After forever

record

I’m awoken at 2:30 by something crawling on my back. I turn on the light, and there beside me in the bed is a big, black cricket. I scoop it up and pad downstairs, open the front door and toss it out into the darkness.

Five and a half hours later, my dad and I are rummaging around in the basement of my parents’ house, looking for the big can of miscellaneous nuts and bolts. I’ve just been given an old stereo — my first in fifteen years — but one of the speakers is missing a nut where the wires attach. The nut can isn’t in its usual place on the shelf. We look high and low without success, and we’re on our way back up the cellar stairs when I spot a can on top of the shelf where the nails are kept. Eureka!

The stereo only came with one, thin speaker wire, but I find a couple coils of thicker stuff in one of my dad’s boxes of electrical supplies. Now let’s see if I can put it all together. It’s an overcast morning, with rain in the forecast — perfect weather for puttering around indoors.

The stereo components appear to date from the late 60s or early 70s. There’s a Sherwood receiver, AR speakers, a Pioneer tape deck and a Benjamin Miracord turntable. It would be cool if the tape deck works — I have a lot of cassettes — but I already have a boom box if it doesn’t. I’m mainly hoping that the record player works, so I can bring down some of my classical records from my parents’ house and listen to music in the evenings, which is generally when I would prefer to listen to music, I think.

The previous owner had kept all the manuals, which is good, because unlike more modern equipment that I’ve owned in the past, the connections aren’t color-coded; everything is explained in terms of ohms. After a great deal of fussing and muttering, I get it all hooked up and plugged in, but now I can’t find the “on” button. I turn up the “Loudness” knob and get a rain of static — the radio works! In a burst of inspiration, I connect the old, thin speaker wire to the screws where an FM antenna is supposed to attach and run it up to the ceiling, and suddenly I’m listening to NPR’s Scott Simon oozing fake empathy. Huzzah!

One of the speakers has a distinct, rattling buzz. I get a screwdriver and pry off the cover, and as I suspected, only a small piece of foam still connects the woofer’s black paper cone to its frame; the rest has disintegrated. I gather from the web that speakers in this condition can be repaired, though I’m not sure I’m up to the task. What’s surprising is that the other speaker still sounds fine. If the turntable works, I’ll count myself lucky.

First, though, I test the tape deck. It makes a faint grinding noise when I turn it on — that’s all. I recall that my dad’s brother gave us an old tape deck a few years back thinking we might be able to use it, though we never did. I go fetch it from my parents’ attic, and it sort of half works: sound comes out of the left channel loud and clear, but nothing from the right. That’s O.K., I guess, since I only have one good speaker. Fortunately, the receiver has a monaural setting.

My classical records are up in my parents’ collection, as I mentioned, and years ago I sold off my blues records in a fit of madness, so all I have down here right now are a couple dozen old metal and punk records. For testing purposes, Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality should do. Besides, I don’t have it on cassette — I haven’t heard these songs in a very long time.

The needle looks O.K. I drop it in the groove between the first and second tracks and “After Forever” comes on. Damn — it sounds good, even with the one fuzzy speaker! The great, stoned, bass-heavy riffs instantly take me back twenty years, but the lyrics sound relevant as ever:

I think it is true it was people like you who crucified Christ
I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced

I listen to the rest of the record with one ear while I type. Then it’s over, and the phonograph arm returns to its cradle with a quiet whir and click — a sound that provokes a nostalgia all its own.

In the aftermath, I find myself focusing on the crickets. There’s a loud one calling right outside the front door.

record player

UPDATE: I replaced the buzzy speaker with the one that still sounded good from an old pair of Polk speakers in my parents’ attic. So I now have a working stereo.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

15 Comments


  1. I like this, “everything is explained in terms of ohms.” All I can think of is the chanting… om om om. As resonant as the music you are hoping to hear from the ancient speaker. We have an old turntable that we’re planning to hook up to our system, and boxes and boxes of albums that just need a bit of dusting off. I’m looking forward to the sound of the turntable, the arm coming to rest in the cradle, the click. There is something about the seamlessness of digitized music that just can’t match the inherent richness of music on vinyl.

    Too bad about those blues albums.

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  2. Dave, I’m speechless at your resourceful expertise and minimalism. In the land of consumers and instant obsolescence, you are successfully rewiring an old stereo. We’ll need people like you in the new world, when the fuel runs out and the global warming/cooling is in full swing and nothing works anymore. But you… sold…those….blues records? Was it a monastic gesture, getting rid of all material possessions?

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  3. What a good story, with such a happy ending! This is the sort of pleasure that seems to be lost in so much of our society — not to mention the willingness to fuss with something old but serviceable, and get it to work. Happy listening, Dave. Let us know what sounds good.

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  4. Aside from the difference in sound, what I miss most is not the needle so prone to jumping when I danced but the album covers whose surface area allowed for legible type and truly interesting graphic design. Ach, ya got me waxing nostalgic, Dave.

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  5. . . . I am Iron Man . . .

    Great post, man. I have so many of my parents old records, 45’s, I am dying to play them, but I don’t have a record player. You really scored, huh?

