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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Spin the Black Circle

It only took me 22 years, but I finally understand why so many music fans prefer the sound of vinyl over any other format.

When I was a teenager, I remember Neil Young proclaim the superiority of the sound of vinyl. I didn't understand what the hell he was talking about. That sounded like an old cranky man who was out of touch with the youth of the day, even though he could still rip some amazing solos when he'd play with Pearl Jam.

Vinyl was the dominant format when I was very young, but by the time I was actively listening to music as a teenager, CDs took its place. Compact discs sounded the best at home while cassettes were the most convenient for the car stereo. (Yeah, I don't miss the days of a CD skipping in a car stereo any time I hit a small bump in the road.)

In response to Young's comment, I wondered, Why in the world would I ever take a listen to something that was bigger and clunkier, and it had snaps, crackles, and pops added in?

Only a few years later, I was a major completist, especially with punk bands. Vinyl might have disappeared from stores like Sam Goody and Sound Warehouse, but locally-owned stores and distros still carried 7-inches, 10-inches, and 12-inches. And punk bands still regularly released singles during that time with songs that were not on CD. Since the singles were cheap and I had to have everything that face to face released, well, a tentative rekindling with vinyl began.

Picking up face to face's split 7-inch with Horace Pinker led me to want everything Horace Pinker ever produced on CD and vinyl. A similar thing happened with bands like NOFX and Dropkick Murphys. I could put up with the pops and crackles as I dubbed all of these songs onto cassette tapes. Again, I had to have everything by a band I loved.

By the time I moved away for college, the 7-inch collecting stalled out. Occasionally I'd grab some LPs from labels who supplied my campus radio station with merch. I didn't plan on listening to Andrew WK or Pete Yorn vinyl LPs as I was very satisfied with the sound of CDs. (I was happy driving around without having to worry about CDs skipping in the car stereo.)

Alas, some friends of mine I made through the campus station liked to listen to vinyl LPs from their parents' collections. Hearing Love's "My Little Red Book" and Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day" on old turntables vinyl was fun, but I never thought this was the better way to enjoy music.

Aside from a memorable late-night listening to Tom Waits' Small Change in a Chicago loft one fall, where the beautiful strings and piano on "Tom Traubert's Blues" bounced off the brick walls and wood floor, I remained a CD-only person.

When Matt was my housemate, he started collecting albums by artists he loved as a child. Whether it was Frank Sinatra, Conway Twitty, or Billy Joel, he loved picking up stuff that was not easily-found anywhere else. He had an all-in-one player from Target that could play records, CDs and MP3s, and he frequently spent time in our front room listening to those LPs. Weekly visits to Half Price Books yielded more and more records. When he didn't want a copy of Eric Carmen's first solo record, I decided to pick it up and thus, a new collection was born.

Joining the Pet Shop Boys record I got back in 1987 (as it wasn't available on CD or tape the day I went to Sam Goody) and the 7-inch collection would be more albums that I had never seen digitally remastered for CD. I realized there was much more to explore this way, and I haven't really looked back ever since.

But what remained a mystery was finally solved this past Christmas: the actual sound of vinyl on a good turntable and decent speakers.

I had to upgrade to a better turntable as the portable one I had could not play 180-gram records at the correct speed. Santa Claus brought me an Audio Technica 120 and I hooked it up to my two two-foot bookshelf speakers and subwoofer.

Fittingly, I pulled out my copy of Neil Young's 3-LP Decade compilation, dusted it off, and gently put the needle on. Hearing depth in the sound as it bounced off the walls and wood floor, I believed I finally understood what Neil talked about. It was not like a revelation of the actual music, but a much better understanding of vinyl when it's played this way.

Ever since then, there has yet to be many days when I haven't listened to vinyl. Whether it's Scott Walker, Jawbox, or the Gaslight Anthem, I enjoy putting something on while I clean house or read a book. The experience of letting a record play through is a good one, leading me to hear stuff I had previously skipped over.

