|Paradise with James Saxon
Back Issue Article
A voluptuous woman (mom?) was pressing me into a corner of a crowded room, when the phone rang.
I awoke with a shudder. "What the hell?" I pressed the light on my wristwatch: 3:15 A.M.
Poking the receiver to my ear, I heard the low-level static of a long-distance connection.
"Hullo," I said.
A foreign voice rasped, "Audio speci-ess is going out of business."
"Hullo," I repeated.
"Who is this?"
"Audio speci-ess ist kaput," the foreigner repeated. " You heard it here." Click.
"Wait. . . ."
Disoriented, I switched on the lamp and scratched a note to myself. In the morning, I couldnt read
my own writing so I dismissed the call as a crank. I didnt realize that I had received my first transmission from Rumour Monger, the mysterious source of all Internet audio rumors in the world.
Yes, you read that correctly. The slanderous hi-fi gossip found in cyberspace stems from one malevolent source, a shadowy denizen of late-night networking. Why he chose to enlist me is a puzzle. Maybe it resulted from a vituperative, week-long hi-fi argument in which I participated shortly after discovering the Internet. The first call took place in October of 1995, right after I began to antagonize audio news groups, and continued irregularly until a few weeks ago, when Rumour Monger ceased his early-hour intrusions.
However, during 32 months of a ventriloquistic relationship, the Man of Slander entrusted me with some of the most incredible hi-fi fantasies ever concocted, which, nevertheless, had an aura of credibility. For instance, the very first call, which I learned later dealt with Audio Specialties, Inc. of Spokane, Washington, was plausible. Walter Spinoza, the owner of Audio Specialties had sold design rights and trademark to a multi-national conglomerate, which promised to "maintain the integrity" of the marque. Well, we know what that means: cheap, shoddy, mass-produced junk bearing the Audio Specialties logo was about to flood the market. In effect, Audio Specialties appeared to be "kaput," as my continental source predicted.
However, as we later learned, Mr. Spinoza had signed a long-term employment contract and was given a blank check to create a line of super products, the first of which will be introduced this fall. Rumour Monger convinced me he had it right, and so I inserted the "kaput" message into an online audio list, where it set off a wave of indignation and regret among Audio Specialties owners. Rumour Monger called me in great glee.
"Mein Gott, did you see what happened?" he hissed through the static. "We almost had a panic on our hands."
"Pretty scary," I murmured.
"The person who threatened suicide, I liked the best."
"I cant believe people take hi-fi so seriously,"
"Ja, it happens all the time in former Soviet Union," he said. "They have a joke: the only cure for bad stereo is Russian Roulette with seven bullets.
"Russian bullets dont always work. Same as their vacuum tubes."
Telephone static, which cut the punch line to shreds, was to plague most of our conversations, creating gaps in information which I had to invent in the morning. This never deterred Rumour Monger.
"There is so much evil to report, a few errors more or less wont matter. I will call again next week."
"Wait," I said. "Who are you?"
"Call me Deep Throat," he replied.
"I cant," I said. "Thats already been taken."
"Okay, how about--the Rumour Monger?"
"No, no. Thats "Rumour" with a "u". I learned my English at Harrow."
"Pig-dog. You only think to joke. You have no intellect, only foolishness.
"You slimy crypto-Na . . ."
"Unh-unh, careful. You cant call me that without proof."
As I was to learn, Rumour Monger was extremely fastidious about his own reputation. "I win more lawsuits than Coca-Cola," he bragged.
"Why call me, then, if you dont respect my intelligence?" I asked.
"You think to print rumors you must be intelligent? Nein, nyet, non, non. It is better if you are vacuous. I have seen the way you writeall style, no substance. You are the perfect handmaiden."
"Hand-make yourself," I replied.
The Rumour Monger made a gurgling soundlaughter. "Gha, gha. That is why I chose you. You argue like an arseloch, but non-sequiturs get the most attentionperfect for spreading the guano."
The following week Rumour Monger fed me a tidbit that sent shock waves around the world. The White House had installed a surround system manufactured in Great Britain. "This is like the Queen of England using Krell," I replied.
"She does? Spread it around," commanded R.M.
"Im afraid of the repercussions, " I replied.
"Use this address, <email@example.com>. No one will know its you."
Afterwards, Krell and Meridian Audio, Ltd. enjoyed brisk exports despite denials by both governments that their heads of state had installed home theater. "They ARE home theater," was the common excuse.
International reaction to such a silly rumor was a corrupting event. Power of the "pen" soon seduced me. Under the nom de plume, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, I became a Plato to Rumour Mongers Socrates, publishing his every word, adding a few of my own. During the months that followed, I beleaguered the airwaves with cant of all sorts: a cancer scare involving products made near power lines; a false report of the disappearance of Messrs. conrad and johnson on a surfing safari; the split-up at Audio Research, with Audio going one way and Research the other; the filing of antitrust charges against Muse Electronics for cornering the market on OEM design. Rumour Monger was on a roll and his "handmaiden" was willing.
