By Collin Brennan (@collintbrennan)
I sat and listened to the old man talk about everything and nothing: his beloved weimaraner, last summer’s pilgrimage to Poland, all the tricks he used to make a sale. Occasionally I’d jot down a word or two, but mostly I pretended to listen. It was a late afternoon in early August, the heat nearly as oppressive as the notion that I would be spending the next several months in the San Fernando Valley, editing this man’s memoir into something worth reading. As he dredged up a dozen cliches to describe the day he met his wife, I checked the light on my recorder and began to realize the Sisyphean task that lay ahead of me.
Twenty-two years old and only weeks removed from college, I was ready to make my own (far more interesting) stories. But I had student loans and a girlfriend in LA, so I begrudgingly accepted my parents’ offer to move back in with them until the New Year. This “old man” who had solicited my skills as an editor was a father of a good friend and the recently retired owner of a hi-fi stereo shop in Encino called The Sound Factor. He had decided that his first act as a retiree would be to write a memoir, which he had done entirely by hand in the seven months before our first recorded meeting.
Perhaps sensing my boredom, he stopped in the middle of a story about how he used to tear apart transistor radios and piece them back together, just to find out how they worked. This hobby had served as the prelude to his lifelong interest in stereo equipment — an interest he maintained to this day, despite having sold the store and given up his life’s work.
“Here, let me show you something cool,” he offered, and my ears perked up. He led me into the living room next to his office, where the largest (and presumably the most expensive) sound system I had ever seen was set up on the far wall, separated from the rest of the room by an actual velvet rope. I looked up at the ceiling, which had been carved in strange geometries that didn’t quite fit the rest of the house.
“I had this room specially built when we bought the house. Everything is acoustically perfect, so when you sit right in the middle, the music sounds fucking huge.” I laughed, caught off-guard by the sudden swear word and the impressiveness of my surroundings. He then opened a closet to reveal 12-inch records stacked from floor to ceiling.
“Pick one,” he said and gestured toward the stacks. I nervously scanned the rows for something familiar and stumbled on Who’s Next by The Who.
“Okay, sit here and let me know what you think,” he said, returning from the next room a minute later. I took a seat in the folding chair at the very center of the room. He pulled out another, placed it directly behind me, and took a seat as the first few notes of “Baba O’Riley” piped out from the speakers at a volume that nearly knocked me out of the chair. I had never heard sound like this before. It felt almost as if it were originating from inside me, rattling my heart and bones and emanating off my skin. Five minutes later, the track having just ended, he left the room and gingerly picked up the needle as the next song began.