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  6. I walked into a small gym last week, and the only other guy working out had “Iron Man” on the boom box. First time in thirty years. I remembered my first stereo, purchased with what I was willing to save from nineteen months of delivering The Daily Press.

    It must be in the late-August air.

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  7. robin andrea – Ohms are cool. The symbol for ohm of course is the Greek letter Omega, which has Gnostic associations for me, plus, I mean, quantifying ‘resistance’ is appealing on so many levels.

    Natalie – Thanks, but “expertise” would really be stretching it. I’m a mechanical idiot. I’m happy to know there’s a company selling old speaker repair kits, but if I go that route, I think I’ll mail the woofers to them and pay whatever it costs (about a quarter of the cost of new, cheap speakers, probably).

    Yes, I sold the blues records partly as a monastic gesture — I was toying with the idea of lighting out for a monastery, in fact, without actually doing anything concrete about it. But in fact I used the proceeds to buy alcohol.

    beth – “old but serviceable”: I figure that stereo could be just about the same age as me. I.e. still in its advanced youth, really.

    MB – You’re right on about album covers and jumpy needles. Though for my parents’ stereo — new four years ago — we bought a top-of-the-line turntable that probably wouldn’t skip in an earthquake. So if you feel like spending the money, you can still buy new record players, made for hip-hop DJs and so forth; it’s just the low-end ones that are no longer made.

    Bobby – Yeah, I got this in exchange for a little bit of yard work. But I’ll bet if you visited some yard sales and flea markets you could find a turntable pretty quick. I mean, with all those retirees, Florida must be full of old records and record players!

    Peter – Yeah, I was never a huge fan of that particular song, but I guess it must’ve been a hit for them — maybe because of all the weightlifters who took it literally! I think it may be one of the few that Ozzy actually wrote the lyrics to, but don’t quote me on that. Most of their best lyrics were written by the bassist, Geezer Butler (who now actually is a geezer, but is still doing the rock and roll thing).

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  8. Dude. “After Forever” has long been one of my faves, and _Master of Reality_ is probably my most beloved Sabbath album. See what prompts me to comment? Not nature, not the lovely meditations you write and that inspire in others paroxysms of virtual joy, just stoned bass-heavy riffing. That’s right.

    Gabe

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  9. An exquisite depiction of an authentic artefact – as opposed, that is, to something rendered obsolete by something identical only not quite so powerful a month after entering the market.

    You’ve inspired me to wrestle my father’s walnut-clad radiogramme down from the loft. All the speeds from 16 to 78 rpm!

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  10. Dave, would you like some more of those records back? I will e-mail you.

    And did you play Moses und Aron?

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  11. Gabe – I knew you used to be a metalhead, but I forgot you shared my passion for early Sabbath. I can see why “After Forever” might appeal to an ex-Catholic, though!

    Dick – Glad to have inspired. I was wondering about that 16 rpm speed, though – I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a record.

    Keith – You have more of my records? Well, keep them if you’re still enjoying them! I have listened to the Moses und Aron, the Golden Calf and the Altar scene. Twelve-tone music goes well with blog-reading, for some reason. I’ve also listened to the Honegger and the Frank Martin/Ernest Block records on this new set-up.

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  12. Just last week I actually threw away–into the dumpster–some old punk vinyls I had! Maybe this was foolish in retrospect. I hadn’t listened to them in so long…I guess I figured I never would again.

    I love what you say about “quantifying resistance.” If the Omega is the end, the terminus, then I suppose we do put up some resistance to that. My punk records certainly did–they managed to stay in my life unused for years.

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  13. Brett – No, you shouldn’t have done that! You could’ve mailed them to me, and I would’ve gladly reimbursed you for mailing, and then some.

    Sure, a lot of that stuff is pretty cynical or nihilistic, but once in a rare while, that’s just what the doctor ordered! Catharsis, maybe — or something like a vaccine. The same way that blues music is reputed to be the best medicine for the blues. (Actually, I know that from personal experience.)

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  14. Was so glad to see that someone somewhere has a Ben Mira turntable-German made. I own one just like your picture. Bought used in Camb. MA in 1972 and was in excellent working condition up to 2003.
    I used a Harmon Kardon tube amplifier am/fm stereo system hooked up to a pair of Rectilinear speakers for playing my old, old classical and folk music collections. The amplifier stopped working in 2006. In the past when I lived in the East, I used to take the sound system to repair shop for general maintenance. Now I live in the “conservativeâ€? Midwest and when I took the Ben Mira to a turntable “expertâ€?, he messed it up and now I don’t know where to go. The German manuf is out of business, and I don’t care for digital music-the current rage. Therapists have told me repeatedly that analog music “captures the emotional tonesâ€? of the music, and that is why they do not use CD music for music therapy and I believe them.
    Now having overstated my case, I wonder if you know where, any where that I can get some help with restoring my system. There is now an electronic turntable system that can play and “burn� the vinyl records into CDs. Not sure if I can afford such a system.

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  15. Thanks for the comment, but gosh, I have no idea what to tell you. I guess before investing a lot of money in something like that, I would want to talk to people who have done it and see what they say about the quality of the digitized albums. If they’re anything like film pictures that have been converted to digital images, don’t bother! And in any case, it’s probably cheaper to buy a new turntable. They’re still made for DJs.

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