WANTED: Sidekicks and the Right Sort of Mate

WANTED: Sidekicks and the Right Sort of Mate
Commentary
Jonathan Foote
3 February 2002

How Does One Make it in High-End Audio Journalism?

Is it necessary to have earned electrical engineering degrees? Excepting the Ph.D. from the Offshore Mailbox School, $1250 prepaid, major credit cards accepted, perhaps. But maybe not. We’ve all seen those debates among techno-poobahs on the follies of designer cabling or how really to measure a loudspeaker’s performance. One cleans the other’s clock, and vice-versa, at an altitude at which the laity swoons. Does anyone actually finish these graph-&-formula-salted tracts? Or even understand them? About as often as we tune into televised sermons.

If you want to make the scene, a sound technical grasp of your subject is of less value than an appealing family circle and nice, goofy friends – the sort of merry zanies who populate sitcoms. Accents are helpful. Not yours of course. Some faithful hanger-on rather. A straight man. Norwegian maybe. Norwegians are safe. “Yumpin’ Yimminy!” I mean, really, whom does that offend? But Mexicans as grist? “Ai chihuahua! Viva Zapata!” I think not. How long would an audio journalist flourish were his columns peppered with cutsie-pie locutions some significant sector reads as a slur?

This does raise an interesting issue: what’s safe and what isn’t. Matewise, France is good. Excellent in fact, if you report by and large on big-ticket items. “Sacre bleu! Zut alors!” We associate France with elegance, the birthplace of off-the-wall Gaultier rather than off-the-rack schlock. Russia maybe, for sitcomedic, Norwegian-type chuckles in a rather more modest market niche. A Russian’s even better if you’re married to one, which permits the audiophile to haul into his narrative members of the family-in-law. Remaining with this sitcom milieu, a French spouse beats out a Belgian by some slight margin – a female Hercule Poirot? – arriving at the finish line furlongs ahead of a helpmeet, say, from Secaucus or Queens. Radio Shack country. In sitcoms, I mean. Some of my best friends….

It has also proved productive to report as a patient, good humored mate on an audiophile’s obsessions. So much more entertaining than the complaints of a disgruntled neighbor on the other side of a too thin wall.

Taken together, these injections of a sitcom sensibility into what would otherwise resemble an unsmiling obsession do an effective job. They help convince us – we audiophiles, I mean – that we’re not quite as unsmilingly monomaniacal as a disinterested bystander might at first conclude. And one needs no doctor’s prescription to get into the swing. That’s a good thing.

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