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3 Decades of Peace & Music
Since my last visit, Joe's son graduated from college and has gone out on his own. I can remember when I left for college. My bedroom morphed into a library before my car left the driveway. At Joe's, his son's room is now 'the record room' which is fairly self-explanatory with the possible exception of a Loricraft PRC3 Record Cleaning Machine, the main pump for the Walker Proscenium and an original program from Woodstock hanging on the wall. Damn! I've never even seen one of these on eBay, let alone in person and I wondered how it was Joe came across one. "I rode my bike with my cousin" was the answer. At age 13, Joe and his older cousin rode their bikes a few miles from the family's summer cabin to spend 3 days of peace and music among the music-loving masses. When I asked Joe what that was like, I was surprised by his initial response "I was scared and thirsty". Of course, who wouldn't have been at 13 among half a million wet muddy bad brown acid eating with no water to drink hippies? "But The Who were fucking amazing," Joe continued "and when Hendrix played on Monday morning, I was just blown away." Of course, who wouldn't have been at any age?

Most of our listening was airborne vinyl and included Dead Can Dance Toward the Within, Ry Cooder and V.M. Bhatt A Meeting by the River, Duke Ellington and Ray Brown This One's for Blanton, the soundtrack to the Emerald Forest and Santana's Abraxas. As Carlos wailed into his first few notes on "Singing Winds, Crying Beasts",
Joe was reminded of the time he saw Santana open for The Dave Matthews Band. "I was there and recorded both nights." What Joe also shared was that for him, Santana was by far the main attraction. We eventually switched over to tape for a few tracks from each of the Tape Project tapes, starting with Jacqui Naylor and moving to Dave Alvin's Blackjack David. I will say that tape is always a pleasure to listen to as it doesn't sound like an LP and it doesn't sound like a CD, although as far as vinyl goes, that Walker 'table is one dead silent and steady runner. Through this Bottlehead rig, there was zero tape noise, no hiss and the music was crystal clear and effortless. I'm not so sure I'm sold on Ms. Naylor's styling though. The mixing of the tune from the Allman Brothers "Whipping Post" with the lyrics from "Summertime" had me longing for more of each. One, the other or both. Just not at the same time. Like being stuck in traffic between two convertible-driving, generation-gapped music lovers. Call me old-fashioned.

We got around to talking about the differences between Maggies and Kharmas and there are some things Joe misses that the Maggies do that the Kharmas don't. I followed up on this topic in an email and here's Joe's response: "The Magnepans were ultra fast and almost unholy in their presentation in the midband. Without careful placement and associated equipment upstream from them, the highs could be a little piercing at times. Female vocals and piano were their forte in my room.

"The Kharmas have a deeper sense of layering of the soundstage both front to back and side to side, well beyond the boundaries of the speakers. They seem to disappear. They go a lot deeper in fleshing out the bass, including the ability to reproduce bass in some recordings that you feel almost as much as hear.

"The Magnepans are not lacking in bass, they are very articulate, capable of reproducing leading edge transients with snap and focus; but the Kharma has a more complete presentation that fits my listening priorities for soundstaging, midband reproduction and bass punch.

"And - yes, I do have a pair of Magnepan MMGs that have that Maggie magic through the mids and that Maggie speed and articulation. I love pulling them out and listening to jazz trios like Bill Evans, and jazz trumpet from guys like Chet Baker on them."

One of the recordings we returned to from my first visit was Gustav Holt's Savitri, A Chamber Opera In One Act. An important aspect of this tale are the literal comings and goings of Death. When the grim reaper first appears in the form of baritone Thomas Hemsley, he does so from the very back, soundstage left. As Joe pointed out, "Now listen, he'll move across to the right coming closer, then to the very front center." I listened and Death did just that. As he crept toward me, I felt a chill and nearly smelled his breath. Luckily I was taking a fitful swig of my delicious and frosty Hop Hazard ale from the River Horse Brewing Company at just that moment (which also helps explain the chill). Saved by the beer, a frothy commercial interlude.

AD (after driving, after drinking, after dinner)
After death, during a lovely dinner with Joes' wife Tracie and daughter Devon, Joe was all jokes. Nearly every topic turned to laughter. Lighthearted, good-natured fun. Joe is a very affable, jovial guy. And on the small world with many intersecting roads theme, it turns out that Tracie is the godchild of Truck's parents. Truck is another childhood friend I haven't seen for decades and along with Wilty, Pauly, Fred, Dougie and a bunch of others we've listened to a lot of
music, shared lots of laughter and put away more than a few six packs. As I was writing, reminiscing and ruminating about my visits, as unlikely as it may sound mixed with all the laughter, I kept coming back to Holst's Death walking around Joe's room. And the thought occurred to me, this sort of attachment to the perception of physical movement as reproduced by a hifi could very well be bringing Joe back in touch with an aspect of all those live shows he attends. You know, real live stuff going on like people coming and going. The you-are-there-ness factor measured by the ability to follow physical movement. Death on a two six-pack tour around your listening room.

There's a deeply personal element attached to what makes listening to music captivating; what makes listening to music able to completely consume our present. How we want our music embodied and conveyed. For Joe, soundstage presentation conveys a sense of realism. Of course it's not the only thing but it's certainly very important. If you've read the first tour, you'll remember that Joe was a Dead Head and a DAT Head. He's got box loads of tapes from his years following the Dead around the country making recordings. There are also some Allman Brothers concerts mixed in, some Ratdog, Santana and a few other DAT-friendly bands. So there is a lot of direct experience, box loads of listening to live events as well as the reproduction of that very same event back home on the hifi. Somehow, I'd have to figure that the recorded version may bring back memories most Dead Heads never knew they had. In any event, for others this critical element may be dynamics and volume reminiscent of a live orchestral performance; or the intimate textural flavors to be found in a small jazz club; or the slam of Marshall-stacked rock and so on.

Of course I'm oversimplifying. There's an ineffable quality to the experience of listening to music, live or pre-recorded, that is much more complex and important than I can possibly communicate by referencing sonic bits and pieces. The important thing is, this is an important thing. Maybe that's why there's so much passion, albeit misplaced, to be found on so many hifi-related forums. I wondered if there was a death forum where people argue over things like what's the best kind of death, what representation of death is the most neutral and if they also never get around to talking about living. But I didn't have the nerve to look. I suggest we just do what appears to come naturally with our hifi hobby and simply enjoy our differences instead of fighting for sameness. Listening to music is not a destination-type pursuit; there's no common beginning or end point so there's no straightest route. Its enjoyment is perpetually present tense. It's all scenic all the time. Which brings me around to the most pertinent critical advice I know of: Bon voyage.