Carl Sagan became a young Ph.D. in 1960 (about six months before Bob Dylan first arrived in Greenwich Village). His generation passionately loved the long-playing record -- they defined themselves and their worldview through the LP. They often studied LP's (like Harry Smith's Anthology or The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper) with a reverence and creativity that previous generations reserved for The Bible. To no small degree, the social movements that defined the 50's, 60's and 70's were shaped and held together by the LP format. It was The People's Format, an invention that invented a generation. The Celestial Monochord, courtesy of Cowtown Pattie.
Twenty years ago, I bought my stereo components: a receiver, CD player and tape deck (all NAD), hooked up via thick cables to a pair of large walnut-coloured Angstrom speakers. Just about $2000, once the taxes were figured in. My motorcycle was cheaper.
Note the absence of turntable. The compact disc was just beginning to take over. When you walked into a music store, the diminishing presence of the LP record was increasingly apparent. The death-knell of the LP had sounded, so I didn't bother spending the extra cash on a piece of equipment I wasn't likely to use.
When I bought my stereo, I had every expectation that I would sit and listen to music. Period. Not as "background", while I vaccuumed or cooked -- music would take centre stage, the way it did in the showroom. In fact, my apartment had the ideal set-up: one square room, separated from the rest via french doors, with one comfy chair located at the ideal intersection of broadcast sound. No television (I biked over to my friends' apartment for my weekly fix of STNG).
Times and expectations changed much faster than I could possibly have foreseen. When I moved from Winnipeg, where rent was affordable and apartments spacious, to Toronto (not so much), that stereo became an unshakeable albatross. The cables were the first to go -- hawked in aid of a month's rent. And it wasn't until I got married that those speakers had enough space to be correctly set up for a good evening's listening pleasure.
By that time my ruination as a would-be stereophile was nearly complete. With marriage came a television and VCR. Then my buddy at work bought his first Pentium-equipped computer. Now that he was playing real games, he gave me his Sega Genesis. I discovered Road Rash 3, and that was all she wrote.
These days the only time I sit down and listen to music is when I'm driving solo. Not the worst condition for music appreciation, but not exactly ideal, either. I miss the LP. I miss the consideration it invited: the liner notes, the little details you could decipher on the cover, etc. (The master of this medium has to be Mingus, with his abstract album covers, and liner notes supplied by his psychotherapist!) In these aspects, the CD gave the audiophile less, not more. What are we losing in this era of the MP3?