What's Past Is Prologue

Written by Bill Leebens

The older I get—and at this point, I’m as old as dirt— the more I become aware that there is very little objective judgment in life. The one thing I remember from a college philosophy course is Kierkegaard’s Truth Is Subjectivity, and I’m convinced that pretty much every thing we see, say, or do is influenced by our subjective personal experiences , preconceptions, and expectations. In other words: our past.

Our interactions with other humans and with the world may well be influenced by that girl we fixated upon in junior high, or that car a cool kid had in high school, or that stereo that made Dark Side of the Moon just come alive, back in ’73.

Okay,  fine. Is there any way in which we can objectively separate the elements of our past from the perceptions of the present?

I’m really not sure.

So—basically, there may well be no rational basis or  justification for many of our life-decisions, whether it’s choosing a career, a spouse—or a stereo system. Groovy.

When it comes to audio gear, I was warped over 50 years by my Uncle Art’s home hi-fi—a console that contained an Ampex reel-to-reel with Marantz electronics, playing through a pair of massive Altec Laguna corner horns. It wasn’t just the sound that was captivating; I loved (and still love) Danish Modern/Mid Century Modern design, and the way that the bulky Lagunas managed to seem almost light, and sprightly.

I didn’t snag Uncle Art’s Lagunas, but through the years I have owned audio gear with a similar MCM vibe: a JBL Paragon, Altec Valencias, a massive 7′ long Fisher President console—$20 at an estate sale, and I wish I still had it. Truly lovely sound that rocked— I still remember how Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” shook the whole house with the synth line. Moreso than with my tri-amped Tympanis. Shocked the hell out of me.

That doesn’t mean that those embedded aesthetics completely determine my audio purchases; if that were the case, I certainly couldn’t have gotten the Frankenstein’s lab-looking Plasmatronics. But then, I’m not using them every day, either.

My every-day drivers (pun intended) do have a unique, kinda-MCM look. The Spica Angelus’ asymmetrical form was designed purely to define and control the dispersion pattern, but the fact that they look like a stylized representation of an angel is either a benefit or a liability, depending on your viewpoint. I happen to like the look, and they certainly look lighter than a standard 6-sided box of their size would. Would I have liked them if I hadn’t been preconditioned by the Lagunas and a childhood home with Sunset and House Beautiful?

Well, there’s no way to tell, is there? It’s not as though I can selectively delete those segments of my psyche and just go >RECALCULATING< and re-think things, free of the effects of that data. I am the sum total of all my life’s influences… as are we all. Like it or not.

When my daughter Emily was small, she took a sip of my coffee—and immediately spat it out.

“YUCK! How can you drink that?”

Trying to be both rational and instructive, I patiently said, “Well, honey, it’s an acquired taste.”

Still making ptooey ptooey efforts to rid herself of the bitter taste, Emily asked, “What good is something if you have to LEARN to LIKE it?”

As usual, I learned more from my child than she learned from me. In the years since Emily—now a 22-year-old java junkie—asked it, that question has come back to me many times.

As a mostly-grown-up I’ve come to like a number of things I once reviled: Bitches Brew, Brussels sprouts, cognac, Christopher Walken. I assume that somewhere along the way I learned or experienced something that altered my receptivity to such things. But would I have ended up being receptive if there wasn’t the synaptic road-map that led up to the new experiences?

There’s that damn past again. I guess there’s no getting away from it.

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