[SOUNDSTAGE!] Marc Mickelson is the Editor-in-Chief of SoundStage!
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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
March 1999


I took some time off last month and toured much of southern and eastern California and a bit of Nevada. I visited Disneyland for the first time and, in stark contrast, Death Valley too. On the one hand you have the congestion that is Anaheim -- and all of the area near Los Angeles -- and on the other the utter isolation of Death Valley. I walked from the hotel to the gates of Disneyland amidst a sea of cars and buses and people; after turning onto the highway to Stovepipe Wells and the heart of Death Valley, I saw no other cars for over 30 miles.

I grew up in the Midwest and had never set foot in California until this trip. I had seen Disneyland and Death Valley only on TV, and so I anticipated them with eyes tainted by the expectation that TV engenders. Both still exceeded my expectations, and by no small margin. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland is old by the park’s standards, but it still blew me away. It was truly high end -- another world. I rode it three times and could have gone on a half-dozen more. Death Valley, too, was surprising -- more desolate and foreboding than I thought it would be, all of this underscored by a lack of people. Our motel was filled, but it still seemed empty. Believe it or not, the busy season in Death Valley is July and August, when it’s over 100 degrees every day, often 120 or more. But the people who live there love it. The bartender at the motel’s lounge said she’s been all over the West but never set foot in Los Angeles or been anywhere near it. "Too crowded," she said. I couldn’t disagree.

Was the bartender revealing merely a matter of perspective? A preference, an opinion, a full-fledged prejudice? I couldn’t tell, and I didn’t care. Her story of traveling -- her obvious knowledge of her subject -- was interesting enough. I didn’t need to challenge her; I could certainly empathize with her, but more than that I just wanted to know what she knew, and how she came to know it. These, explained in terms that made them palpable and real, gave me perspective. No, I wouldn’t like living in Death Valley, but I could understand why the bartender would. I equally wouldn’t want to live in Los Angeles, but I can see the allure for others.

Wes Phillips offered his parting words in Stereophile this month, and I found them to be especially interesting and relevant. Phillips was near the top of this profession -- working as equipment reports editor for the kingpin of audio publications, and a fine overall read at that. His take on the audio landscape?

"...there’s a tone of spitefulness in the ‘audio wars’ these days that I don’t hear when, say, baseball fans argue. They remember that the games is greater than their differences.... For lack of a better name, I’ll call it ‘rightism,’ as in ‘I’m right, so you’re wrong.’ At its extreme, this attitude allows no room for differences of opinion; its bearer ‘knows’ his opinion is the truth, and that anyone who adheres to a different tenet is not merely wrong, but is spreading falsehoods -- or is a moron."

He’s right, you know. There is too much contentiousness among audiophiles, especially on the Internet. The anonymity of e-mail and posting on message boards breeds it. You see it in the newsgroups and at certain sites notorious for their lawlessness, and we get to deal with its aftermath directly as we talk with manufacturers, some of whom have a wait-and-see approach to reviews from Internet-based publications and others who feel like they have no recourse when somebody writes something blatantly untrue about their products. Our own Talk Online is not perfect, but we at least try to filter out the noise; a number of sites thrive because of it. If it’s all about the music, why is there such hot-blooded debate over the equipment? There is a solution, however -- one that time will bring about as more and more Internet users choose good content over bickering. Some were there long ago, and some never will be.

I traded e-mail with Wes Phillips last week. He’s in public relations now, and we’re one of his contacts. SoundStage! wishes him the best of luck in his new career. His previous one shared more than a few traits with Disneyland and Death Valley.

...Marc Mickelson

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