original content and images ©j.g. lewis
a daily breath...
A thought du jour, my daily breath includes collected and conceived observations, questions of life, fortune cookie philosophies, reminders, messages of peace and simplicity, unsolicited advice, inspirations, quotes and words that got me thinking. They may get you thinking too . . .
I'm like a pencil;
Still I write.
is a writer/photographer in Toronto.
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logical and chronological
It’s all about the music.
No, it’s more than that; it’s all about the magic.
Delicately you pull the glistening black disc from the inner sleeve. You’re more careful at this moment than you will ever be, for this object has rarely touched human hands and you will only use your fingertips. This record, pure virgin vinyl, is about to feel the needle scraping the life from its grooves. It’s not painful, far from it.
Once placed on the turntable, you gently and precisely lift the tone arm where it belongs, press the button, and watch as the cartridge is slowly descends on its target. Your anticipation is heightened as you hear the initial rumble of the needle in the bare-naked groove, a prelude to what is about to happen next.
Then it does, and touch or sight doesn’t matter. It’s all about the ears as music, joyful music, wafts from the speakers.
Pure audio, aural, pleasure.
It’s what a turntable does — beyond it’s function of transporting recorded sound to reality — that makes the magic happen, and it was designed that way.
In the late 1800s, Thomas Edison developed the original concept of etching sound into a wax cylinder for playback. The original prototypes functioned without electricity and demanded listening exceptionally close to the cone, but over the decades the technology advanced. Size, style and weight of the format varied through the years, yet the premise and the process has changed little. The object, the goal, and the purpose of a turntable is to spin magic.
Just ask somebody how they felt when they first played a Beatles record, or placed Dark Side of the Moon on their family hi-fi for the first time.
Yeah, it’s magic.
I grew up in a home where music was encouraged, listened to, and enjoyed. My Mom was a fan of big band, the music of her youth, and of crooners and the popular stuff of the day. She bought me LPs as a youngster, and treated my siblings and I with albums by The Monkees, and Herman’s Hermits. It began a lifetime love of music.
As I grew up (and I still am) and started accumulating spending money, I begin to buy into real rock and roll; my taste, generally, shaped by the radio or recommendations of others.
Listening to music, making use of the turntable, was a part of homework, reading, or just hanging out with friends. Life revolved around the turntable. Certain songs are associated with definitive moments in my life; it is the nature of music, as we pick and chose our own soundtrack. I have albums that directly correlate to years, moments, and periods of my life. Nothing can bring back a memory like a certain song. Nothing. I own thousands of records, and more memories than that.
I’m not going to write about the cause and effect of music on the mindset, a topic covered more eloquently by others (I will even suggest reading David Byrne’s How Music Works as the definitive book on music appreciation and absorption), but I will propose that the turntable provides the most concentrated method of fully consuming recorded music. Even in the digital age.
Like millions of music lovers, I was attracted to the introduction of the compact disc in the 80s. Like crows drawn to shiny objects, I gave in to the latest technology. There had been whispers about the format for years, and when it hit the marketplace we, after prices of the players dropped to affordable levels, bought into the promise of unparalleled sound quality.
Extended playtime was the biggest benefit of the CD, there was no need to get up and flip sides at the halfway point, and there was generally more music in the relatively small package.
The turntable fell out of favour, and we (as a society of consumers) stopped buying LP records and began replacing much-loved albums in the latest format, along with the new offerings by the latest artists. As we bought up the rather expensive discs, the audio equipment became more affordable, portable, and more and more people bought into the format. Year over year, sales of vinyl dropped, and quickly. Like the 8-traack tape, records were expected to fall off the map.
Even serious collectors of music (and yes, I am one) could not help but love the portability as the CD fit into blasters, compact personal players, and even the automobile. I never stopped listening to my old records, but more and more began to appreciate the ease of popping a CD into the player.
