Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The end of desire?

Seeing a vintage Pioneer tuner on eBay made me start thinking in reverse. When I was a teenager, it was common to collect all the bits and pieces to build a nice stereo system. It was a dream that could become reality. Looking back, it was actually a rather modest dream, set against the material welfare so many young people have these days. But dreams we had when we were young. Where have they gone?

Stereo systems were an important part of our young lives. When you compare it with the small mp3 players of today, or the small audiosystems you see, a stereo system was a rather substantial element in our rooms. For most of us, we had to be patient. You could not buy an entire set at once. You had to save up for it. You started with the amplifier, speakers and turntable, then a tuner and a cassette deck. Aluminum fronts, soft turning switches, toggle switches, illuminated dials and VU-meters – they were a dream. Lovely sound quality, provided you had good speakers. I still remember the soft ‘thump’ sound through them when you switched on the amplifier. A Pioneer tuner, Sansui record player and a Toshiba cassette deck, which was later replaced by a Panasonic. And a Sony cd-player was added to it in 1990. Akai, Onkyo, Awai, Sansui, Marantz, Pioneer - names that tickled the imagination, but hardly say anything anymore today. Ten years ago, my stereo was replaced by a then state of the art and quite expensive, but rather awful Denon midi system. I never liked it. There was no emotion left whatsoever. I now want to go back to a vintage system, using my old amplifier and the tuner I bought on eBay. It is my new retro dream. It makes me think back of the evenings listening, often with headphones, to my music from my long play record collection – which I still have. And of course to music taped to compact cassettes from records borrowed from friends. That was our way of downloading, and the music industry was furious about it. Nothing has changed.

There were more dreams of course. Dreaming about things we wanted to have or wanted to do – some dreams might have been fulfilled, some goals not achieved. Times were different, and the way we experienced life did not look like the lives of young people today. Instant information provided by the internet, Wikipedia, Google Maps, you name it, were unknown to us. We had television, we relied on printed media, on the local library, and on our imagination.

In the early 1970s, as a young teen, I bought a booklet about Canada, issued in 1954 by the Royal Bank of Canada, that somehow ended up in our local library and was sold off for 25 cents. There was a black and white photo of Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail. I knew I wanted to see that with my own eyes one day. This fueled the interest I already had in Nova Scotia, since buying a package of View Master 3D reels that showed the splendours of Canada. One photo showed one of Nova Scotia’s tourist highlights, the little town and port of Peggy’s Cove. When I was old enough to travel on my own, there was no money to visit such a far away place and realities of life stood in the way of visiting Canada for many years. And then, at 39, there was talk about a trip to New England and Quebec. I instantly knew that I just had to make it to Nova Scotia to live my childhood dream. And I did. The beauty of Cape Breton and Cabot Trail took my breath away, and surpassed even the image that I had created over the years – or maybe that image was deluted a bit because of the many years that has passed? Peggy’s Cove however was the proof that reality does not always log on to your imagination. Pretty for sure, but too touristy and above all far too foggy. So there you are in a place you have been wanting to see for more 25 years, and there is a heavy fog.

I’m worried, and ashamed, that there are not really that much dreams I want to see happen anymore. Not a ‘been there, done that’ attitude, but a fear that my imagination falls short of coming up with possibilities. A trip to Tuscany and Rome maybe, and the vintage stereo system. What about a ride in a 1960’s Mercedes Benz 280SL? But where is that unexplainable drive to focus on something? How can we rejuvenate ourselves? Bring passion back for actually non important, but inspiring wishes and dreams? I am really interested how young people today look at this. Do they still have dreams, despite the abundance of information they have access too, and hence all the knowledge they gather? Can they inspire us here? Tell me.


  1. We seem to be following a trail together and apart-I have been thinking about the changes in life due to new technology, and the drive to distill experience to the end result.

    Jack White of the White Stripes has said that technology is the enemy of art, which I take to mean process is part of the art. The difference in mastering an instrument vs pressing a button and having an orchestral chord resonate in the room.

    I have friends who fly out to a destination to ride their motorcycle in scenic areas-but would never ride out TO the destination. Just too far..

    Funny, as I clean my old house, I find myself with a 34 year old receiver and direct drive turntable and wonder what to do with them...


  2. Words to think about, Aaron. Thanks. Imagination is the only creative skill every individual has, and it is tragic if people do not use that talent.
    On the receiver and tuntable: there is a revival for vintage stereo equipment. If still okay, or if it can be repaired if necessary, a shelf in a study or den would be great place for them - and enjoy the occasional record again.

  3. Dreams are a big thing for me. Even just last evening, I had my best friends over and we were once again discussing what we'd do if we had 100+ acres of land (and of course bundles of cash). We've always enjoyed these conversations ever since we started having them 11 or 12 years ago. And then there are clearly less tangible, but perhaps even more imaginative, dreams we discuss. In particular, we invented "animal day" and imagined what it would be like if we lived 6 days a week as ourselves, but the 7th as a different animal every week. The thought of being a walrus or giraffe for a day always provided lots of laughs!

    My "realistic" dreams have changed over the years - nowadays I'd rather have an old Benz than a new Ferrari, etc., but they're still ever present.

    And those impossible dreams? Still there. I still love imagining I'm exploring the galaxy in my space ship as I lay my head down to sleep for the night...

    PS: My father is quite an audiophile - his equipment is now more modern and compact, but when I was growing up, I remember vividly the stereo system in the living room. All aluminium-faced, mostly Pioneer, with blue glows and bouncing needles; amplifier, tuner, cassette deck, turntable, reel-to-reel, an early CD player...and of course a few shelves full of 800+ albums...

  4. You are most certainly right that nothing is truly foreign anymore since you can pull up pictures and information about pretty much anything in the world at the click of a button.

    Having said that, you just can't match the visceral thrill of experiencing something in the flesh with a mere photograph or wikipeida article. So yes, I do have dreams, even though I generally do not cell them that (I prefer to think of them as "plans" because they sound more tangible that way). I would like to visit Europe, Asia (Hong Kong has always fascinated me), Australia, and countless other destinations. I've now visited half of the U.S. states, but I would like to be able to check off all 50.

    Then there are other, less ambitious, day-to-day things I would love to do. I am looking forward to my first apartment next year, paying rent, sometime in the future buying a car with money I earned rather than money I inherited or that was given to me. The sky is the limit, and each one of us has the power to do whatever we want. Ok, so that $100,000 Mercedes may not be a tangible goal, nor is that summer home I lusted after in Bel Air a couple weeks ago, but if you have the means to do it, then do it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my journey this past summer, it’s that you will ever get anywhere in life if you just sit on the couch all day and don’t get out to see the world.

  5. Thanks for your open hearted comments! Good to read that dreaming is still alive. And calling them 'plans' as Max does, is indeed the way to go. That trip you did, Max, was a wise decission. Travelling is always a great source for experiences that will add to the way you look at the world around you.