Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Simpler Time

The Kenwood KA-5500 Stereo Integrated Amplifier. A week ago that meant as much to me as it might to you now. Today, with the Kenwood KA-5500 behind me powering speakers on the shelf over my head, I have a little more sense of what’s what.

The KA-5500 came out around ‘75 or ‘76. Whatever the exact year, it’s from another time. It weighs 23.1 pounds and replaces a Pyle Mini 40 watt amp I bought two years ago mainly because it was tiny and I thought it would make no difference what it sounded like. The KA-5500 seven times outweighs the Pyle and has more power, but that’s not why I bought it.

My wife has breast cancer. A routine mammogram turned into a sonogram and showed lumps that were determined to be non-cancerous but turned out to have cancer anyway. That cancer is in the lymph nodes and has further infected her right breast. Tomorrow she begins chemo and in January will have her breasts removed and reconstructed. We are two months in from the original mammogram, six months shy of what might not even be the finish line.

Richard Manuel is singing “Whispering Pines” with The Band. It sounds great through the KA-5500. Maybe I’m imagining, but it’s a warmer, weightier, stronger sound even though the source is still my phone. This an alternate version on which Manuel forgets the lyrics three lines in and has to start again. It’s tough to imagine anything sounding better than this.

The amplifier is from a time when things were built with switches, buttons, and needles to show power output. It does only one thing, send music from my phone to the speakers. When I first hooked it up and excitedly showed it to my wife and daughters, they were kind enough to fake enthusiasm but it is nothing they really understand.

Days before buying the amplifier, my wife had a port installed in her shoulder. A surgeon cut her, pushed the port in, and connected it to her heart. It was the third time in a month she has gone under anesthesia and it knocked holy hell out of her. The chemo will be injected through the port, to her heart, and distributed from there. Eight weeks of needles into the port, chemo throughout her body. Blast the cancer, that’s the way it was phrased to us.

The KA-5500 pumps 55 watts which is no great shakes to anyone who has bought a home theater system of late. Those list at hundreds of watts, but the measurements aren’t the same. It’s like clothes. My thirty-six inch jeans today would be forty-four in the seventies. The Kenwood’s 55 watts could drive my speakers into pieces. The volume is at two and a half and I’d have to be sure that no one on the block was home before turning it up.

The KA-5500 has a better class than what I’d get at Best Buy. There is a weight to this thing beyond the twenty three pounds listed in the manual. It is stable, durable. Tape decks, turntables, CD players wear out. An amplifier just works. Power it on, turn the knob, and sound blows out like an old Maxell ad. I know it will work tomorrow.

I was eight, maybe nine when this thing was built. I’ll be forty seven before the summer is over. My wife will be halfway through her first round of chemo. The girls will be approaching fourteen and twelve. My father will be six month’s dead. My wife’s grandmother three months gone.

Maybe in January the cancer will be gone. I will plug my phone into the Kenwood KA-5500 Stereo Integrated Amplifier, select “Whispering Pines,” push play and turn the volume knob. “I will wait until it all goes round,” Richard Manuel will sing. His voice and the Band will sound warm, weighty, strong. I can pretty much hear it now. And it sounds good.