Friday, April 25, 2003


I don't know if it's healthy, if it's a thing of our generation, our era, our civilization, our race, but I've always felt a special thing for music. In fact, we've got quite a history together.

In Seville, I kept a red plastic tape player on my desk, mostly for listening to Los 40 Principales, and Radio Vinilo in Madrid. Before returning to the US for the last time, my brother and I bought a few blank tapes and recorded a couple of hours of Spanish radio, just to remember. I've still got them packed away somewhere. It's a mix of Euro-dance, USA pop and Spanish ballads. Crazy stuff.

When we lived in Madrid, on the seventh floor of the red brick apartments in Coslada, the grandparents came over for Christmas one year. This meant that they would bring presents, and I knew what I wanted: a CD player. Little eighth grade me, who had grown up with our old Sanyo phono-tuner-tape stereo system listening to Joni Mitchell and James Taylor at 33 RPM, I wanted to own one of those futuristic laser machines. This would be, what, 1991 or so. So the grandparents made it happen, bless their hearts. Not only did they buy a bulky black early nineties model, they subsidized the purchase and got a honkin' boombox, which took up no small space in their luggage.

I was so cooled out, I was the first person in family to own a CD player. The first CD I owned, embarassingly, was a cheap pressing of Mozart's greatest hits. You know, the "we sell 'em cheap 'cause he's long dead" kind of CD. Don't blame me, it was a gift. I quickly remedied that by ordering a Michael W Smith album from the Missionaries Only catalog that sold cheap Christian music to, you got it, missionaries only.

The summer between eigth and nineth grade, the last summer we had in Spain, my parents were actually anticipating us staying in the field (that's missionary speak for "stay abroad") for two more years so they sent my brother and I back to California for the summer. While I was there, I kept my ears peeled for the latest in Christian music and convinced my grandparents, our hosts, to drive my brother and I to the Buena Park mall Christian bookstore to get a hold of the latest dc Talk album. I seem to remember listening to it in the car -- which seems crazy, did they have car CD players in 1992? -- and quickly turning it off; this mix of Christian lyrics and hip-hop beats was a little too wild for my did sit too well with the older folks, I could tell.

Back in the US for high school, my brother and I shared a room, and thus a radio (but then, when have we not?). At first, we listened to a lot of KIIS FM, probably because the dance music most resembled the Euro-dance we grew accustomed to in Spain. After discovering headphones and the Academic Decathlon "posse", my brother and I drifted apart: Aaron towards Groove Radio and the more hard-core techno world, and I towards Power 106, rap and hip-hop.

Senior year of high school when I studied Japanese, I got majorly hooked on Japanese dramas and watched Hey Hey Hey Music Champ every weekend. Of course, Glay and Namie Amuro were not so accesible back in the pre-Napster days, so I became a fan of that gateway drug of choice for American jpop fans, Pizzicato Five and their cadre of Shibuya musicians like Cornelius and Fantastic Plastic Machine. I was even driven so far as to lift a promotional poster for Cornelius' Fantasma from the Brea Borders store while nobody was looking, the worst sin I have ever committed; honest! At Caltech, I spent way too much time poring over the latest digests of the p5ml, the US mailing list for fans of Pizzicato 5.

Through the p5ml, I found out about and subscribed to the Exotiac mailing list, a gathering of music enthusiasts who enjoy kitchy music of the 50s, 60s and 70s, stuff like Tiki music, whistling records and Moog albums. A must for fans of this music is a record player, so I polled the newsgroup and plopped down about sixty-five quid for an old Panasonic model with turntable, radio and two tape decks. One of my principles is to try to be as non-commercial as possible, but there are two businesses whose cards I carry around in my wallet. One is the Mad Wolf mongolian bbq on the corner of Harbor and Imperial, and the other is Canterbury Records, on Colorado just west of Lake in Pasadena. They don't have a great selection of LPs, but they're cheap, the staff is friendly and knowledgable, and they have a lot of CDs too. Not only Canterbury, but Opus in Old Town Pasadena had a great selection of international music, including lots of Brazilian goodness, Japanese craziness and French rapper MC Solaar. Gorgeous. Also in the Old Town was Moby Disk, which had a bargain bin in the back that regularly scourged (or is that "scoured") for gems like Boredoms EP and random indie rock.

Caltech was also the age of Napster. Thank goodness I didn't own a computer fast enough to play mp3s at the time; I only managed to amass a small collection of songs in the public Page House computer lab, that I burned to CDs when I graduated. Mostly Jpop and exotica stuff.

One more memorable experience with me and music deserves mentioning. I've always considered myself to have good (read "snobby") taste in music, which, like I said above, may not be a healthy thing. Anyhow, the only time I've ever been humbled -- or at least equalled -- was when my high school friends organized a trip to Scott's cabin in Utah and Julie brought her CDs along. Oh my gosh, I thought nobody but me had ever heard of Cibo Matto, or Bran Van 3000, or the random other Jpop that she had. I hope Julie reads this, hehe. You've got great taste in music.

One final music mention. (Did I say that already? I'll be brief.) Last year when I was living in Tianjin, I stopped by an antique market one day and picked up about a dozen old 78 RPM vinyl records. I can't exactly date them; the shopkeeper said they were cultural revolution age but I'm guessing that they could have been from any time after the mid 1950's. I was able to listen to them last Thanksgiving at my uncle's house, because he collects old Edison gramaphones that can play 78s, but I cut that short because it was too weird to make these all-American relatives listen to Beijing opera, military marches, and musical homages to Chairman Mao, may he live 10,000 years.

That's about it. LIke I said, I'm excited to finally have a burner and a computer I can call my own with a 20 GB partition name "/mp3". Isn't that a little materialistic? Anyhow, who knows what I'll stumble across next.


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