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Intimations of Mortality from Recollections of Early Adulthood*

Yesterday marked a significant turning point in my life. Now, for the first time since I was 19 years old - I'm now 42 - I am without a stereo. It's been a long time coming, but yesterday finally settled the matter. Last fall we had major renovations done on our family room, with new hardwood floors installed and the room repainted. In preparation we cleared everything out of the room, which included my disassembling the stereo that resided in the entertainment cabinet. The stereo was stored in the sun porch (which is closed off for the winter) along with other items from the family room, but even though the work was finished by November, I never got around to putting all the stuff back. Yesterday I finally did so, with everything put back in place but the stereo. It sat there, dusty and forlorn, on the dining room floor as I inwardly debated what to do with it.

That stereo had been a big part of my life for the better part of two decades. It was my first major purchase as an independent adult. After getting by with an inherited turntable and cheap speakers (no receiver or tape deck) during my freshman year in college, during the following summer I went to Pacific Stereo in Schaumburg and splurged on what was then a pretty nice setup - an Onkyo analog receiver, Technics turntable, Sony cassette deck and a wonderfully oversized pair of EPI speakers. Though I upgraded in later years, replacing the Sony with a Nakamichi deck and entering the digital age in 1989 with a Denon CD player, that orignal core setup was the source of untold hours of listening pleasure. Whenever I would move into a new apartment, the stereo would be the first thing taken out and set up. Clothes might not be unpacked for a few days, and kitchen utensils for weeks or even months, but from my first hour in that apartment the stereo would be fully functional and most likely cranking out music as I settled into the new digs. At one time I could have told you the first music I played in any given new place, and though I've forgotten the rest by now I can still reliably report that when I moved into my apartment in Roscoe Village in 1996 the first thing I listened to was a sampler disc from CMJ New Music Monthly that included the Apples in Stereo, which was soon supplemented by The Lounge Ax Defense and Relocation Compact Disc which was purchased on the evening of my move.

In short, that stereo was my constant companion which, due to its complete unportability, meant I was home a lot. As much as I like to fondly recall the few crazy nights of too much drinking and too little responsible behavior from those days, for the most part I was a homebody. Which is all fine. It's who I am, and who I'll always be. That stereo got me through countless hours that were solitary but not necessarily lonely.

Which brings us to yesterday. My passion for music is nowhere near what it once was, and though I still listen a lot I do so almost exclusively online, or with my iPod or laptop, or in the car. The stereo has languished during recent years, especially since my daughter was born, as I've opted for the more modern and convenient modes of listening. As I looked at the stereo sitting there on the dining room floor, wires disconnected and looking quite aged, I finally realized that its time had passed. One by one I lugged the components up to the attic, where I returned them safely to their original boxes which I've kept for all these years. So while I haven't discarded the stereo completely, up there in the attic it's very much out of sight, out of mind, and most likely I'll never listen to it again.

As I undertook this sober act yesterday, my wife sensed what was going on inside my head. I finally made an attempt at a lighthearted comment, saying in mock-solemn tones that I had reached a major turning point in my life. She was an English major in college, and in response she laughed and said "Oh, okay, Prufrock." She specifically cited Eliot's line "Do I dare to eat a peach?", which got me thinking of the entire stanza. A quick perusal of the Norton Anthology brought these once-familiar verses back to mind:

I grow old…I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

Quite a reflection on aging and mortality, that was. But never mind. Despite the somber mood of all of the above, there's no need to worry about me. I've moved on with my life. And I'll still hear the mermaids singing, each to each - just not via my Onyko TX-21 analog receiver.

(*My deepest apologies to Wordsworth. The Prufrock comment got me nostalgic for the few poems I remember from my British lit class. Here's to you, Dr. Cole, wherever you are.)

March 30, 2008 in Music, Personal | Permalink