Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Evolution of the Redneck Stereo.

Every large urban center has them; Rednecks. They are usually found out in the 'burbs somewhere and are easy to identify. As discussed in one of my previous posts, they are not to be confused with hillbillies. Lots of hillbillies don't even own stereos, and many are able to make their own music because they can actually play an instrument.

Rednecks are fond of playing air guitar and a stereo is usually a means to an end, as they are probably rehearsing for a local air guitar contest at some redneck dive-bar.

Lack of common sense, not lack of money, is the reason they gravitate towards brightly colored trinkets, hip hop clothing, mullets, and 70's cars. One thing that has remained constant over the years, is their cult- like devotion to crappy stereos and unfailing conviction that they understand the laws of physics and acoustics.

The seventies was the dawn of high end audio. Having left the purview of eccentric enthusiasts and sound engineers, good quality audio was now readily available to the general public. Small companies in the U.S. and Britain were manufacturing hand made components that actually sounded good and reproduced sound precisely, as it was laid down in the studio.

The Japanese also got into the game making large amplifiers with lots of lights and big, ugly boomy speakers. The redneck, of course, gravitated towards the latter.

It was a match made in heaven; both were loud, aggressive, unrefined and garish in appearance. It went well with the emerging progressive rock.

The speakers were on the floor and up against the wall and usually doubled as beer holders. The whole set-up was wired with lamp cord. Throw in a couple of black light posters on the wall, cheap weed and some air guitar solos and you got yourself an instant redneck party.

What to do about the car though? 8-track player, of course. The redneck would re-purchase his entire record collection on 8-tracks at the local truck stop or K-Mart. They could be seen happily cruising down the main drag blaring the car stereo with 98% distortion, completely oblivious the loud ka-chunk that would occur in the middle of the song as it skipped to the next track.

Some of the more clever rednecks would purchase one of those cabinet stereos because it already had an 8-track built in. It was also a great place to stash weed.

As electronics evolved, rednecks doggedly held on to their stereos with the massive Sansui amplifiers that put out as much current as welder and sounded just as crude.

Then a revolution occurred; the Japanese started making cheap equalizers. The twenty sliding knobs and lights flashing to the beat proved irresistible to the redneck. Every redneck and his kid brother had to have an equalizer.

Not understanding what these were actually for ( room correction for sound reinforcement in large venues) the rednecks would spend countless hours with their buddies fiddling with the knobs, howling with glee as they found out they could make " Stairway to Heaven" sound a hundred different ways, each crappier than the last.

They were oblivious to this because tweaking knobs held such fascination for them. They were now hooked on black boxes.

One of the more interesting of useless gizmos that the Japanese sold as add-ons was the reverb unit. Made by Pioneer, it would hook up in a tape monitor loop. The signal passed through a spring and the length of the delay was varied by how much tension one would put on the spring. As an added bonus, if you smacked it hard it would add a " Boooiing-oooing' sound to the music.

Now if you thought fucking around with an equalizer was fun, well the mechanical reverb was like a drug. Whole evenings were planned around this at countless redneck parties. Cheap beer and even cheaper pot fueled the parties as they all took turns slapping the reverb unit and laughing themselves into apoplexy.

The rednecks never treated their records very well either.They would grab them by surface and leave them lying around. The resulting scratches, finger oil, dirt and the occasional nacho sauce would only enhance the cacophony of terrible sound. They later did the same with CD's and wondered why they would stop playing altogether.

Then came the cassette deck. No self respecting redneck would be without one of these. Having purchased a cassette deck for the car, it was the perfect compliment to the redneck stereo. And why not? What could sound better than a recording made on a cheap Japanese cassette deck with a one dollar TDK tape. You could then take that tape and blare it in your car.

Saturday nights were spent cruising down the main drag blaring snippets of Skynyrd songs recorded from the radio. Oh yeah, distortion AND compression. Half the night would be spent fast forwarding and rewinding in futile attempts to locate even more Skynyrd songs.

Some of the rednecks even bought those big cassette Walkmans so they could take their Zeppelin and their Skynyrd with them everywhere that they went.

Time went on and the CD eventually became the format of choice. The redneck was probably married with kids now, and if his progeny hadn't already destroyed his stereo, his wife made him store it in the garage next to all the mismatched tires, spare bumpers and busted tools.

It was time for the redneck to git hisself a new stereo. Yep, one o' them there new fangled boomboxes.

Vaguely resembling the spawn of Darth Vader, these monstrosities produced sounds even more hideous than their appearances.

Grotesque enough as they sat on a kitchen counter with the power turned off, the sound they produced when turned on was even worse. There seemed to be an unwritten rule that they always had to be cranked to eleven. The ten watt amplifier straining and the red and blue lights flashing produced a sensation that not only raised blood pressure and induced headaches, but sometimes triggered nausea and sometimes vomiting. Dogs would sometimes run away, yelping in fear.

Some of the more clever rednecks discovered that the speakers were actually detachable. They would get themselves a couple of nails and hang them on the wall, but mostly they would end up on the porch annoying neighbors well into the night.

The years went by and home theater began to surpass two channel audio as the electronics of choice for more and more consumers. People began watching movies and downloading MP-3s for their musical needs.

I'm  reasonably sure that most rednecks haven't figured I-pods, but readily purchased cheap home theater systems. Why you ask? Subwoofers!

The holy grail of the redneck has to be the sub woofer. This increases the neighbor annoyance factor by several notches, but this is not the redneck's concern. They are oblivious to the fact that they annoy their neighbor's anyway. It's the bass.

All that glorious, sloppy, boomy, boxy mid-bass produced by these square boxes that sit on the floor with their own dedicated amplifier inside.  

The redneck will spend countless hours watching the same explosion scene in some mindless movie with the sub woofer volume maxed out. Obliterating all other sounds, the single, distorted, bowel-liquefying note that the box produces amuses the redneck to no end and amazes his friends. The ensuing vibrations will rattle dishes, cause beers to froth and possibly kill any unfortunate cat that happens to walks directly in front of the sub woofer. The redneck don't care, listen to all that goddam bass, man!

After much cheap pot and crappy beer has been consumed, he will whip out his old, beat up CD of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. He will play it in all six speakers on the home theater system ( with the sub woofer cranked of course). He will then proceed to astound his friends even more as he messes around with all the digital effects.

He will put it on "Concert Hall" mode, and having discovered the digital equalizer, will fuck around to his heart's content. The "booiing-ooing" of the digital age is upon us. They will listen to Pink Floyd's  whirling helicopters go 'round and 'round and be astounded.

They will then proceed to play some Van Halen with even more digital effects. At this point, they will indulge in massive air guitar riff playing contests well into the night or when the Pabst runs out, whichever comes first.

With all the technology that is available, it still all boils down to the lowest common denominator. Terrible sounding cheap electronics and bad music. It's interesting to observe that not a whole lot has changed. The rock radio stations have been doggedly playing the same 500 tired rock songs for all theses years, so long in fact, that they now call it classic rock. The only things that have changed is that there are more knobs, lights and equalizers to keep the redneck amused.

Still, late on some quiet weeknight, lurking on the fringes of Craigslist, if one is observant enough, there are equalizers, cassette decks, pre-recored cassettes, big crappy speakers with blown drivers and big, ugly Sansui amplifiers discretely being offered for sale at outrageous prices.

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