How I Be­came a Mu­sic and Gear Nerd

NOVO - - YOUR DIGITAL DORM ROOM - by Kevin Rak

The year was 1975 and I was ten years old. The mu­sic bug had bit­ten badly sev­eral years prior. My dad’s younger brother was also very in­ter­ested in mu­sic and was an au­dio­phile. At that par­tic­u­lar pe­riod of time, quadra­phonic tech­nol­ogy was the cool new kid on the block and he had a full 4-chan­nel sys­tem. He was in his early twenties, fin­ish­ing up school and still liv­ing at home with my grand­mother. His bed­room was packed to ca­pac­ity with au­dio equip­ment. Four Ce­lestion speak­ers, not much smaller than I was at the time, a 4-chan­nel Ken­wood amp, tuner, Nakamichi cas­sette deck, Pana­sonic quadra­phonic 8-track player (which even back then seemed bizarre to me), and the coolest piece of mu­sic gear I had ever seen, a big Teac reel-to-reel. When I’d go to my grand­mother’s house, I’d im­me­di­ately head straight to his bed­room, qui­etly stare at all the gear and flip through his records. I would sit on his bed and foren­si­cally ex­am­ine his large col­lec­tion of LPs - Venus & Mars by Wings, Good­bye Yel­low Brick Road by El­ton John and Bea­tles’ al­bums. It mes­mer­ized and cap­ti­vated me. The guys with long hair, crazy-look­ing clothes and high heel boots, awe­some look­ing drum kits and wild look­ing elec­tric gui­tars. I re­mem­ber it like it was yes­ter­day and look­ing back, I re­al­ize now that at any pe­riod in the his­tory of Rock ‘N’ Roll mu­sic, that time pe­riod was ar­guably the ab­so­lute pin­na­cle. Be­tween 1965 & 1975, an ab­so­lute shit-load of mu­sic, was pro­lif­i­cally be­ing writ­ten, played and recorded. Un­der the “Rock Mu­sic” moniker, there was Coun­try Rock, Hard Rock, early Heavy Me­tal, Pro­gres­sive Rock, Glam Rock, South­ern Rock, Art Rock, and just a cou­ple of years

be­hind, the emer­gence of Punk Rock and the sub­se­quent wave of…, well, New Wave. The creativ­ity of that time is most likely, and un­for­tu­nately, never to be matched again. By my par­ent’s good plan­ning and a healthy dose of serendip­ity, I found my­self smack in the mid­dle of the mu­sic and at a per­fectly im­pres­sion­able age.

My grand­mother would spend the win­ters in Florida, so when she was gone, my un­cle would pull all his gear out of his bed­room & set it up in the liv­ing room, giv­ing the gear, and mu­sic, more space to breathe. On one par­tic­u­lar visit in 1975, I ar­rived at the house with my dad to find the sound sys­tem al­ready set up in the liv­ing room. Ev­ery­thing ap­peared larger and all the cables con­nect­ing ev­ery­thing to­gether sud­denly fas­ci­nated me. There were stacks of LPs ev­ery­where and those two big Max­ell reels on the Teac seemed to be star­ing me down. I sub­mis­sively low­ered my eyes as I in­evitably usurped con­trol to a higher power, mea­sured in watts and deci­bels. My un­cle sat me down in front of the amp and handed me some­thing I had never seen be­fore. It had turquoise round foam pads, an arch­ing plas­tic piece con­nect­ing the foam pads to­gether and a ca­ble com­ing out of one side with a large sil­ver plug at the end. They were Sennheiser head­phones! He placed them over my ears & pro­ceeded to place Sis­ter Golden Hair by Amer­ica on his Dual turntable. It was my first ex­pe­ri­ence with head­phones, and the strange con­trap­tion strad­dling my nog­gin pro­duced a sound I had never heard be­fore. It was like I was wear­ing the mu­sic and the band was jam­ming within my skull. The head­phones looked as if they were from dis­tant planet and Sis­ter Golden Hair seemed to per­fectly cap­ture the mid-70s laid back west coast Rock doc­trine. Since that very day in ‘75, every time I hear that song, it im­me­di­ately car­ries me back to that day in my grand­mother’s liv­ing room with those head­phones. When my dad & I left the house to walk home, I told him “when I get older, I’m gonna have a stereo just like that, with a ton of records”. As a re­sult, I’ve been hap­pily chas­ing that dragon for 40-plus years, and can re­port I have stayed true to that per­sonal mis­sion state­ment. It was the 70s af­ter all, and there was cer­tainly no short­age of mu­sic to be dis­cov­ered.

