reminds me of something else: she never, ever had a CD player. Part of this was likely a dislike of modern technology in general. She also never had a computer, or, for that matter, any number of other modern gizmos. But she was convinced about the performance of LPs on a good system. Her only expressed interest in CD was probably a nod to “new releases” and also the thought that there might be value in a CD changer for background applications.

She also never had a quality system that was hers and only hers. I think I may have had an idea of upgrading what I ended up with, and sending the old pieces her way. But...there were zero upgrades. Plus her health started deteriorating about the time the good system appeared, and not long after, she wasn't able to live alone. Given that, it was just more practical to have one good system that could live in the living room. (As opposed to audiophiles who have a good system under lock and key. And then a cheap system the troublesome people they live with family can use.)

My mother has been gone for many years now. But I still think of her, and she still has influence on my audiophile life. She was the one who made playing records routinely a normal thing. Her willingness to expand musical horizons was a good example. And I'm indebted for her endorsement of quality audio. She could hear the value, and knew the importance of buying quality. Unlike my grandmother, who upon hearing about high end audio (particularly the prices), said something sarcastic like: “What are you going to do? Just listen to records all the time?”

I miss my mother, but at least the memories and a legacy lives on...

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