In truth, except for the very first visit, I seldom believed the dark night diatribes. Yet, I reveled in the effects of rumor on the audio community, always so wildebeest-like in its willingness to stampede. A fictional complaint about bad service could crush a manufacturer. On the other hand, a bogus endorsement could send a company into orbit.
My report that the Sultan of Brunei equipped his harem with cables from Throbbing Gristle Audio (which is what the T and G stand for in "TG Audio") almost sent Bob Crump into catalepsy. Suddenly, harem keepers from all over the world deluged the Houston manufacturer with calls, only to learn the cables had no prosthetic powers of which Crump was aware.
Subsequently, at Rumour Mongers insistence, I considered using the rumor-mill to feather my own nest. After I boasted to him of experimenting with ripe bananas as signal conductors, R.M. roared at me. "You mean you have a product to sell and you arent selling it? What do you think the Internet is for, stupid-head?
"But I no longer have manufacturing rights to Banana CablesTM," I whined.
"Doesnt matter," said R.M. "Advertise. Take deposits by credit card. Write your own review. Well be rich."
He made it sound easy, tempting. However, I remembered Froggy the Gremlin from my childhood days. If you told Froggy a story, hed substitute his ideas for yours, leading you to do yourself all kinds of harm. Rumour Monger could have easily become my Froggy the Gremlin. With the relationship threatening to take a sinister turn, I began to look for an exit gate.
Two months ago, I decided to get a life. I invited my girlfriend to move in. This drastically diminished the amount of time I could spend on the Internet. Divining my life had changed, Rumour Monger stopped calling. Gradually, the euphoria of trouble-making wore off, and I realized I had done wrong to circulate gossip, slander and misinformation. Strangely enough, no one ever objected to my tall tales, except once when Greg Smith questioned the effectiveness of chocolate chips as anti-resonance devices. (I was trying to strike a deal with Nestlé at the time.)
Still, I felt in need of an act of contrition. I tried to confess to my girlfriend, but she was totally unwilling to listen, since hi-fi competes against her. I sent anonymous email to friends who retaliated with anti-spam threats. I posted r.a.h.e., but the monitors said the confession was self-serving and wouldnt publish it. Finally, I decided to admit my involvement with Rumour Monger by publishing full-disclosure at SoundStage!, a decision which caused anxiety. Over the last few weeks I tossed and turned in my sleep. Then, one night, Rumour Monger called again.
"I understand you want to testify, and you havent even been subpoenaed."
"How did you find out?" I asked.
"Rumour Monger knows all."
"Nice irony," I replied, "since nothing you ever told me was true."
"I was testing you until you were ready," he said.
"Ready for what?"
"For the biggest rumor of all, a glorious preview of coming attractions, a world-shaking announcement which, in fact, is totally true." Rumour Monger sounded tired, as if the game were over.
I sucked in my breath. "I dont want to know," I said.
"You must know. You have come too far to stop now," he hissed. "You have proven your aptitude for evil. Now, you have to prove you can do good, as well. The news I have will make <email@example.com> world-famous. Then, you can divulge your true identity. Maybe go on talk shows. With my help, you will become the Drudge Report of stereo news."
I mulled over the proposition. If I could confess, and redeem myself at the same time, that would be the best result. "All right, Ill do it this last time. But if you are lying to me, I will hunt you down and kill you," I responded.
Rumour Monger gurgled. "I love it when someone threatens me over the telephone" he said. "Gha, gha."
"Whats the news," I asked impatiently.
"Here, write it down," he said.
I scribbled away. His disclosure was marvelous, exhilarating, terrifying. If true, it would signal the greatest development in audio since the invention of the triode. I transcribed everything, paragraph after paragraph, for many pages.
I lay back exhausted, my neck aching from holding the phone in the crook of my shoulder.
"Did you get it all?" he asked.
"Dont forget to say the implants will be free."
"Got it" I replied.
"Good," said Rumour Monger. He sounded played out. "Well, this time tomorrow, you life will have changed forever."
"For better, or worse?"
"Trust me," were his last words.
I replaced the tablet in the night stand drawer and dropped back to sleep.
In the morning, Maria plied me with hot coffee at the breakfast table.
"You were very busy last night," she said, after my eyes stretched open.
"Im sorry," I said, "did the phone call wake you?"
"What phone call?" she asked.
"The one that came in around 3 in the morning."
"I didnt hear the telephone," she said. "But I did hear you talking and arguing in your sleep."
"Well, that was probably after the phone call."
"There wasnt any phone call," said Maria, with finality.
Despite the steaming coffee, I felt a chill. I scurried into the bedroom and opened the night stand drawer. The foolscap was there, but all the pages were blank. Had I been dreaming? Had Rumour Monger been the figment of a cyber-warped imagination? I tried to recreate the last message from memory, but it was disjointed and illogical, something about receiver implants at birth, infinite-channel recordings, silicon wafers. Then, it was gone. For the life of me, I couldnt remember the greatest development in the history of audio.
I consoled myself by thinking that Rumour Monger would call again, as soon as the news did not appear. But he did not call the next night, nor the night after. He has not called since the last conversation, which Maria says never took place. As a signal flare, I am publishing this article at SoundStage! The real motivation is not to confess, but to attempt to resume contact with R.M.
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