Music meets memories during the quarantine

Judging by the increase in Facebook postings, most pretty lame, and in the number of newspaper advice articles on how to cope with “self-isolation,” the coronavirus prevention campaigns may be driving people batty.

Folks complain of insomnia; being unable to focus and grievingexcessive drinking leading to domestic violence. Some couples are even talking about marital problems. Other people fear a slide from boredom, to anxiety, to outright depression.

None of these symptoms are caused by an existential ennui of the kind you can thrash out with a fellow penseur at a Paris sidewalk cafe. We are talking about people bored out of their gourds, especially when they remember this self-isolation drill might go on for several more weeks, if not longer.


Some people try to make their house arrest sentence go faster by undertaking mindless make-work. It’s not only a way to kill time, but also an attempt to regain control over a situation that is really out of your control.

Hello to deep-cleaning and organizing projects, from dusting the blades of the ceiling fan, cleaning the wall behind the toilet, or arranging the spice jars alphabetically, and tossing those with expiration dates older than five years.

My own compulsive cleaning-and-organizing blitzkrieg didn’t start until Friday, about two weeks after Stew and I formally declared ourselves physically cut off from the rest of humanity—except for the maid and the gardener, who clean up after us.

We don’t own piles of random stuff, but instead have medium-size collections of a few items, such as books, photos (inside my computer and in boxes) and music recordings, that haven’t been curated for decades, if ever.

I started with music, and in just a few hours, realized it would be a daunting exercise. My failure to organize my recordings in the first place has been compounded over the years by the inexorable march of technology.

I was also detoured by the unexpected: Music recordings triggering memories.

My record collection began circa freshman year in college, with LPs that evolved from high-fidelity, to stereophonic and finally quadraphonic recordings. Then came updates of the amplifiers, speakers and other assorted electronica.

Compact chaos

Sophisticated turntables later paired with tape recorders and tapes, and equalizers. Headphones, running full throttle, magnified the sound which, in retrospect, probably led to the tinnitus and partial hearing loss I began experiencing a few years ago.

Plus wires, many, many wires, twisted in all directions, as if they each, on their own, had picked their destination and purpose.

All that bulky music equipment was gradually pushed aside by the arrival of compact discs and digital technology, iPods, MP3 recordings, the internet, iTunes, TuneIn radio, Bluetooth speakers, and extravagant but helpless car sound systems that require the importation of music sticks that plug into USB ports in order to play your music. Or you can connect to the system via your smartphone. Our 2018 Chevy Colorado pickup has no slot for CDs, which GM must have decided were no longer needed.

Astuff accumulated, along with more wires, each new wave of sound technology didn’t replace the previous one, but pushed the obsolete equipment and collections aside, to collect dust. Until a few days ago, the innards of my stereo cabinet looked like a old-fashioned phone switchboard run by  a senile operator who’d lost track of which plug went into what hole.

Wires to everywhere and nowhere.

When we built this house, in a wistful attempt to regain control over all this stuff, we had a carpenter build a stereo cabinet, nowadays called a “media center,” to house the TV, speakers, LPs, CVDs, and the amplifier and other noisemakers. Plus the builders ran wires from the stereo cabinet to two sets of speakers outside.

It was an awesome Rube Goldberg creation that I only used for a couple of years. Bluetooth speakers replaced their obsolete hard-wired cousins, and iPods, half the size of a cigarette pack and capable of holding a gazillion recordings, pushed aside my CD collection, never mind the LPs and the turntable. Most recently, our smartphones, with their amazing storage capacity, might displace the iPods, which are not even made anymore.

Are you still with me?
Old LPs, I discovered, can evoke  certain periods in life, some blissful, others hardly so. Or as the title of a Joan Baez album “Diamonds & Rust” (1975) suggests,  images of old lovers can bring memories of diamonds—and rust.

             Well, I’ll be damned
             Here comes your ghost again
            But that’s not unusual
            It’s just that the moon is full, 

            And you happened to call…

            …Ten years ago I bought you some cufflinks
            You brought me something
            We both know what memories can bring
            They bring diamonds and rust…

            …Now I see you standing
           With brown leaves falling around,
           And snow in your hair…

Baez is 79 years old.

LUCHA for the people, whatever that is.

There were also politics, antiwar protests, and even whispers of gay liberation, the latter ever so discreet at my very middle-class, Roman Catholic college, whose politics remained firmly grounded in the Ozzie and Harriet Era.

A few Hispanic students formed a group called “LUCHA”, which means “struggle” in Spanish though I don’t remember what the acronym meant, or even what we were struggling against.

What I remember, though, was Carlos Santana’s music, particularly “Evil Ways,” and “Black Magic Woman,” and that our group adopted his first recording, in 1969, as a sort of marching music.

Then again, it was a confusing time. Some of us thought Santana was Puerto Rican; he’s actually Mexican-American. At 72 years old, just a few months older than I, Santana is still touring. I’m definitely not.

There were also wars to be fought and lost, and military draft lotteries to be dreaded, with protest  music playing all the while.

My draft lottery number was a bone-chilling 3, but fortunately I received a 4F deferment because of a physical disability with my feet. (The problem, which persists today, is far more serious than heel spurs, in case you’re wondering.)

College buddies with similarly low lottery numbers and I commiserated about our bad luck, and whispered among ourselves, but never very seriously, about fleeing to Canada. Everyone stayed put, though a few, including an Adonis of a football player on my dormitory floor, was sent to Viet Nam and never made it back alive.

Ready for action?

Although I never dipped into pills or hard drugs, occasionally Friday and Saturday came and went in a haze of pot-smoking, pepperoni pizza-snarfing, and faux-profound babbling. At the time, guys my age tended to ponder the “heaviness” of life—as in “that’s heavy, man, so heavy”—harmonized full blast by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. All of them remain alive only in my music collection. Drugs were hard on everyone.

James Taylor, whom I, even under the influence of drugs, found insufferably lachrymose, is still around but bald, and still boring after all these years.

About two-thirds of my LP and CD collection, though, is classical music, heavy on piano and guitar compositions, and big-bang orchestral productions, like Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra” performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and a rattle-the-pictures recording of Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” which was the opening music of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), and a favorite of stoned college students.

Yesterday I thumbed through my LPs, and was surprised by their age, and the range—maybe even sophistication— of my musical tastes, particularly since I don’t remember buying many of these dearies in the first place. This is going to take some serious ex-post-facto curating.

Anybody for an LP of koto flute?

Even when pot-impaired, I took very good care of my LPs, which to this day are mostly in pristine condition. I’ve thought of selling them, but who would buy such a motley collection? Besides, I’m not sure I’m ready to part with those memories.

Today is Saturday, and our mission (I’m recruiting Stew for this) is to bring back to life my turntable, the last component of my music system, and, I suspect, sort out another rat’s nest of wires.

If successful, it’ll all come back to life today or tomorrow, appropriately enough on Easter weekend. But I will still have to go through the CDs and LPs collection, and if not organize them—that might require another miracle—at least reacquaint myself with what I own.

I’ve got plenty of time on my hands during this coronavirus lockdown.

Maybe too much, I’m starting to feel.

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