Once upon a time I was a DJ. I was a different kind of DJ, hooked into an interesting clique in black LA. I was Mellow Mike but most of the time I just used my regular name because there often wasn't a whole lot of dancing going on. I was the guy who did Quiet Storm receptions. My two most significant gigs were the one for the Brotherhood Crusade back in 1980 when the Nickerson Trio performed. They were a dancing, singing trio - basically En Vogue 10 years before En Vogue. Then when Maxine Waters was first elected to Congress, I DJ'ed her reception. I was the regular DJ for all of the dances at my church and of course all my neighborhood got to hear my mixes.
I had a goregeous Setton integrated amp that blew 60 watts per channel and stacked Advents. I used Dual turntables with ADC cartridges. To top it off, I had Sony's first solenoid cassette deck, the TC-K6. Anybody who was an amateur audiophile could tell you that was a sweet little setup. So yeah I know the contradiction, an audiophile DJ , but as I said, I did Quiet Storm receptions, and you just don't compromise when it comes to sound quality if you're playing Mr. Magic.
It would be a year after I sold my gear when Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel blew my mind and started scratching. I did know there were some DJs doing extended breaks on the best beats available. They had the Numark mixers, but although I wanted the skill, my clientele was into that funky smooth jazz and songs they could cha-cha and slow dance to. Yeah we every once in a while dipped into Rick James punk funk stuff, but that was for high school kids. We were more sophisticated. The Invisible Man's Band and Herbie Hancock's Feets was more our style. Not to mention Ray Parker's jams For Those Who Like to Groove. I could go on about Jamaica Funk, but the point was you didn't scratch and mix those songs. They had their own perfection, and no matter how much people wanted to dig into the urge to keep remixing the break for Lenny White's Peanut Butter, that was done with *tape* not with turntables live at a sophisticated party.
Nevertheless over time, I realized that things were changing and having two turntables and a microphone mixer that you only used like Levi Booker was going to be a trend with fewer fans as time went by. The kids wanted rap and scratch. I actually wanted New Wave, Ska and TwoTone. By the time Fishbone was on the LA scene, there was nothing interesting on the wheels of steel that Art of Noise wasn't doing best.
Still I remember the days when I was putting my system together. There would always be something breaking down. One of the belts on my turntable would break and it takes a week to get a replacement. The special battery in the microphone died and I couldn't find another. I have run out of TDK SA 60 cassettes and have to use TDK D 120s. Three steps forward and two steps back, the volatility of chasing perfection left me oftimes with the almost perfect junior audiophile setup. Ever since then, I've called that condition 'two turntables and no microphone' or sometime 'one turntable and a microphone'.
I think I deal with the condition well. When I last spoke to my witch doctor, he told me not to worry so much. I told him that I was chasing small perfections; he said nothing is perfect, and I chose not to correct him. The other day I saw a quote about demanding perfection and settling for excellence. That's about my mania, but it always leaves me short a component. I have an incomplete collection of excellent bits and pieces, in myself, in my life.
This Christmas, I earned so it seems, the biggest bonus I can ever remember getting all at once that wasn't a payroll error. And while I am scared to death to spend it because I'm sure it puts me in a different tax bracket, I have done quite a bit of shopping. I'm sitting on the cash until I can get my accountant to figure out what I ought to do, but maxing out a credit card or two in anticipation that I can blow at least a quarter of it.
I'm happy to report that I no longer have any desire to own a Breitling watch. I don't want a Rolex either. I checked out an IWC. Nope. Don't want it. I have no need for a Hollywood Suit. I don't want a BMW. I thought about a paddle board and a scuba suit. Nope. I thought about some new studio monitors for my desk. I don't want them either. I restrung the acoustic guitar this summer and I've already decided to file for non-operation of the motorcycle. I do have to buy a rain cover though.
All I want is a pistol and a camera. And a water hookup for my icemaker, and a new corner group. Throw in a rug and a new coffee table and I'm pretty much done.
If you know anything about my wife, then you know that she has put up with my minimalism for a very long time. We had been married eight years before we finally got rid of the futon. I have slept on the same queen mattress on the floor with no frame and the same comforter since 1988. OK 1984. But the comforter is from 88. So ever since we moved to Redondo in 02, she has been the master of the found couch. We've had about 5 or 6, and I only remember the red leather one and the current corner group, which has been destroying my back when it's not poking my butt with that loose spring. So we're finally getting the big leather sofa and loveseat. No easy chair and ottoman, but I don't want them.
I was originally going to get the Olympus PEN E-5. I fell in love with this camera when it first came out. I liked the idea and I have been surfing Amazon every Christmas since its debut. The other day, I finally went to Samy's Camera in Culver City with Pops. The Olympus was puny. I got a used Nikon D90 instead. On the spot, and a nice 40mm lens on the guy's recommendation. I saved 600 bucks.
