Should the commentariat here at Riverside Green have a cutesy name? Robert Farago christened TTAC’s readers as the “Best&Brightest” many years ago. Yes, he was being ironic. Vox Day calls his fans the “Dread Ilk”, which is a level of nerd-chic that I wasn’t able to reach even when I was nine years old and writing my own elementary-school newsletter about 8-bit programming on an old Olympia manual typewriter. Truthfully, I’d prefer just to call you all “the readers”. There are a couple of reasons for that. The first is that, according to the limited analytics we have on hand, you are a fairly elite group, earning well over $100k on the average and skewing heavily in the directions of male, educated, and professionally successful. Grown men who handle their own business shouldn’t have a cutesy nickname unless they are actively engaged in the performing arts, and most of you appear to be the former without dalliances in the latter.
The second reason is that the word “reader” has a certain prestige associated with it in an era where the vast majority of human beings are simply media consumers who are unable to comprehend anything more refined than an OW MY BALLS video on YouTube. I was recently informed that Riverside Green’s readers spend more than twice as much time on the site per visit than the average customer of the National Review does on that site. In other words, you’re applying a detailed and critical eye to the things you read here. Thank you for that. I’d rather have ten thousand dedicated, thoughtful readers than a million drooling subscribers on YouTube. Despite our lamentable and perpetually embarrassing sellout to the AdSense Borg, this site is still a money-loser for me. Which is fine. It’s worth it.
This past week, two articles appeared on the site that aroused the ire of The Readers to no small degree. I discussed the narcissism of the Baby Boomer generation at length in an article on Harry Chapin, then John Marks wrote a long and enthusiastic piece on a few pieces of audio equipment that, in the opinion of The Readers, amount to nothing but cynical attempts to bilk credulous morons into paying thousands of dollars for a closer look at the magical fabric used in the Emperor’s New Clothes. I think it’s probably worth taking a few moments to discuss why I published both of these contributions and what, if anything, I expect The Readers to take from them.
Let’s start with this: The very idea of a “generation” is fairly ridiculous; it’s like a mirror image of the beard fallacy. One of The Readers responded to the Chapin piece by pointing out that Chapin wasn’t a Boomer because he was born in 1942, instead of from 1945 to 1964. You cannot tell me that Chapin’s experiences growing up were not closer to those of my father, who was born in 1945, than my father’s experiences were to those of someone born in 1964.
We cannot precisely define what a Boomer is, yet we all know a Boomer when we see one. The same is true for Millennials; by the “rules” of Millennial membership, the men who raided Osama bin Laden’s compound and killed him almost all qualify for the group. Yet you don’t think of a grizzled SEAL blowing out bin Laden’s brainpan with an HK machinepistol when you heard the word “Millennial”. You think of some pansy whose life consists of detecting false feminism and rating different varieties of craft beer from his rented micro-apartment while his fat girlfriend spreads her cheeks for an average of 4.2 upvotes per post on one of the fetish subreddits.
There was never a generation that completely conformed to its popular image. The “Greatest Generation” contained men who dodged the draft. While most of the “Woodstock Generation” was either at Woodstock or wishing they were at Woodstock, my father was in Vietnam — by his own completely free choice. The most common occupation of young women during the “Roaring Twenties”, by percentage, was “wife to a farmer”. The existence of an exception to the rule does not remove the rule. The existence of people who do not conform to the general trend of a generation does not disprove that general trend.
The Baby Boomers, as a group, have led a charmed life. When they were young, housing was cheap and jobs were plentiful. When they wanted to express their sexuality, the laws were obligingly changed. When they wanted divorces, that was made easy. They got The Pill and they got to ride the wave of a historically unprecedented increase in everything from home value to the stock market to vehicle reliability. They controlled popular culture from 1965 to the present day and they are still the preferred customers of everybody from Gibson Guitars to Mercedes-Benz. They presided over the hollowing-out of this nation and the destruction of its manufacturing base. They were directly responsible for the collapse of public morality as it was known in America from 1492 to 1990. As a group, they have been lucky, #blessed, and unspeakably vile.
And yet… many of you on here are Boomers who had very little to do with any of that. My father was a Boomer; so was my mother. They didn’t get rich quick or dance naked at festivals. That doesn’t mean that the public perception of Boomers as a whole isn’t accurate. And it doesn’t mean that any of you should feel personally attacked. I don’t give a shit when people go on and on about Generation X. They say we are apathetic, cynical, disengaged, underachieving. I’m only the last one of those. It doesn’t bother me to be part of Generation X. I hope that my Boomer-age readers can muster up the same detachment.
