I’m to blame. Oh, there were motivational circumstances, but I take full responsibility for the way I’ve turned out to be an audiophile.
Inspirations? Well, I was raised by wolves. Fortunately for me they were very musically inclined wolves. They could howl in four part harmony. It’s probably best not to come over to my place during a full moon. That’s my earliest memory of a musical nature. But my memory (or imagination?) goes on from there. While still very young, though by this time weaned from wolf teats, I was captured by some red necked humans (you noticed my last name is Hicks?) and musical howls were traded for the music of Jimmy Driftwood and square dance songs, interspersed with Kingston Trio LP’s, as well as LP’s by the members of The Rat Pack, and- my Mother’s favorite, Barbra Streisand.
I recall my childhood home stereo as being of good quality, but I don’t recall the brand names of the components, and somewhere in the midst of a couple of divorces the components changed and were replaced with a pretty nice Zenith console, but by that time I was into my own audio gear.
I think I started out with a crystal radio. I made a few friends by having the coolest self powered radio on the playground in first grade. Reception wasn’t all that bad, but the sound quality left something to be desired and it was soon replaced by an AM transistor radio that I remember listening to in bed while I was supposed to be sleeping. I’d sneak out of bed and go down in the basement to use the phone where my parents couldn’t hear me and I’d call in requests to the radio station. I remember calling once to ask if they’d play Snoopy vs The Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen and the DJ told me it was playing now, and asked why wasn’t I listening to it? I told him I’d left my radio in my bedroom under my pillow and hung up. I may have awakened half the house running back up the stairs so I could hear that song.
I remember getting to stay up late to watch the Beatles appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, though I didn’t really understand why the girls in the audience were throwing their bras up on the stage.
Later on my mother had a younger female friend who played Cream’s first album when I was at her apartment visiting. My mother’s friend was an older woman to me, but I remember the sexual attraction (at least on my part) mixed in with the sound of the music. There’s no substitute for hormones to imprint a musical genre in your memory.
I remember having an older step cousin who was in high school and was into music, and on one night when I was in 7th grade I got to hang out in his room and listen to Buddy Holly, Paul Revere and The Raiders, and John Mayall and his succession of Bluesbreakers guitarists. There was talk about rock & roll and drugs. Basically, my cousin did all of the talking and I did all of the listening. But what he spoke of was a world that I could escape to and become part of, a world full of music that would belong to me and my generation. It was part of the beginning of my journey away from the world of pop music and into the music that would reflect the changing of civil rights. Music that would lead protest marches to try and stop the war in Viet Nam. Music that would forever be a part of me and would go a long way towards erasing the vestiges of my early wolf upbringing- until 1978, that is, when I heard a particular Warren Zevon song…
But all of the above events are just moments in time. Becoming an audiophile is like “becoming” anything. It takes some time and repetition. The neuroplasticity of the brain is now understood such that researchers know the more you work with something, like learning a musical instrument, the more real estate you’ll recruit in your brain for coordinating physical movements required to play the instrument, ie: the area in the brain that a violinist or pianist has devoted to control of fine movement of their hands greatly exceeds that of someone who does not practice an instrument. Likewise people who know five languages have correspondingly larger areas of their brains devoted to the expression and comprehension of language. It follows then that listening to music with an ear towards evaluating the quality and fidelity of the music must, over time, expand the area in the brain devoted to analyzing that same fidelity. Does this make us better at doing that job? Perhaps only to other audiophiles? Perhaps only to other audiophiles who’ve practiced evaluating with their own personal preferences in line with our own?
In the end I think it doesn’t matter, as long as you don’t lose sight of the music in your pursuit of the quality of the sound. I’m very happy to have been invited to be the Director of Analog Development by the San Francisco Audiophile Society, where I can spend more time listening to music and discussing that music’s reproduction with other like-minded audio geeky people. You know who you are.