There were downfalls to the new format however, and it had more to do with packaging than product. The covers of the discs were no longer 12-inch square samples of some of the most advanced pop art and photography on the planet. Liner notes became things of the past. Yes, some discs included booklets with lyrics printed in a type size usually reserved for fine print on legal contracts or ingredient lists on processed food, and some discs even included stickers, but nothing like the posters and stickers provided in the aforementioned Dark Side of the Moon.
A large part of the value of a vinyl record was the sleeve. I could, and did, literally, sit for hours reading about who played what instrument, ponder the poetic lyrics, or just stared at glorious photographs while sitting and listening to the latest album by a favorite artist.
To listen, to truly experience music on a turntable, requires you be in one specific place. Enjoyment is found in being stationary. There is not, nor has there ever been, portability when it comes to a turntable; not like a cassette, or 8-track, CD, MP3, or any other type of digital download. Even the portable record players of the ‘60s and ‘70s — the carry-on sized units with Lucite handles and tweed speaker covers — were not really portable (in the sense we now know) and required a definite stillness.
When you sit, when you are still, there is a more focused attempt at listening. It was not passive listening, as we have come to do as we drive, as we multi-task, and make our way to work, or sunburn at the beach.
The stillness required of a turntable provided time to relax and just breathe in the music. It’s important to find the time to sit and relax, and ultimately, the turntable did that.
Now, I’m not dissing digital, not completely. My MacBook is stuffed with music that discs and downloads have allowed me to take anywhere.
And, as far as sound goes, I still prefer listening to classical, or jazz, on the CD format. I think, especially with the more gentle passages, you are given a superior listening experience. But when it comes to rock and roll, nothing (I repeat; nothing) sounds better than vinyl (except, maybe, live).
Rock and roll has always been a little bit dirty, a little scuffed up, maybe a little distorted, and a heck of a lot wilder. Somehow the scratches, the snap, crackle, and pop of a vinyl record (especially at higher volume) adds to the total experience.
It’s rough and real, and it rocks.
I write this as I listen to Patty Smith’s Easter, a previously-loved album I picked up a few weekends ago for $10 at one of this city’s great independent record stores. I paid a few dollars less for the record when it was new in 1978, but what’s a few bucks when magic is involved?
© 2015 j.g. lewis
“You can’t touch music — it exists only at the moment it is apprehended — and yet it can profoundly alter how we view the world and our place in it. Music can get us through difficult patches in our lives by changing not only how we feel about ourselves, but also how we feel about everything outside ourselves. It’s powerful stuff.”
– David Byrne
In any language, a scream is a scream,
a cry is a cry, and a tear
At a sidewalk café or concert hall,
laughter should be laughter, and music
should be heard. In a civilized nation,
life should be lived without fear,
and with the freedom
to enjoy simple pleasures,
to give, and to love, as we do.
Think not of them, idealistically, but
of you and of me. Life, and our
now compressed to fight or flight.
In any language, on any night,
bursting with pain, the
shadow of terrorism rising
again. In every country, our hearts
have been crushed.
Restless night, clouded by sorrow and
the news. The images, and views,
the why, and why there. Again,
why? Knowing, without question,
it could be anywhere. The streets are
not safe, not tonight, in any country.
Where is here. You cannot see, or
comprehend inhumanity. Not on
that scale, or of that type.
In every language, evil lurks, unexpectedly
displaying its brutal cowardice. We cannot
for it happens, on so many levels,
in so many countries, to many people
on too many streets. Blood is blood.
Knives at home, elsewhere guns
or worse. We see it. We know it.
Yet, on a global scale, our minds
Hatred begets violence, justice benign
against those who chose to
as weapons of destruction. We
are not safe, not there, not here.
These damaged souls believe
in what they believe; wholly
and without question.
If there is no understanding,
there is only resistance.
Prayers, or a hymn, cannot be offered to
unbelievers, for they will not, or chose not,
Guided by spirits, their Gods, and dictators
who know nothing but this atrocious devotion
to another type of mankind. Historically
and now, they cannot know love
or recognize the value of
a human life. For they
cannot be human.
