USA: 1

Where do I stand when I exercise an inward reflection? I sit and ponder because something has been nagging at me in Dallas.  I’ve been having bad dreams with long, narrative stretches.  I have woken early, unsure of their reality, and beset by their visceral nature.

Dallas is uneasy. The Downtown area has large empty buildings and a large vagrancy problems. The 7-11s are bright and disturbing.  None of us feel safe walking anywhere. Nor is the city designed for walking.

There is something I need to do and a sense of homesickness that manifests itself as a keening distate at the size and vulgarity of certain things. But it’s not a fair judgement and it isn’t even based on very much evidence.

I sit and feel the fretful energies of childhood anxiety beat out their unearthly half-life.

Book Review, “Intermission” by Owen Martell

I recently finished Intermission by Owen Martell (William Heinemann, 2013).  I read the title as an ePub proof on NetGalley.  The publishers have struck gold with Martell, as long as they don’t push him to write a Dan Brown style thriller.  Think of Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things but add a beautiful attempt at an American literary vernacular that’s straight from DeLillo and Didion.  He’s written two books in Welsh, and this is his first in English.  It is astoundingly, annoyingly well-written and the sheer attention Martell pays to every sentence is the real marvel here.  The book is for fans of meticulous, brilliant prose – lavish swathes of pinpoint description.  I looked up Bill Evans (I hadn’t heard of him but quickly realised he is kind of a big deal in the jazz world) but the novel isn’t so much about Bill Evans as about life and living, with Bill Evans as an interesting central figure – it is about the quotidian, the feelings we experience in our dealings with other people and how a life is lived in proximity to other lives being lived.  The cover and the blurb hint at a writer from the Don DeLillo school and as big DeLillo fan some of the descriptions in this book made me think fondly of great passages from White Noise, or Underworld.  Martell has some way to go but the reviewers that dismiss this is ‘humdrum’, ‘boring’ or ‘irrelevant’ (Amazon reviewers) just aren’t getting what the book is trying to do.  A brilliant English language debut novel that I’d genuinely encourage you to read.

Listening to Music on a Walkman Cassette Player

I write this on the second day of Spring 2013.  It is sunny, but cold.  Last year, I purchased a Walkman, because for a long time, I hadn’t listened to music on cassette.  It was a model bought from eBay and is a WM-36 with Dolby NR.  It wasn’t too expensive, but then the 3.5mm jack is a bit loose, and so it loses a lot of its portability.  It’s not in too bad a condition given that this Walkman is probably as old as me.  (Well, nearly.  The WM-36 model was released in 1987 and the GM Model was released in 1982.)  Here’s a picture.  In the background are a pair of Onitsuka Tigers that were first released in 1981:


According to some sites, it is a bit of ‘disappointing model’.  There is more detail here.  Its inside mechanics are based on the ‘lowly’ WM-33 and there’s quite a lot of hiss.  It has a metal tape door, and and decent heft.  It has a 5 band graphic equaliser and with the Dolby NR on the sound is reasonable but not spectacular.  There’s a Normal and Metal setting for the different types of tape ribbon.  Do you remembering trying to figure out with one was best?  Tinkering with the treble and bass sliders helps, and turning Dolby NR recovers a lot of the treble, but the hissssss –

I had missed it.  It is a softer, mellower sound than MP3 and CD.  It suits candlelight and red wine evenings.  It suits company.  Compact Disc is always bright and sharp and clean, and unrewarding when the stereo that you are playing it through doesn’t have a good amp.  On my Panasonic PM-20 my CDs sound okay, but lacking.  There are, I know, a whole range of frequencies not getting enough attention from the amplifier.

The hissssss reminds me of my youth.  It reminds me of taping songs from the radio, and of my first forays into a music player of my own (a 2W Matsui) and it reminds me of what felt like a simpler time.  Music was a rare commodity, to be treasured, to be played and replayed.  Tapes were worn out, distorted and in some ways, like vinyl, you were reminded of the impermanence of life.  I hope that isn’t too big a stretch for the reader but the storage mediums of cassette and vinyl didn’t have the capacity for endless replays.  There was something, then, of the actual quality of life transmitted in the replays.  Your favourite albums would degrade, in the same way that old friendships become deep, and pitted and filled with the patina of shared history and shared memory.  They say that so much of memory is a fiction: well when you’ve heard a taping of a song you recorded from the radio for the 100th time and it is basically just a set of droning noises that resembles in some way a ‘song’, you think of your friendships of many years.  They are relationships between people that resemble a friendship, but have far more encoded.  You see yourself in them.  They are mirrors, too, to an extent.

I have a CD Discman somewhere and I carried that around too, clutching at the mechanics, while at secondary school.  It technically belongs to my brother.  My grey Sony with reverse play is consigned to the dustbin of history somewhere and my AIWA was stamped on, deliberately, by my father, in a drunken rage.  It is something I have never forgiven him for, and never will.  On that day, in destroying something that I valued so highly for so petty a reason, he became something far less than a father figure and something of a persona to be witnessed and described and written about, a shambolic failure of manhood that I have spent my entire life, in some way, running from, because the basic genetic components are right here, in me, encoded.

My grey Sony eventually degraded, the plastic snapping in parts, the silver painted finish coming off, and as I sit and listen to U2’s ‘Lemon’ on a TDK D90, I turn off the Dolby NR and I’m back with you and we’re somewhere on a bus on the way to school and ultimately what you hold on to only has meaning if you can lose it

“And I feel like I’m drifting drifting drifting from the shore //
And I feel like I’m swimming out to her”

I am swimming out to you, my Love.

Hedonic Treadmill

An interesting paragraph that opens up a range of reading.  Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice (HarperCollins, 2004) is a good place to start.

That less pleasant form of commuting has attracted attention in the growing field of happiness studies. People have all sorts of fantasies about what might make them happier, most of them centring on the theme of what they might do if they had more money, or had some specific material possession or other (a Porsche, a nose job, a holiday in Ibiza). By and large, these beliefs aren’t valid. You quickly get used to the new state of affairs and start wanting the next thing up: having that extra £10,000 makes you want a further £10,000 on top, the Porsche makes you want a Ferrari, the nose job a boob job, the Ibiza holiday another, longer Ibiza holiday. This is called “the hedonic treadmill”: we’re all hamsters running on a wheel, chasing a notion of happiness that is permanently just out of reach. One of the things this finding implies is that there is something innate about people’s level of happiness, a “set point”, as it’s called, which varies from person to person. The hedonic treadmill means that most of the things we do don’t move us far from our set point.