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Positive Feedback ISSUE 2
august/september 2002

Click here to read all the parts of "The Mysteries of His System, The Verses in His Life, A Love Story, by Barry Grant.


The Mysteries of His System

The Verses in His Life

A Love Story

by Barry Grant


Part Six



"What’s the opposite of Indian Summer?" Audie asked himself, as he fastened the collar of his bomber jacket tight around his neck and pushed his hands hard into his pockets. A cold front had shattered the heart of a lovely spring, bringing chilly, damp air that sought one’s insides like the embrace of a mad lover.

The streetlights shined a haunted, dirty yellow. A faint mist held a nimbus about their crowns.

"If Giacometti had made icons, they’d’ve looked like these lamps," Audie said to himself. He turned and bowed to a pole in mock respect.

"So he didn’t. Or maybe he did. So what," he exclaimed with a fierce sigh. The song of the streetlights, the zzzzztttttt of vehicles moving across a veneer of moisture on the dark macadam, the faint swish and squeak of wipers across glass, and the gentle, vague wash of collective city sounds did not, tonight, touch Audie’s spirit.


"So I dreamed about my system and I think it’s me and everything is vanity and Prudence such a know it all. Can’t I buy another system just ‘cause I want to? Do I have to analyze and justify everything?" He thought of Prudence and recalled Laertes words, "I am justly killed with my own treachery," and shivered.

"The old Freudians were wrong. Intellectual understanding hardly helps at all. It may even breed resentment and a sense of futility. Besides, all ideas are fantasies anyhow, ultimately, I think."

Dark thoughts had haunted Audie since the night he unplugged his system. Without knowing who he was, he knew he wasn’t himself.

He hadn’t written a poem since the one he had dashed off that night as he waited for the amplifier capacitors to discharge. The verses were intended to capture his feelings at the moment his system went silent, but they were trite and embarrassing and not even true. He kept the six lines as a charm against pride.


John Cage


silence sounds



silence sucks



Audie lowered his head against the wind. He walked on, disappointed by his misery, which he realized, wasn’t very miserable, which increased his misery, which comforted him.

"‘Angsta rap. Pretty good. That’s what I’m in the mood for. Hip Hop Heidegger." Audie allowed a dark smile to move across his lips.

"Call me Al. I’m down. I’m bad. Nothing’s got me in its grip, and won’t let me go. Can’t find myself, ‘cause there’s no one to find. Can’t find my baby, ‘cause we’re all alone. I was thrown, and I’m falling and there ain’t no place to land. I’m free to be me, but there’s no one that I am. I chose, I lose, ‘cause. . ."


Audie clutched his house keys in his right hand and turned quickly around, imagining himself, in that motion, ready for action.

"Wha. . .?" Audie said as he watched an old man spit phlegm out of one side of his mouth as he drew hard on a bent cigarette that hung in the crotch of the opposite side. Audie stepped back, more startled by the performance than by the sudden appearance of a stranger at his heels.

The man smelled of garbage and weeks of unwashed skin. Half spectacles tottered on the tip of his remarkably regal nose. "Is he a peer or a maybe a king who has somehow lost his way?" Audie thought, immediately realizing the absurdity of his question.

The old man advanced, dragging his left leg. He shook a piece of paper at Audie and mumbled something about fools and energy. Audie reached for the paper. The man pulled it away.

Audie pulled a few coins from his pocket and held them out in an open hand. The man slapped the coins out of his hand and laughed a sort of seal bark of a laugh, mouth wide open, the cigarette, somehow, still snug in the corner of his mouth.

"May be a war wound, or an accident on the sea," Audie said to himself, thinking of the man’s limp. He pulled a twenty from his wallet. The old man grabbed the bill and dropped the paper. He strode past Audie with the air of someone who had just proven to his satisfaction that all human beings are fools and cowards.

"What happened to the limp?" Audie asked himself.

Wet from the mist and the damp pavement, covered with stains, the paper was barely legible.


Magic theatre

Not for everyone.

For madmen only.


The other side read:


Ask yourself,

"Could I be allergic to my system?"


At the bottom of the page were a date, a time, and a street address.

"Why did I give that man twenty dollars? That’s not like me at all. Why did he give me this paper? Hell."

The address was just a few blocks away, and the date and time, just about the present. With Prudence away at the annual retreat of her women’s diarists club, Women Writing Women (Prudence knew just what was troubling Audie) and his system still silent, he didn’t want to go home. He had left the apartment planning to walk until he was exhausted, or get drunk or. . . whatever.

"Madmen? System allergies? This seems stupid enough for my mood," he said to himself. He left the avenue and with a glance over his shoulder, entered a dark alley.


Audie dropped a brass knocker against a brass plate on the door of a brownstone whose street number matched the number of the address on the paper the old man had given him.

