Harry through the back door
Nowadays everybody and her brother are deejays. People carry entire record libraries around on devices about the size of a credit card, and with something not much bigger they can pull just about anything ever recorded out of the sky. It's less necessary than ever to enlist someone else to make the selections for you -- especially not a live human.
But of course, it hasn't always been that way. In our youth we were glued to the radio, first Top 40, then Free-form Rock. Sometimes it felt as though we got more out of listening to jocks like Dan Ingram, Scott Muni, and Cousin Brucie than we did from attending to the teacher in the classroom. And we've always wanted to play the game ourselves, with tons of vinyl records, then reel-to-reel tapes (no scratches, just hiss), followed by the miracle of cassette tapes (with Dolby noise reduction, and they worked in the car), and the CD, and now the i-whatever. (We missed eight-tracks by a year or two.) To us, our soundtrack has always been important. It's a little less crucial in our older years, but still a big deal.
And so on Christmas Eve we carefully laid out the sonic backdrop for the next morning's package-opening here at Blog Central. We decided it would be the same as it's been for years, and at our place the tunes in question are all on cassettes: John Fahey's Christmas Album, Odetta singing Christmas Spirituals, and The Gift, by Eric Tingstad and Nancy Rumbel. All lined up and ready to go.
Christmas morning found us a little off balance from not enough sleep, but it was easy enough as a first order of business to slip two of the tapes into a dual cassette deck that we've been using for more than a decade. We could just hit Play and let the music go for a couple of hours.
We hadn't played a tape in that player in months, and as it turned out, something mechanical inside the box wasn't right. Nothing would play, because the reels wouldn't turn. Not only that, but the tapes wouldn't come out.
By the time we realized the gravity of the situation, the gang was getting restless. There is nothing worse than technical difficulties when you're deejaying. With gifts beckoning, we threw Andy Williams into the CD player, vowing to get back to the music machines at a suitable break.
Now, don't get us wrong, we love Andy, but for Christmas morning, he's way too brassy. After a few numbers from him, we ducked out for a moment for a change. But what? Nothing looked right. The situation called for Odetta and Fahey, darn it! But we decided to take a flyer on Harry Connick, Jr., who was added to our Christmas collection pretty recently. We don't think we'd been all the way through that one even once.
As it turned out, Harry was pretty good. Good musicians, some schmaltz, but mostly just well played and interesting, with some jazz and New Orleans popping up now and then. We played him all the way through, and then some on Repeat.
By then, we had our bearings and saw that Ramsey Lewis would be a good followup. His piano jazz version of Christmas classics has always seemed a bit too lightweight to carry a party, but it lifted our gift-opening ceremonies with its grace and cheer. It was there with us, but not in the way.
In the afternoon, we switched out cassette decks -- a bit of an ordeal, the way the stereo is set up in our place, but eventually accomplished amidst a few Scrooge-like utterances. And so we got half our Odetta, and most of the Fahey, and most of The Gift over a late lunch.
Later, on the intertubes, we learned that the old cassette deck probably needs its belts replaced. There are some YouTube videos of enthusiastic young guys actually doing the replacement, but to us it looks kind of scary. It's probably not worth paying someone to do the labor, though, and so maybe we'll try to order the belts from Sony and give it a go. Otherwise, the thing's headed for Arlington.
We learned some things from this experience. First, sometimes the soundtrack isn't perfect, but the day turns out great anyway. Second, if you really want to be prepared, test your equipment in advance. And last but not least, in a pinch, you could do a lot worse than Harry Connick, Jr.