I’m 6 years old, in a pool of Southern California sunlight, offering my (less-than-humble) interpretation of “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” from A Chorus Line. I have no idea what the song is about, and yet the music, the sensibility of the show, its aura of pathos and sarcasm and raw hunger all guide my performance. My mother is somewhere around the house, but I don’t need her to put a record on for me to fill the house with music—glorious, bold music from real, beautiful speakers. I am performing to surround sound. I am in the theater of both my living room and my mind.
You know what’s absent from this memory?
A computer screen. A computer screen’s burning glare.
I didn’t have to punch computer keys and shuffle through the confusion of an iTunes playlist to broadcast the poignant and jazzy sounds of “What I Did for Love” and “One,” respectively. The music didn’t wheeze from a tinny speaker below a glowing screen that sucked both the vitality and the coziness from its surroundings.
I exploded recently. I wanted to play my child a song called “More” from the soundtrack to Dick Tracy. My mother and I had worn out that CD in my youth, playing it on long car trip, sailing over Highland and past the Hollywood Bowl with the car windows down, lost in our own theatrical paradise. My child had wanted more of something—I forget what—and I teased her.
More! More! More!
Then I remembered the song.
And then I remembered that our tiny boombox had died a year ago, and I decided right then that my Dick Tracy CD would remain mute in its jewel box coffin because I wasn’t able to play it on a CD player. I sure as hell wasn’t going to slip that beautiful soundtrack into my hard drive and pull it up on crappy old iTunes, shuffling through the latest update of its incomprehensible software.
Artists? Genres? Albums? Playlists?
How the hell do I find this song I want? Damn it, she’s lost interest; she sees some YouTube video she wants to watch! I had her, and now I’ve lost her to the computer screen. Oh, is that a red flag beside my Facebook notifications? Perhaps someone’s left a comment. I must read that now! Crap, we were supposed to listen to this fabulous song, and now the moment is lost. We’ve both been done in by distraction.
The sullen screen is smiling now.
“Not this time!” I said.
“We are not buying a stereo right now. This is not a good time to spend money.” This from my husband, the wise one who must play bad cop in moments when his wife is exploding, the one who knows what I am planning to purchase before I utter the words.
“Yes, we are!” I screamed.
It isn’t much, but it has speakers. Speakers! It’s just a small CD player with a radio and two heavenly speakers. It has a dial for tuning and a dial for volume! It’s gorgeous.
Here’s a funny thing about a stereo—okay, a CD player dressed up as a stereo—it’s the inconvenience that has my 3-year-old hooked. We have listened to music before and certainly had a few dance sessions since she was born, but I could never sustain her interest in music before the arrival of our stereo.
Now she has control over the process in a tangible, physical way. She chooses a CD from the shelf and presses the “open” button. She removes the CD from its jewel case and carefully handles it, placing it pleasingly within the borders of the circle for which it is intended. She listens to it whir and watches it spin. She presses “play” when that fuss is over. Then she sits, staring at the machine, captivated, and listens to the music.
I don’t think it is just that it sounds so much better; I think it’s that she knows where the music is coming from. The machine which produces it has no other obligation. Unlike a computer, it doesn’t receive messages or offer videos or photos or headlines. It plays music. That’s it. When one CD is finished, she gets to pop it out and pop a new one in. The effort of the process is part of its reward.
Since the arrival of the CD player, we listen to music when we draw. Today, we picked Charlie Parker, because it’s raining and thundering. Now when we play board games, we listen to music. Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel and Madonna make Candyland much less an exercise in torture.
And when we dance, we dance free from any other input, save the lights of the brownstones across the street and the barking of dogs and the clicking of high heels racing toward the restaurant on our corner. We are consumed fully by music and must devote not one neuron to wandering the maze of iTunes and trying to block out that dastardly glare. Technology is not draining the life force from the art which fulfills us.
This morning we played all of Dick Tracy, every single song, even the slow ones. Finally, I got to share the song “More” with my 3-year-old.
Each possession you possess
Helps your spirits to soar
That’s what’s soothing about excess
Never settle for something less
Something’s better than nothing, yes!
But nothing’s better than more more more
Except all, all, all
Except once you have it all
You may find all else a bore
That though things are bliss
There’s one thing you miss
And that’s more!
And there it is: the magic of the stereo.
When we hear without seeing, there is always more to yearn for, in the best possible way. There is all that you don’t see and all that you imagine. There is more, more, more beckoning from behind the speakers and beyond our range of vision, which—thankfully—is unobstructed by a bossy screen that blocks this vista of “more.”
We’re out roughly $50 from the purchase of our stereo, but we’ve gained much, much more.
And nothing’s better than more.