Alright, now let’s talk about burned-in cables with wooden blocks from the Holy Land connected to stereo components that cost more than an Accord Coupe. Many of you feel that John Marks is advancing the cause of willful ignorance regarding sound quality, audio fidelity, and whatnot. You don’t think I should give him a forum with which to promulgate these ideas or sell his products. You accuse him of knowingly defrauding people who only hear a difference in (INSERT ITEM HERE) because they expect to hear it. Almost invariably, you have sound systems of your own that were put together for much less money and you feel that those systems deliver quality equal to or greater than whatever zillion-dollar item John is praising at the moment. Finally, you point out that it is impossible to raise the sound quality of a master recording. You note that we cannot “upsample” music that was recorded to a certain standard of dynamic range, noise floor, and staging.
I’d like to start by saying that I am the sworn enemy of people who lie with numbers, statistics, or other hard information. I have the utmost contempt for people who, just to take a random example, build vehicle-reliability websites using a miserable, self-selected little sample of data. I have been programming computers for thirty-eight years now and I have some extremely rigid beliefs regarding what is “real”, mathematically speaking, and what is not. If I thought John Marks was manipulating or misrepresenting any kind of data, whether that had to do with dynamic range or noise or “square waves” or whatever, I’d bounce him out.
With that said, I would also like to say that for the past six months I’ve been interviewing audio companies in the automotive space for an article that I’m writing about car stereo. These are billion-dollar firms that employ thousands of people to make the sound systems that appear in new cars, from the Revel Ultima package in the Lincoln Continental to the Bose Panaray system in the Cadillac CT6 to the ELS Audio arrangements in modern Acuras. When I started talking to these people, I expected to learn a lot about the machines that they use to analyze sound quality in a car. And while it’s true that they spend millions of dollars on hyper-sensitive microphones and measuring equipment, it turns out that all of these companies give the final say on their systems to a team of “trained ears” who listen to, and return detailed ratings of, their audio installations.
I took a “trained ear” test at one of these companies and found out that I was not good enough to be a trained ear. I have too much tinnitus and hearing damage from my years as a competitive pistol shooter and auto racer. In the ranges that I could hear, I was better than most — but there was a lot that I simply couldn’t hear. Yet there are people who pass the test easily and work for decades in the business as trained ears.
John Marks, in addition to being a devoted Christian and painfully ethical man, is a trained ear. If he tells me that a $15,000 amplifier delivers a result that he can hear, I believe him. If he tells me that burning in a cable makes it better — a claim that, frankly, violates everything that I think I know about materials and electricity — then I will treat his assertion with respect. If he tells me that putting a block of wood from the Holy Land prevents the alien Xenu from capturing souls or whatever it does… well, the fact is that he can hear things that I don’t hear. I don’t think he is making it up.
(John is also a NeverTrumper, but you can’t be right about everything, can you?)
I would never suspect John of lying to me or lying to any of you. There is a possibility that he is lying to himself — that he is simply caught up in the love of hi-fi and his trained ear is influenced by his sentimental or excitable mind. Anything is possible. Even if this is the case, however, I can easily see the value in the purchase and ownership of ultra-high-end audio equipment. To me, it seems pretty similar to my love for Paul Reed Smith Private Stock guitars. Nobody ever made a great record using a PRS guitar; the minute Santana switched from Les Pauls to PRS he started to suck like a Dyson with a clean filter. Still, I absolutely love the craftsmanship, the materials used, and the beauty of the final result. I don’t pretend that I can hear a difference between a maple neck, a rosewood neck, a chaltecoco neck, and a pernambuco neck. But I have all of them. Just to have them. Just because I’m a grown man who enjoys life more when I’m playing a guitar that costs more than a Honda Civic. I make no apologies for this.
The vast majority of this hi-fi gear is made by people who earn a fair wage doing work they enjoy in areas of the world where environmental regulations are at their most severe. The Bricasti $15,000 Block O’ Steel might not sound any better than a $300 Chinese Class D amplifier made in a mercury-soaked hellhole using child labor. I’d still rather have the Bricasti and I’d prefer that you buy the Bricasti as well. Something has to be done to stop this world’s relentless race to the bottom and if that means playing a noisy old Coltrane record through a ninety-pound amplifier then so what?
I didn’t censor a single one of the comments that criticized John because I thought that The Readers should be exposed to critical and dissenting opinions regarding these ultra-expensive systems, the same way that I would never censor a reader who pointed out how I do an outstanding job of making a $19,000 guitar sound like a $250 guitar when I’m playing it. The truth, as they say, is a lion. Let it out and it will defend itself. All I can say is that I revamped my home audio system at John’s suggestion and I’m very pleased with the results. But what do I know? I’m half deaf.
So. Let’s all try to assume good intentions where we can. About The Readers, about our Boomers and Millennials who help make up The Readers, and about our contributors, none of whom earn anything from posting here besides my heartfelt thanks. Thank you for reading. Please return, when you can. And if you decide to take SOME OF THAT MONEY YOU STOLE FROM MY GENERATION AND USE IT TO BUY A THREE THOUSAND DOLLAR USB CORD — then who am I to disagree?