I be­came ob­sessed with stereo equip­ment. With­out com­put­ers or the in­ter­net, very lit­tle ac­cess to stereo mag­a­zines, nor the funds to pur­chase them, I wasn’t sure how to pro­ceed to quench my au­dio thirst. My dad at the time worked with a guy who also loved au­dio gear and one day he came home from work with a pile of pam­phlets from com­pa­nies such as Tech­niques, Pi­o­neer and Ken­wood. I was thrilled. Some of the gear looked very high­tech, Tech­niques turnta­bles, black rack mount com­po­nents with han­dles in the front and large speak­ers with big horn­lens tweet­ers. It only whet my ap­petite for more. I wasn’t go­ing to own any of this gear any­time soon and re­ly­ing on my par­ents to drive me to stereo shops in Mon­treal was go­ing to be dif­fi­cult and in­fre­quent. One day in school an idea popped into my head. My plan would be to write to the com­pa­nies I was en­am­oured with and tell them I was a record­ing engi­neer, look­ing to set up my own stu­dio and was con­sid­er­ing their brand for my gear. I had re­cently seen some McIn­tosh equip­ment that looked su­per-cool. So I ripped out a page of lined pa­per from my school work­book and in pen­cil, with every sec­ond word prob­a­bly mis­spelled, in 10-year old pen­man­ship, I went about con­struct­ing my fake story and re­quest­ing brochures & pam­phlets. Every day af­ter school I’d ask my mom if I had re­ceived any mail. Three-to-four weeks later, a large pack­age from McIn­tosh Lab­o­ra­tory was wait­ing for me when I ar­rived home from school. I ex­cit­edly ripped it open to find brochures of al­most all their cur­rent of­fer­ings and a nice per­son­alised let­ter on com­pany let­ter­head. It worked! My mom later In­quired why a “lab­o­ra­tory” lo­cated in the US was send­ing me large heavy pack­ages and wanted to know what I was up to. I think she was some­what re­lieved when I told her it was only au­dio equip­ment and not some­thing po­ten­tially ne­far­i­ous. With that pos­i­tive re­sult, it was time to step up my let­ter writ­ing cam­paign. I would end up writ­ing to Crown, JBL, BGW, SAE and a mul­ti­tude of other com­pa­nies. Some com­pa­nies did not re­spond, prob­a­bly see­ing through my cha­rade, but oth­ers sent me a ton of stuff, some with let­ters pon­tif­i­cat­ing how they thought their equip­ment would best suit my “pro­fes­sional re­quire­ments”.

Three more years would pass un­til I got my own, three-di­men­sional, ac­tual func­tion­ing, stereo sys­tem, with, of course, help from my un­cle. By that point, I had also ac­crued stacks of brochures from a mul­ti­tude of brands, and was rapidly build­ing my own col­lec­tion of LPs. In­ad­ver­tently, per­haps, but my un­cle had passed on his love of gear and mu­sic to me. At that point I wouldn’t have guessed that that love would re­main and ac­tu­ally in­crease over for the next forty years. A few years later, when I was six­teen, my un­cle and his young fam­ily were mov­ing, and he asked me to help him with the move. When we had moved ev­ery­thing into his new home and the day was com­ing to a close, he gave me most of his prized record col­lec­tion. I was thrilled, al­beit some­what shocked. My LP col­lec­tion had sud­denly grown ex­po­nen­tially!

To­day, I’m glad to re­port that I still pos­sess those records, the very ones that ini­tially drew me in and ig­nited the pas­sion. When I feel nos­tal­gic, which oc­curs more of­ten than I care to ad­mit th­ese days, I go back to the col­lec­tion and look through the very records I ador­ingly gazed at, a long time ago. Now, I’m a dad, and my twelve year old son Bray­den is also very pas­sion­ate about mu­sic. Every now and then, I take him through the in­fa­mous LP col­lec­tion. Like my un­cle be­fore me, I’m just pass­ing the whole thing for­ward, hop­ing my son will get the same thing out of mu­sic that I did. So far, it looks very promis­ing, and if he’s lucky, it’ll re­main with him for the next forty years.

Mango Mir­ror smart mir­ror.

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