Friday, March 25, 2011

The Wonder Years: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Reflections & Recollections

“Everybody needs his memories.  They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door. ” 
Saul Bellow

“Every man's memory is his private literature.”  
Aldous Huxley

“Memory is the way of holding onto things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.”
Daniel Stern, narrator, 
The Wonder Years, a TV show

Receiver: The Harman Kardon 330 B receiver is the one on top.
Photo Source: Canuck Audiomart 

I fondly remembered an American TV series that aired between 1988 and 1993 called The Wonder Years, which faithfully captured the turbulent years between1968 and 1973. The series, created and written by Carol Black and Neal Marlens, is narrated by Daniel Stern.

It traced Kevin Arnold's development in suburban America from 1968, when he was 11 years old, until the summer of 1973, his junior year in high school. Here are two examples of the show's writing and sentiments: Steady as She Goes, and The First Kiss.

The show's theme song  is by Joe Cocker, With a Little Help From My Friends, a Beatles classic from 1967.  Although it was American suburbia in character, my formative and wonder years in Canada were similar to the period in history that the show explored. Similar except mine was urban Montreal, and extended to the late 1970s. A lot of that period focused around music, and rock music in particular.

As I got older and my tastes in music changed, so did the radio station that I listened to: from 1470 CFOX-AM in the mid-to late 1960s with Roger Scott and Andy K, to 98 CKGM-AM in the early 1970s with Ralph "The Birdman" Lockwood to 97.7 CHOM-FM in the mid-to late 1970s with Doug Pringle and Benoit Dufresne.

There was some jazz, blues and pop thrown in to the mix of music that I listened to, but the early-1970s rock was the reigning favourite. And although I learned to appreciate classical music and opera in my later years, then it was rock. That meant a steady diet of  The Beatles, the Stones, Supertramp, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Elton John and David Bowie.

So, naturally, one of the things that I coveted was a good stereo system. It was becoming embarrassing and very "square" to  invite friends to play rock and pop records on our parents' RCA Victor console, a large cabinet hi-fi system, essentially rectangular wooden box that my father happily purchased from a furniture store across from where we resided in 1966.

In those days, cool and groovy meant a good powerful receiver blasting at least 12 watts per channel, a turntable with excellent wow and flutter numbers to play records and 3-way speakers with suitably matched woofers, mid-range and tweeters, all encased in a beautiful dark-colored wood.

The summer after graduating from high school, in 1975, I remember buying, with my older brother, a stereo system, a real stereo system, which was a definite coming of age. And it was a fairly good home system for what we paid for it. It was a Harman Kardon 330 B receiver, with either a Technics SL-1350 direct-drive turntable or a Garrard 301 turntable, and EPI 100 speakers.

A 1982 review from The New York Times mentions the speakers as an excellent low-cost alternative. As well, here's a July 1965 article from Gramophone on the Garrard 301 turntable)

Serious turntables: The Garrard 301 turntable is a classic turntable from the 1950s and '60s. There is a market for such turntables. Among audiophiles, such turntables are sought after, not because of sentimentality, but because many knowledgeable persons consider them superior in many ways to what is being produced today. (see review,)

Dual Turntable: Dual CS505 turntable is a typical home turntable popular during the 1970s
Photo Credit & Source: Hembrow
We earned the money in the summer of 1975 working hard, doing any odd job that we could to scrape together the money that we needed, including painting balconies, garages and kitchens and bathrooms.

Together, we earned about $500. The system we wanted, which was at a high-fidelity shop near our house (named Custom Sound or something to that effect), was $575 tax included. We convinced our father to contribute the difference. So, come late August 1975, we installed the stereo in the bedroom my brother and I shared, and played the music of the era. We bought hundreds of albums, many of the artists can be found on this site.

EPI 100 Speakers:
Photo Source: Tribute Audio

When I moved out in the early 1980s, I left the stereo system with my older brother. I think he lugged it around for a while through various moves, and then the receiver stopped working. And with that ended the wonder years. Yet, I hold them in memory.

Some, including my older brother, might conclude that this trip down memory lane is pure nostalgia, a longing for the past. That's not exactly the case. Although I enjoyed many things in my past, I enjoy many things in the present. It's natural to have more hope when you're younger, just entering adulthood and not yet marked by disappointments, both major and minor.

But that's not precisely why memories are important. The memories, although not completely accurate, help define where I have come from, who I am, and what I cherish. I do not think it's nostalgia that informs memory. It's the memories that inform my being, and allow me to mature as a human being. A person with memories is a person who has greater self-knowledge, self-awareness and self-identity.

Memories are essential to learn from the past, to reflect on the present, and  to help make informed decisions for the future. No one ought to take your memories from you. They are to be cherished. My thoughts can be summed up as follows from a Bob Hope signature song: Thanks for the Memory (1938).