The thing about life-changing moments is you never know when they’re going to show up. They also rarely announce their arrival, though it would be super helpful if they did. Instead, we often miss these moments in the moment, only to realize later that a tiny happenstance changed everything.
I had such an experience recently, and only because I backslid on my pledge to stay off Facebook. For weeks, I’d been purposely logged out. I soon noticed a real improvement in my mental health, just from avoiding the daily folderol. (That archaic word popped into my head just now, though I wasn’t sure of its meaning. Turns out it’s the perfect word to describe Facebook: 1: a showy but worthless trifle 2: foolish nonsense. While Facebook isn’t always worthless—as this story illustrates—more and more it is filled with foolish nonsense.)
As I did a quick, somewhat guilty scroll through the timeline, I came upon several posts from a person I’ve only met once in real life, but whom I like and respect. She was giving things away again, which meant she’d sold one of her properties or had grown tired of one of her projects. I was briefly interested in rehoming a purple velvet divan, but then I saw this post:
October 20, 2021 12:34 PM
I have some old stereo gear. I’m not going to give it to you if you are some acquisitive hipster: it’s really important to me. If you have integrity and it would mean something to you message me. If you want to take advantage and resell it get lost.
Oh wow, I thought, a real stereo would definitely mean something to me.
A decade ago, I’d bought one of those fake vintage all-in-one units. One by one, the components crapped out—first the turntable, then the CD player—so that all that worked was the tuner. It did an OK job of picking up KCRW when the wind was just right and the desert repeater wasn’t down (which is often). Other than that, I’d lived with iPods and headphones and computer speakers for years. As I drove to the place where my Facebook friend’s stuff was stored, I tried to work out when I’d last had an Honest to God stereo. I might have had a stripped-down system with tiny apartment speakers in my tiny apartment in the early 1990s, but not since then. Despite this, I miraculously still have all my vinyl records from high school and beyond.
I also have about 500 cassette tapes and CDs—thanks, in part, to my friend, Layla. During my big Swedish Death Cleaning in 2019, I reduced a 10x10 storage unit full of stuff down to half a dozen Home Depot totes and a few pieces of furniture. It felt amazing at the time, but I’ll admit I’ve had some regrets since. During that purge, I took a jam-packed box of CDs to the thrift store, along with a bunch of other stuff (including a flat screen TV that sold in less than an hour). The cassettes were slated for the next load. I happened to mention this on the phone to Layla who said, “Noooooo. Go get those CDs! I’ll pay to have them shipped to me. My kids need to grow up with that music.” I called Ron at the thrift store and told him I’d made a mistake. He said, “No problem, the box is sitting right where you left it. I’m here ‘til five.” Viva la small-town living.
I had no idea what I’d been given, stereo-wise, even after everything was loaded into my truck. “Old stereo gear” can mean a lot of things. The tuner still had the factory protective tape on the chrome faceplate and the turntable had what looked like a decent cartridge, both promising signs. But the speakers were the real surprise: late 1960s Pioneers that are nearly three feet tall. Once home, a quick Internet search put the “acquisitive hipster” price tag at around $1500. Wow. Thank you, generous Facebook friend!
Obviously, it had been a while since I’d hooked up a stereo. There was some snapping and popping and scary sounds at first. I reached out to my friend, Peter, who knows a thing or two about audio equipment. He had some sage advice:
Hook up the speakers to the receiver, turn the volume all the way down, switch it on and leave it at minimum volume for a few hours before trying to actually listen to anything. And then start slowly increasing the volume a bit at a time, much like we do with old strobe packs that haven’t been used for some time. Hopefully that will ease the capacitors back into existence without blowing anything up.
I’d overlooked the whole “blowing up” part of the traditional stereo equation. iPods have a definite advantage there. I moved more slowly and carefully. First, I tried the radio. All I could find were classic rock stations, which reminded me of when my sister bought an old tube radio that she thought only played big band music. Then I found the elusive KCRW signal. Success!
In case the needle was worse than it looked, I played a song from a record that I didn’t mind damaging. When that played fine, I reached for the next album in the stack: The Del Rubio Triplets, Three Gals, Three Guitars. I’d forgotten I owned this record. I’d forgotten it was autographed. I’d forgotten everything about how it came to be in my possession.
In the late ‘80s, The Del Rubio Triplets were pulled from obscurity by Hollywood tastemakers. They went from playing free gigs at up to five retirement homes a day to doing TV show appearances and playing fancy parties. While they might have just been a kitschy flash in the hipster pan, their genuine good spirits and kindness made them beloved by many. My good friend, Billy DeAcutis, and I went to see them every chance we got.
Billy’s friend, Linda, an actress in a blockbuster film at the time, was in the process of destroying her famous co-star’s marriage, so they hid out in a rented Malibu mansion that was allegedly paparazzi-proof. This is how it came to pass that Milly, Elena, and Eadie schlepped their gear from San Pedro out to Malibu in their station wagon named “Bunny” to play a private show. (It was during this show that Eadie stopped in the middle of a song and said to me, “I just figured out who you remind me of. A young Donna Reed. She was a lovely woman.” Milly and Elena agreed. They resumed the song.)
The life changing moment I speak of is really more of a life reboot, I guess. Hearing music long forgotten—yet every note remembered—feeling it in my body in a way that earbuds can never reproduce, has opened a few chakras that have apparently been closed for years. Now, instead of starting my day doom scrolling and arguing with strangers, like I was, I sit in the middle of the room, with my morning coffee, and listen to music while the sun comes up. I feel both like I’ve rediscovered something lost and discovered something totally new. And it has made all the difference.