I was originally going to get an H&K USP 45. I really loved this pistol when I put my mitts on it. Last year I was sure that I was going to get a rifle, but it swung around on the Maestro's recommendation to pistols. You have to have your pistol skills the same way you have to learn to drive a stick. Once again, I took the recommendation of a pro and picked out a Sig Pro instead. Saved 600 bucks again.
OK so now it's all going into the corner group. But I'm happy about that. That's for the family. And quite frankly I'm shooting frames to be with my dad and shooting bullets to be with sheepdogs. Pops and I are going to spend a lot of time together on photo shoots starting tomorrow. I'll finally, after all these years, have a fast digital camera, and I've been wanting one since back in the days when there was a company called Cingular, like 02.
I have something that I call The American Price. It's the premium we pay for having exactly what we want, which goes far beyond what we need. What we want is mediated by our class desires and the amount of self-confidence we have that we can flaunt or ignore them. I'm very much aware of the American price when I go into a store and talk to a pro, because they are competing with online markets, fashion commercials and friends' advice. It doesn't often work in their favor unless they work in the Apple Store. Speaking of which, the last time I went into an Apple Store, there were at least 50 employees in red shirts. They can't all be full timers can they?
The American Price for a shirt includes the overhead of advertising it on television, the cost of logistics to get it from China to the US, plus the additional cost of getting it from the central warehouse to the expensively designed high rent mall store. Plus you pay for the pro who, if he actually knows his business, will be fighting against all of your expensive prejudices and desires with real world knowledge and experience. If he's honest, and most pros are.
We finally pay the American Price and not only do we have an article of merchandise, we have a story of anticipation and desire, a human drama of saving, scrimping, thinking, choosing, acquiring, using and critiqueing. Our anecdote becomes fodder for the next pro to wrangle with. But even in all of that meta shopping, we increase the value of the product in this virtuous inflationary cycle.
I was telling Pops something about the Idiot Proof City and our expectations of meritocracy. The way I see it, most of us are rather shameless when it comes to exploiting our knowledge. That's what the Idiot Proof City encourages us to do, to prove we can master the city with style. It's not enough to have a beater that gets us from A to B. If we're smart, we get a better job with a better company so we can afford a better car that gets us to A to B about the same time in traffic, except when we honk our BMW horns, we make people both envious and angry. It's still a better car, with better looking people in the cooler looking commercials, wearing nicer shirts. BMWs and Lexus autos have audiophile systems built in, although now nobody uses cassette tapes.
Priests and spies have valuable information as well, but they are trusted to discretion. The rest of us get knowledge as cheaply and quickly as we possibly can and shoot off our mouths and resumes as loudly as possible. Then we can get the interview and name our own American Price for our labor, if we're good enough. Our hiring managers then begin their own human drama of thinking, choosing, acquiring, using and critiqueing.
I want a pistol because I'm trying to escape the Idiot Proof City. I don't want to go as far away as the Meat Eater on the Outdoor Channel. He's way down in New Zealand hunting chamois and Canada geese, fording rivers with ice-floes. I don't hate the idiots that much, nor do I love self-sufficiency to that professional survival level. But I do want to be a free man and add as many skills as I can so that I can buy something used and broken, be my own pro and put it back into working order. I don't want to depend on the whole inflationary system of commodity delivery. I don't think the whole thing is going to crash, it's just going to degrade the quality of items it delivers to mass markets.
You can't get audiophile integrated amps like you used to. The whole audio industry has been dumbed down. You can't get quality chrome cassette tapes any longer. Reel to reel? Not at the mall. See in order to get excellence, you have to understand perfection. You actually have some resistance to overcome to realize that perfection even exists. Then you have to separate function from fashion. That's harder to do. You'll have to rely on a pro, or become one yourself.
The road to becoming a pro has no exit strategy. You can't just swallow the knowledge whole and barf back quality labor. Even if you put quality in, you can't regurgitate quality lickety split. You can expect the American Price immediately because the organic pros, well they don't necessarily want to be in the Idiot Proof City. The City has room for inflated commodities, but no mass markets for those who understand perfection and demand excellence.
What if there is no meritocracy? What would we do in America? Could we be unpopular DJs for the sake of sophistication? What if you couldn't describe your skills in a quick paragraph, and no household name celebrity would get on television and give an audience of 10 million the number give your labor a text thumbs up? What if you had to just relay the acknowledged purity of Grover Washington Jr, without shooting your mouth off, just providing the music?
Sometimes the best way to 'add value' is to shut up and provide, and not to inflate. I can't expect everyone to be a pro or even want to be a pro. But there's something about quality for the sake of competence that gets buried. There's something wrong with driving a car whose features you can list in braggadocio but whose component perfection you cannot understand.
I don't know how to end this essay. There's probably a way to wrap it up concisely and cleverly, but I only want to tell the stories, not be so clever. I hope you find something useful in there.