It’s the mid-’70s. My dad is living in San Francisco, still has hair (which is huge), and taps into some wellspring of cool to purchase a Marantz 2220B to route his LPs of Cream and Santana through. A few short years later, he moved to Seattle, lost his hair, I was born, and my mother instituted the great “Now That You’re Married to Me, All Your Old Crap is Outta Here” purge of 1981. Cream’s albums curdled and the Who became “the who?” Somehow, the Marantz survived, living out a twilight existence piping soft jazz throughout my dad’s office.
Fast forward 19 years. I’ve grown a stubbly college goatee, and the Marantz has grown a scratchy volume knob and lost some of the cool blue illumination that graced its stylish face. As I buzzed around campus, the receiver sat there, for the moment forgotten. In the meantime, my friends and I were busy planning huge parties, developing ever stronger drink concoctions, and sometimes remembering to attend class. One of our better ideas was to throw an epic party dubbed “Gentleman’s Club 2000,” which gave the girls a chance to wear their prom dresses again (that is, if they still fit … freshman 15, you know) and the guys a chance to vomit on their ties. My friend raided his dad’s attic and liberated a few sets of huge CBS speakers and a brace of vintage amplifiers in preparation.
I didn’t end up actually doing the setup – the friend with the CBS speakers had a master plan, involving several channels of audio placed strategically around the room. Three decades of amplifiers were involved – a ’70s Pioneer, an ’80s Harmon-Kardon, and a ’90s Pioneer, haphazardly patched together with a maze of cables. Guests arrived, the red party cups burst out of their wrappers, and we were off. While I distantly percieved the bestial roar of six vintage speakers pumping out solid state analog gold, permeating throughout the house like the mating calls of several thousand humpback whales, my primary focus was sucking down “G & T 2000s” (gin and tonic, with a twist of gin and a splash of gin on top, followed by a gin back) and helping to sober up a too-drunk friend with a garden hose out on the deck. The sound also permeated to the Crawlspace Casbah, a makeshift hookah den where I lounged for an indeterminate amount of time. The vague strains of Led Zepplin I blended into a Pink Floyd interlude, before control of the CD player was lost to a cadre of drunken girls covered in the remains of an ill-conceived brownie baking fiasco. Things were copacetic. Very copacetic.
At some point, I stumbled upstairs, passing a friend taking a siesta in the decorative bark near the azeleas. My tie was long gone. My shoes would be found literally years later, under the host’s parent’s bed, for reasons that remain unclear. One friend had passed out in the laundry room doorway, his head acting several times as a doorstop. The garbage disposal was clogged with a burned brownie slurry, and the girls responsible denied anything and everything. As the room spun and I searched for a solid surface to adhere to, the siren song began with a simple, jangly guitar melody, cutting through the haze. Drawn forward, I rounded the corner, into a living room filled with air crackling with the sonorous strains of classic rock , as if a high-tension line was strung between my ears. The song was “Simple Man,” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The wall of sound emerged from one of those pre-Ikea glass-and-oak entertainment center monstrosities, studded with an
obscene amount of vintage speakers and powered by the aforementioned trio of amplifiers. Across the room, past the couches and coffee table, there stood a plastic snowman. Snowby was a veteran of several parties, a mascot of sorts. But this time, Snowby had been enhanced with a strobe light strategically set up in his midsection, becoming Stroby, the seizure-inducing snowman of rock. Stroby became the subject of some drunken obeisance as I celebrated the genius of combining a lot of gin, Skynard, yard decorations, strobe lights, and some huge CBS speakers with the wall o’ amps.
That is basically the end of my recollection, my analog baptism of sound. I curled up into a sleeping bag until the sun coaxed me back to life, stabbing my eyes like daggers in the process. A plan coalesced in the back of my mind. A hazy recollection of a classic stereo receiver, long residing in a cabinet in my dad’s office, swam back up from the obscure mists of time. Crappy vintage speakers, with their deliciously lo-fi sound, were a dime a dozen. I could festoon my college crash pad with that same wall of sound I’d heard the night before. The Marantz would be front and center, projecting what remained of its soothing blue glow forward into an endless array of possible room-based adventures.
And so it was. My friend retired the CBS speakers, with their 15″ subs and schizophrenic tweets, to my custody. In the midst of the glory days of Napster, I loaded my ancient computer with dubiously pedigreed MP3s and cranked them out through the 2220B into my room. I spent many a night falling asleep to a Winamp playlist of the Pixies’ best songs, annoying my neighbors with an angsty mix of Deftones albums, or placating my girlfriend by pretending to enjoy Nick Drake. The Marantz never complained, whether comandeered for party duty to pump out dance hits, or providing an output for Starcraft’s audio, or inundating the area with a concentrated dose of the classic rock it was designed to serve up.
The Marantz is still alive, returned to my dad’s office when I took my own turn in San Francisco, but it needs some TLC. In the meantime, I’m back. I still have my hair. No woman has thrown away my old jeans yet. And just like Skynyrd’s beloved south, the Marantz will rise again.