So, yes, Neil Young, you were right. It just took many years to agree with you. Now, about that Pono player.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Hope at the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse

Last summer, I wrote about being single in the age of a possible "dating apocalypse." Basically, I thought there was still a good chance I could find somebody special even though the effects of dating apps, as well as social media, have become so common in the modern dating life. The Vanity Fair article I linked presented a spreading of a culture where people are more drawn to hook up with a lot of people rather than take time and work on a promising (and potentially long-lasting) relationship with one person.

Coupled with what I had seen firsthand through the dating site OK Cupid, along what I've heard and seen in person and what I've seen on social media with people I know, I started to believe the chances of me finding anyone incredibly special seemed like a longshot. But deep down, I held out hope no matter how many times I'd hear something like, "Women only care about how much money you make."

I reached a point where I thought, if I remained single for the rest of my life, then that's what happens. Not very long after I reached a stage of acceptance with that idea, I met Hope.

Through the power of Twitter, Hope found my review of Kevin Smith's appearance at the Texas Theatre. She liked the review and identified with the inspirational words Kevin said over the course of the two-hour appearance. She tweeted the review to Kevin and I tweeted a thank-you note to her in return. When I saw she had a horror-themed podcast based in North Texas, I immediately thought she would be a perfect guest for my podcast. Since my podcast is about people flexing their creative muscles while also holding down a job and other adult responsibilities, I thought I would have an enjoyable hour-long discussion with her.

Something made me think, if she could strongly connect to Kevin's ideas, then we could possibly talk about life and creativity on a similar frequency. I didn't think of this as someone I would date, as I had no idea what her background was. She looked cute on her Twitter pic, but I didn't know if she was single.

Before I asked her to be on my podcast, I listened to the first episode of her podcast and decided to give her some unsolicited feedback. Giving that can be a very easy way to come across as an arrogant asshole, especially when you don't know this person in real life. But I thought my feedback, which praised her uptempo and engaging conversation skills while suggesting some technical adjustments in the sound quality department, would be helpful. She responded in kind and then I asked her to be on my podcast.

The podcast episode went well and we continued to talk after the episode wrapped. I felt a very strong connection to her and wanted to see her again. Turns out, we sat in the same row at the Texas Theatre as we both were near an obnoxious drunk guy with a really bad case of Plumber Butt. We made plans to do another episode, a fan commentary on Student Bodies, but things quickly developed where there would be more conversations without microphones in front of our mouths.

Before we recorded our second episode together, I had been asked at the last minute to cover a Motley Crue/Alice Cooper show and I had a spare ticket. I decided to ask Hope and she responded in such a positive way where I thought, I really, really like this woman's energy and enthusiasm. She's pretty on the outside and on the inside -- and she has all the traits of being a Why Not? person instead of a Why? person, as Kevin Smith described at the Texas Theatre.

After spending more time together over the next few weeks, we decided to be a couple in early November. She has a personality that radiates inspiration and encouragement for me. She inspires me to be more of who I am, and accepts who I am now instead of what she wants me to become. She tries and I try, something that was suggested I strongly focus on in a relationship.

In this age of a forthcoming dating apocalypse, I express gratitude every single day she's in my life. I never would have found her through Tinder or OK Cupid as she's not a fan of those apps. She's more old-fashioned, wanting a quality relationship with one person rather than a string of superficial hook-ups with various people. That's what I wanted, and I believe there are still many people out there who want the same, instead of this supposed norm of hook-up culture.

I encounter a lot of tweets and Facebook posts about frustrations with Tinder and OK Cupid. While I don't think those sites are a waste of time in trying to find a new relationship, I must stress that one should be open to other avenues. Whether it's a book club, a tailgating group, a soccer-watching group, or volunteering at a soup kitchen, go where you want to be. And don't be afraid to open up and share who you are.

Where there's life, there's hope. As convenient as dating apps can be, they don't represent everything out there in this world. You have to be willing to do more and take different approaches if you can't find anybody through that route. We might rely a lot more on technology these days, but there are some parts of life that technology can never reach.