cover image The Perfect Sound: A Memoir in Stereo

The Perfect Sound: A Memoir in Stereo

Garrett Hongo. Pantheon, $30 (544p) ISBN 978-0-375-42506-6

Poet and essayist Hongo (The Mirror Diary) delivers a memorable memoir on reflection and artistry, as rendered through his audiophile tendencies. He relates his fascination with music as a kid in Hawaii—from his obsession with countertop jukeboxes to seeing the calming effect Hawaiian singer Marlene Sai had on his parents’ oft-stormy moods. When his family moved to Los Angeles in 1957 when he was six years old, music became a vehicle to escape the confines of racial expectations, and his “first lessons on love and poetry, ardor and longing” came in the form of The Penguins’ doo-wop hit “Earth Angel.” As he describes in lyrical, fervent passages, his penchant for spinning vinyl on cheap turntables would eventually become a love for elaborate equipment, amplifiers, speakers, and vacuum tubes. While, admittedly, much of the in-depth discussions of audio technologies—among them, Tung-Sol 6550 tubes, his Air Tight ATM-2 amp, and the Dutch pentode—can be a lot to digest, Hongo’s soulful work shines brightest when he looks to sound to make sense of his own struggles: “Leave me alone, Joel sang, and I said it too, spitting on my failed past and turning the yellow Toyota compact into the southerly corona of my new life.” While it can be dense, this paean to the power of music mostly sings. (Feb.)