Grieving, raging, and still, beneath our
confusion, above our cries for revenge
lies a love, unpronounced but unfolding.
A heartbeat, sympathies and empathy
to the powerless struggles,
in every language. We, as a civilization,
in any nation, must stand
united in our sense of humanity,
and do so with a fortified will.
We must continue believing in love,
and hope, charity, and trust,
Right now, however, there is so little
to those words. We must have faith,
in what we believe, in every heart,
in every body. Difficult to imagine,
but we must. To deny
this resurgence of compassion
is to give in to all this terror stands for.
© 2015 j.g. lewis
For the first time in my life, the Prime Minister of this country is younger than I am.
It was bound to happen, someday; we are all getting older, and it is only proper to think that, at some point, the younger generation will seize the reins of power. But this was earlier than I expected.
Our new leader, Justin Trudeau, is a decade younger than myself. A few weeks ago his party unseated a tired and tiring government that had been damaging the cultural makeup of Canada for almost a decade.
The Liberals, in a leader-focused campaign that stuck to a specific vision, rebounded back into power with a strong majority after the longest campaign on record. I say ‘back into power’ because the Conservatives and Liberals have been swapping positions my entire lifetime, and remain the only two credible options in the public’s eye. This, in fact, is the second time I will have lived under Trudeau rule. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Justin’s father, served as Canada’s Prime Minister for much of my youth.
After the resounding victory — the Liberals climbed from 36 seats at the dissolution of parliament to the 184 seats it now holds — the new government will have the weight it needs to make the difference they have promised.
The Grits have promised a lot; a more equitable tax system, increased infrastructure spending to create employment, more spending on the arts, legalization of marijuana, and an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal woman. The promises resonated with voters.
The ideas put forward during the campaign managed to not just capture the imagination of this nation, but provide one. The Tories had been sucking the spirit from this country for far too long.
Hard-hearted and heavy-handed, the former government had been progressively taking bigger and bolder steps, in some cases wrapping ideology in confusion, and in other ways trying to operate above the laws they were elected to form. In the process they dented our dignity, damaged our reputation with the rest of the world, and had too many of us second-guessing what we stood for, personally and as a country.
When your government develops a bad attitude, or gets in a bitchy mood, it cannot help but infiltrate the general psyche of the nation.
But that’s just talking negative.
This election was won by going positive. Trudeau and the Liberals chose not give in to the negative advertising and mud-slinging common to a Tory campaign. Liberals offered a more palatable tone, and a message that was easier to believe in.
Instead of the Conservative’s fear mongering, the Liberals offered hope. The message was aimed at real people, and the party put forth a brand that offered a future. It offered a dream that seems possible. Trudeau managed to engage the electorate and keep his message out there on social media and the mainstream press.
And it worked. In these negative times, it says a lot about the power of a positive message.
We all need hope, especially now. We need something we can grasp onto, something we can use to shape our actions and form our plans. Hope is not tactile, but it can be felt.
From what I’ve witnessed over the passed couple of weeks, this country seems to be feeling more hopeful. Or maybe it is just one big collective sigh, and we are glad the campaign is finally over, but there is a more buoyant outlook on the streets, and that counts for a lot.
Now — politics being what it is — this mood will change. It has to. There will be an extended honeymoon period, but eventually elected politicians began backpedalling on positions, pushing away ideas that are not-easily achieved, and having selective memory when it comes to campaign pledges. Soon enough, debate in the House of Commons will denigrate to name-calling and time wasted on posturing and pissing around.
It always happens, with each government, no matter the faces, or stance, or ideology. Based on past-performance, politicians (as a species) have given us little reason to trust, so excuse me if I sound a little bit cynical.
As a former journalist, I still hold H. L. Mencken’s words of wisdom in high esteem.
“The only way for a reporter to look at a politician is down.”
But for a while I am, and things are, looking up.