SOUNDSTAGE! ON HIFIFeatures Archives

December 1, 2004's 2004 Gift-Giving Guide

Normally, I’m really happy to be part of the getting-and-having media-industrial complex. As a matter of fact, you might say the existence of this -- or any -- website that reviews new hardware and software is predicated on the gospel of consumption.

But as we put our harvest festivals behind us and start anticipating our different versions of the winter solstice, many of us in the GAHMI complex like to pretend that there’s more of a purpose to the whole affair than at other times of the year. We do this by publishing "gift-giving guides."

If you want to give someone a gift, by all means, be my guest. You’re allowed to do so at any time of the year, not just midwinter. In my heart of hearts, however, I know how unlikely it is that many adults will be given high-end audio as presents at this or any other time of the year. My wife would never give me a piece of hi-fi gear on any occasion -- and not because I review the stuff for a living, but simply because she knows how much of the thrill is in the hunt.

We audiophiles love to read all the reviews, search the Internet, scour the thrift shops (hope springeth eternal), and inhabit the demo rooms. Take all that away by giving us a preamp or a transport and we’ll have so much less to do. Heck, we may even have to spend time with our loved ones -- which may well pain the giver as much as the recipient.

Sorry. That’s not really funny. We audiophiles aren’t really antisocial, we just spend a lot of time by ourselves in dark rooms, so we sometimes forget our social graces. Another thing we tend to forget is how lucky we are.

If we’re obsessing over the differences between two CD players, it probably means that we have food and shelter. It might even mean that we’re relatively healthy, although if the past year has taught me anything, it’s that music is a powerful healing modality.

So I have a suggestion for the 2004 gifting season: Drop out.

If you’re spiritual, think of it as a cleansing fast. If you’re political, think of it as a protest -- and go to Reverend Billy’s website for a suitably contrarian manifesto.

Even better than dropping out: Spread your good fortune. Most of us already have favorite charities we like to support -- unfortunately, there always seem to be more of them than we can support -- but if you’d like to add one of the following to your list, they could sure use your help.

MusiCares provides assistance for music people (musicians, engineers, and producers) who need it. This includes financial and medical aid for personal emergencies. The music industry doesn’t have a great track record for treating its veterans well; MusiCares is an attempt to correct that.

The George Mark Children’s House is a hospice for children that provides respite round-the-clock support, transitional care, and end-of-life care for children with life-limiting or terminal illnesses. It’s the only facility of its sort in America. If you can’t imagine anything worse than the death of a child, consider facing the prospect of that death alone, without medical support, palliative care, or emotional backup.

By the way, if you can’t spare cash, the GMCH has a downloadable "Wish List" of materials it needs -- a list that includes DVDs (G-rated only, please), stereo and video equipment, books, and tools.

Heifer International helps impoverished people around the world become self-sustaining by giving them animals and plants that can help feed and clothe them, and by working within communities to offer training and organizational development. For example, a $20 donation can provide chicks to a family. Within six months, those chicks could be producing up to 200 eggs a year, eating garden pests and weeds, and providing fertilizer for healthier vegetables. A $10 contribution can provide seedlings, which can be planted to control erosion and soil runoff, retain moisture in the soil, and provide fodder -- $60 could provide saplings instead of seedlings.

You could change your system this year. Wouldn’t you rather change the world?

...Wes Phillips

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