Listening to music is akin to a religious ceremony. For one, it invokes the spirits of the past, and every recording ever made is about the past. Secondly, it involves rituals. This is especially true when it comes to listening to music on my big rig downstairs.
When I say big, I don’t mean too big, only that between it and me, I am the more portable thing. It has several components — a turntable, a streamer, a CD player, a preamp, an amp, speakers — but none of it is superfluous. It responds to my needs. Maybe one day I’ll go more compact, and settle on fewer parts, but I’m not there yet.
My system isn’t hard to use, either. Don’t get me wrong: there’s sophisticated technology inside those boxes, but they’re each about doing one thing especially right, and that’s delivering good sound, rather than trying to do 30 things half ass. Good audio isn’t about trying to impress with a showy coat of gimmicky functions or flashy lights.
Good audio gear is about singularity of function. It follows a Zen-like, purist approach, making music the center of attention. Better to commune with it.
But first, the ceremonial duds, which, in my case, means a comfortable, loose fitting combo of sweatpants and a buttonless, collarless top. Nothing tight to constrict the blood flow or stiffen the joints.
If it’s an early-day ceremony, my ritual preparations will usually include a cup of Holy basil tea, or if it’s a later-day thing, a microbrewery beer, either IPA or white style. I use tea or beer to relax my mind to expand its receptiveness to the musical sermon.
The ritual begins with my first step into my listening room. Before going any further, I take a mental screen shot of my entire room to re-acquaint myself with its overall look and contents: the posters and prints, the dreamcatcher, the three garden gnomes, the audio system, the raggedy orange couch, the cheap center rug that doesn’t tie the room together, and the rows of CDs and LPs against the walls.
After that, I might light incense to get me in the mood. It’s a practice that hails back to ancient religious practices, but more recently to simpler, more freewheeling times in my life, when my friends and I hung out in our basements listening to long-haired prog acts, when music was 50% of our lives, the other 50% split between school, friends, and amorous interests. Listening to music among friends was a form of ceremonial bonding.
For the ultimate in communal experiences, I’ll choose to play a CD or an LP. There’s a physical intimacy I can have with those formats that’s not possible with streamed music. A CD or LP has a body, like us.
Once my media is ready to be played, I’ll sit in my dusty, popping-at-the-seams orange couch, a permanent fixture in my listening room because it won’t fit through the narrow staircase leading out that was built after the couch was here. I tell myself the couch was meant to stay. It’s part of the ritual.
Then the music starts and I’m reminded about eternal life. Many eternal lives, actually. Hendrix, Junior Wells, Lennon, Cobain, Mingus, Davis, and so many more. I close my eyes and listen, my faith restored.