A middle-aged guy in ketchup pants and a bright mustard shirt opened the door.

"Hi. My name is Bob," the man said, smiling and pointing to an address label on his shirt on which was printed in neat, block letters, Hi, my name is Bob. "How is your system?"


"Your system. How is your system. Instead of asking how you are, we ask, ‘How’s your system?’ We feel it’s more appropriate."


"What’s your name?"


"Audie, like Audie Murphy?"

"It’s my grandfather’s name."

"Like audiophile?"

"It’s my grandfather’s name."

"Relax Audie. We’re all friends here."

"What is this?"

"The monthly meeting of the Antinomian Audiophile Association. Though, as a resident wag has pointed out, we don’t love sound so much as we love an idea. We are really Platonists stuck inside the cave."

"Sure, we all are. Stuck inside the cave I mean. Why ‘Antinomian?’"

"Jake, one of the founding members, found a line of Oscar Wilde’s, part of the text of a Rzewski piano piece. . ."

"Oh, yeah, ‘made for exceptions.’"

"That’s it. We were looking for a name, something, distinctive, and thought it suited our, uh, disposition, toward sound reproduction."

"An old man gave me a piece of paper with this address on it. One side said for madmen only and the other said are you allergic to your system. He smelled like dead things. I can’t get the odor out of my nostrils. Do you know him? A limp? Glasses? Long nose? Kinda noble looking?"

"Oh. Howard. Stopped coming to meetings last year. Wife pulled his equipment rack down on him when he refused to pay for their daughter’s wedding. Wanted to invest the money in scheme to bring back 78s. Says nothing sounds as good as they do. Maybe he’s right. Leg never healed quite right. Wife left him. Howard. An exception alright. Had the walls and ceiling of his living room painted with damping compound. Sounded awful. Huh, huh. Cost a bunch to get it scraped off. We still send ‘m invitations, as a courtesy. The madmen line is one of our jokes. We like to think that our dual nature, human and divine, is reflected in our twin passions, equipment and music. Our search for perfect reproduced sound, the divine manifest in the earthly, you might say, mirrors our search for wholeness. Our nature seeks unity in a pure and perfect experience of music. It never reaches it, of course. Our tragedy and our inspiration. Huh, huh."

"Regular werewolves you guys are."

"Huh, huh. Seekers, just seekers Audie. All of us are unhappy with our systems. That’s why we’re here."


"You’ll find us a very supportive group. Fred over there has ’ad twenty-seven pairs of speakers in the past two years. A club record. Huh, huh. Joe hasn’t found a set of tubes that don’t have "veiled glaring," he calls it. I’m not sure what it is, but several other members claim to hear it. Jefferson next to him had been trying to tame a bass resonance in his room for six years, and just when he succeeded, his wife got the house in a divorce settlement. James has an entire bedroom filled with equipment. So much stuff in the room, he had to clear paths through the boxes so he can get to a piece when he wants to try it in a new combination. Never gets rid of anything. Believes in synergy. Thinks you can never judge a piece of equipment in isolation. There’s no such thing as a bad piece of equipment, just unfortunate combinations. Millions of them. Huh, huh. Come sit down, we’re about to begin.

"No music tonight?" Audie asked, noticing walls with shelves of LPs and CDs but no system.

"This is Samuel’s house. His turn to host. He read in one of the magazines that everything in the playback chain causes distortion. True, of course. But Sam is an absolutist. It’s all or nothing for him. So he gave away his system. He collects records, reads the liner notes, that’s it."

"Kinda silly, don’t you think? He shouldn’t be in the group at all."

"Takes all kinds, Audie. Takes all kinds. Besides, who knows what Sam hears? May be he’s the only one of us who’s gotten out of the cave."


Audie took a seat next to Bob near the back corner of the living room. He worried for a moment about a possible bass peak, then he remembered there would be no music. He looked around the room, as he always did in meetings like this one, thinking of all the ways he wasn’t like everyone else in the room.

"Evening gentlemen. We’ve been waiting for this meeting for almost a year. Dr. Johnson was scheduled last month and several times before that, but emergencies prevented him from attending. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that his patients will not need him tonight. In consideration of the importance of this meeting, we’re going to skip business and devote the entire meeting to our guest."

"That’s Dean, the president, "Bob whispered to Audie. "Lives with his mother, who makes him bundle all his cords with garbage bag ties. Has a devil of a problem with RFI. Huh, huh."

"Gentleman, it is my honor and pleasure to introduce Dr. Johnson. Dr. Johnson is an allergist, a systems analyst, and, as you may know, a fellow audiophile. He has treated systems, both sonic and somatic, for over twenty years with his revolutionary method of harmonic homeopathy. Gentlemen, I give you Dr. Johnson.”