Nostalgia. Or, Authenticity? Can We Have Both?
You’re about as comfortable as comfortable can get, sitting at home in a sofa that has become quite familiar with your body contours. You’ve placed yourself in the “sweet spot” between a pair of well-exercised speakers, connected with garden-hose sized cables to a rack of serious, yet esthetically pleasing Hi-fi gear. The music comes to life. The entire system looks and SOUNDS “just right!” For you, it’s not just trip down memory lane. It’s a laser-guided tour of an entire sector of your brain complete with vivid memories of white picket fences, root beer floats, and the night you lost your … car keys. If there is a “Hi-Fi Heaven” it exists right here, right now, in your listening room.
The bubble bursting factor here is that this vintage equipment may have played well beyond its “best by” date. Aging parts is one issue. And, yes, even if the items are restored to “like new” condition, we’re still dealing with technology that is, most likely, older than the minivan. Now we’re being told that the entire category of “physical media” is on the way out. Well, analog has been “on the way out” since the early 1980s and when the meteorite of digital audio came crashing down on the analog world, those albums crawled out of their post-apocalypse burnt-out bunkers, brushed off their liner notes, and plopped themselves back on those rotating platters. They were made of the good vinyl, you know. But now even those “shinny little discs” are under assault.
There may be more to the story than bunch of guys who have fuzzy dice hanging from their tonearms and “I Like Ike” stickers slapped on the front of their speaker baffles. The “old school” guys do have some valid points. Like: “After half a century, why is it still just zeros and ones with you digital guys? You’d think after this much time you’d be up to prime numbers by now!!” And 5 out of 5 doctors surveyed agree that our ears are still analog. Those clinging to their vintage gear and “outdated” technology may be on to something?
You must admit that the “cool factor” of analog gear is off the charts. It’s a “thing” when a group of your pals are standing in a small circle taking in the grandeur of a turntable that looks robust enough to have machined precision parts for WWII bombers. Contrast this to handing a tablet to a guest to review (and, edit) the evening’s playlist with an app that is virtually indistinguishable from the Samsung app that controls their high-efficiency clothes dryer. Guest: “Hum … ‘Play Next’ or ‘Fluff Cycle?’ Tough call. The ‘Play Next’ selects a cut that consumes the entire album side, and the ‘Fluff Cycle’ is only 10 minutes. I don’t have much time. I choose ‘Fluff’.”
Is the transition away from analog audio and vintage gear a small step, but giant leap, towards the “exodus of authenticity?” Substitutes for “the real thing” are ingloriously cast upon us, most often WITHOUT OUR PERMISSION! Take microwave popcorn as an example. Huge graphic on the packaging reads: “Movie Theater Butter.” This all sounds all fine and good except “movie theater butter” is not butter. So, the “thing” is not a “thing”, and neither is the “thing” they compare it to.
Some say the enduring attraction to physical media is because of “the ritual.” I say: “No!” Trimming noise hair is a “ritual.” Standing in line at the DMV is a “ritual.” Slipping the manual transmission of your vehicle into gear, easing out the clutch, and going through the gears is NOT a “ritual.” Nor is the meticulous handling of an (often) irreplaceable object containing a piece of someone’s musical contribution to the world a “ritual.” Analog guys are overlooked and underappreciated caretakers of musical antiquities that can be seen, touched, and heard.
So, what IS the deal then?
Just some wild thoughts from way out there:
“Old gear” may represent one of the most solid and well-placed applications of time, energy, and financial resources EVER by the owner. It may have taken many years to reach a point where the owner’s acquired enough “disposable income” where a portion of it could be disposed of on decent Hi-fi gear. Each time the power button is pushed, the lights come on and it plays music, it’s a (correct) validation of good decision(s) made by the owner. Accompanied shortly after by smiles, and well-earned self-congratulation?
There’s the loyalty factor. The gear may have accompanied the owner to college. And back and forth. And back and forth. They had it before betrayal, dissolution, and unrealistic expectations by others became factors in their lives. It was reliable and dependable 364 ½ days per year. Regardless of the “noise” in the environment surrounding them, the system performed precisely as expected and seldom let them down. Saying goodbye to a true friend is not an easy task, and just seems “wrong” to the owner?
In their view, their choices in music media and equipment demonstrates their commitment TO authenticity. For them, the equipment was stellar on Day One – a functional and demonstrable example of being “authentic” by their carefully evaluated objective or subjective standard. To them, it sounds just as good as it did on Day One. Therefore, it is STILL authentic?
Their gear just might be THAT good. Some of the best examples of “state-of-the-art” of yesteryear are still credible, competent performers today and in the orbit of the best products on the market today?
And, finally, it gives them the “warm and fuzzies?”
So, can we have Nostalgia AND Authenticity? Or are they contradictory terms? Some say they have BOTH -- in spades.
What say you?