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My Lifetime

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My Lifetime, A Lifeline

You don’t know it as a kid, especially born on one continent and growing up in another. It can be real difficult, really painful. Navigating grammar school and the playground is tough on its own, doing so when you don’t grasp the finer points of American boyhood is wholly another.

Going to different school, from public to private, from one of the other boroughs to the ONE, to Manhattan opened up so many avenues to explore and again reinforced the differences. I tried everything to fit in, and at the tender age of 12 there was so much going in the 1976 incarnation of New York City. I was weaning myself off of television programs, listening more and more to the radio and overhearing what the older boys in school were jawing about in the locker room and between classes. Not surprisingly, two topics jockeyed for top of the list: Girls and Music. The fluidity of how one could usurp the other mid-stream, without even a split second of hesitation, would be my very first life-lesson not courtesy of my parents.

Sure, we had a Hi-Fi system at home, but it was my father’s and there was this unwritten rule, ok … rules: Hand’s off and don’t play what we don’t want to hear!! So, if I was going to develop my own musical tastes and work music’s magic so I could better fit in, I was going to need my own system. At this time my uncle, my mom’s brother was always traveling aboard ships for work and as his life became more hectic, his favorite and only nephew was entrusted his Hi-Fi system. I still have this system. It is the one pictured above: a Tandberg TR-200 receiver, Nakamichi 500 tape deck and Wharfedale Denton 2XP speakers. Like I said, he was on ships, so he listened to cassettes for the most part and when he would visit bring records to listen on the family system.

Now let’s get something straight. If it weren’t for that system and my uncle’s confidence in me, I probably would not have become so passionate about Hi-Fi and music. I have him to thank for that as well as the odds of me fitting better in at school in society being that much greater. In due time I added a Philips GA 212 turntable and I was off to the races. First thing I did was what all other boys my age did, no not that…I joined the Columbia House Record Club and selected 13 record albums for the princely sum of $1.86. We all learned in later life that this was a racket, a scheme, but we were young and foolish. In a matter of weeks, I had a record collection and would wear the grooves out on these records, read and memorize the liner notes so I could join in the conversations at school. To supplement my education, I would read Rolling Stone and make their published Record Guide my bible, reading it from cover to cover and back again.

This is going to sound crazy now, but I had no idea that bands played live. I honestly thought it was all about the records. As I got older and started to read the Village Voice newspaper I would see pages and pages of ads for bands at clubs, bars, lounges all over New York City. I kept seeing listings for CBGBs, Max’s Kansas City, The Bottom Line and just about any place downtown. My school was uptown on the East Side a whole world away. You just didn’t go downtown, it just wasn’t done. And then my world opened up . My folks decided I should apply for a specialized Math and Science public high school. I went from a graduating class of 36 pupils uptown to one of 800+ downtown. Stuyvesant High School was located at 15th Street and 1st Avenue, its original location, and its backyard, my playground was Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, the Bowery, TriBeca…there it was all at my feet, my size 13 Chuck Taylor Converse feet.

Being 6 feet talll, lanky and dressed more often than not in ripped jeans, tee shirts and a leather jacket I was able to go unnoticed in CBGBs. My weekends back were and still are much of a blur. The bands I got to see, a lot of them debut, were legendary. When the acts got to be popular enough I’d get to see them at the Palladium on 14th Street and not only they but I had arrived. Now I was voraciously collecting live concert albums because I so wanted to relive the chaos and anarchy of live performances. The pounding of the amps, the pounding of the beers, the pounding in my head for days to follow. If my Uncle’s Nakamichi 500 could talk. The stories of bootleg concerts, home-made mixes and music magazines all on cassettes, that it would tell. With Punk and New Wave taking hold, NME and Trouser Press were always at my side, I was living the lifestyle and then SONY did somethings which would forever change my life for decades. First it was the Walkman and then the Discman, and now my music was everywhere. I could listen on the train, on the bus, in school, during classes and most importantly out of earshot of my parents. If I knew then what I know now… who am I kidding I wouldn’t have changed a thing, but I can’t help but think that for well over two decades what with real world responsibilities and travel I lost my lifeline. I would hear music, but not listen. It would not be MY music. That’s when I learned that the phrase Enjoy the Music is totally meaningless.

Music is personal. Music evokes emotions and memories. It conjures of connections to people and places and without somewhere I could settle down and listen on a proper Hi-Fi system I simply wan’t making those connections. Sad that it took me so long to realize, but fortunate that I still had my hearing when I did. Music is with me always and with the assistance of independent record shops all over the world, I’m acquiring the records of my youth, listening, re-listening from the comfort of my listening room and most importantly re-establishing the lifeline that is my lifetime.

So, there you have it. The picture at the top/bottom of this ramble, is the very system my Uncle left to me, not just for safekeeping but also for posterity as sadly passed on in 1980. I could never tell him how much it meant and would mean to me, because I would have no idea until much later.

My very first system. The gear I inherited from my Uncle. 40+ years on & it STILL WORKS.

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One Response to My Lifetime

  1. David C. Snyder says:

    A wonderful and personal story. Thanks so much for sharing, Constantine.

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