Bob Lefsetz is a music industry observer, and publisher of the Lefsetz letter:
Everything old is new again.
So I’m in the bar at the Royal York in Toronto and I’m introduced to the Sennheiser rep.
I do what any obnoxious denizen of the cultural landscape would do. I ask her about Beats.
I tell her I’m a dedicated Sennheiser fan, they’re my headphones of choice, I have both studio and portable models, but everywhere I go I see that red cord.
She said it all came down to marketing. That Sennheiser wasn’t going to spend those dollars. That they were in it for the long haul. Had I heard the HD 595? I needed to check ’em out. If I wanted, she could send me a pair…
That’s hard to turn down.
They came yesterday, but I didn’t uncrack them. I was once involved with a woman who would be so eager to wear what she’d bought that she’d often parade around with the price tag streaming off, albeit unknowingly. I’m the opposite. If I get something important, I wait…
But you can’t wait forever. And I had to let this woman know I’d received the headphones.
So I just got the scissors, cut the tape and extracted the headphones and then plugged them into my Mac Pro, which has a jack right on the front.
And after setting the System Preferences to get sound, I was jetted back to the seventies, the era of stereo.
People reminisce about shopping in record stores, I miss going to the hi-fi emporium, checking out the new gear, listening to the Mobile Fidelity half-speed mastered records.
I’d buy a product a year. A Sansui integrated amp. A top of the line Yamaha tuner. A Nakamichi tape deck. And when I hooked them up I’d spend the rest of the day, the whole weekend, spinning all my old records, to see how they sounded now.
I decided to visit my iTunes playlist, the one containing my Top 200 most played tracks.
Suddenly, James McMurtry was singing just to me. That banjo on that Keith Urban record was just to my right, the electric guitar exploded to my left, I was taken away.
They say it’s not the same. That you can’t finger the album covers. That everybody multitasks. But this music was stopping me in my tracks, forcing me to spread my wings and fly. It was the same as it ever was.
Everything sounded good. It was like my favorite tunes had been scrubbed of all the detritus and were now pristine.
And I was afraid the spell would fail. I’d switch cuts and it just wouldn’t be the same. But track after track was a revelation. I dialed up Spirit’s “So Little Time To Fly” and I could have closed my eyes and been lying in the dark on the floor of my childhood home. Randy California may be dead, but in my ears, he was positively alive. And the history of rock and roll is ploughing through my brain. The fact that the famous riff from “Stairway To Heaven” is a direct lift of a Spirit cut.
Then that live take of “You Oughta Know”, from the Grammys. They never sell this stuff, you’ve got to steal it, but it’s so damn good. Slowed down, with an orchestra, you remember it, right? Back before Napster when the music landscape was still comprehensible and this twenty one year old came along during the summer of 1995 and blew us all away, took hold of the mainstream and owned it!
Then I pulled up Little Big Town’s “Bones”…you know, the one that sounds like classic period Fleetwood Mac. It was like the four members were singing in my ears, literally.
And I’m scanning my library, wanting to hear more than I have time for. Like John Grant’s “I Wanna Go To Marz”. And Crosby & Nash’s “Carry Me”.
I was in such a terrible mood. Soldiering on in order to prevent collapsing in a heap. I’d just broken out the headphones to make sure they worked, so I could thank the sender, I had no idea my world was about to go from black and white to color.
Sometimes you think the past is history. Frozen. Unreachable. Untouchable. But listening to these tracks on these headphones makes me feel like I can touch down in any of the last forty five years, my popular music consciousness.
It’s a solitary experience. That unites you with the creator, the performer, that makes you feel included even though you’re alone. And it’s so good that you’re drawn to the gig, like a lemming, like a zombie in “Dawn Of The Dead”, where you join the mass of people who feel exactly like you. It’s not about money, it’s not about fame, it’s about sound. A religious experience more powerful than any that takes place in a traditional house of worship.
All because of a simple piece of gear. Opening up new vistas,
I almost expect my college buddies to come walking through the door, my high school crush, my summer camp loves. You may look at me and see somebody old, but I feel the picture of youth, as alive as one can be.