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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “Made in America…”

April 23, 2015

We Love Our Listeners, Really!

Earlier this week, I received the following anonymous email from a member of the PIPEDREAMS radio audience:

To someone that actually cares:  Pipedreams is a great program; I have been a loyal listener for 13 years, since I was in high school. The host is very knowledgeable, his programs are surprisingly diverse for a one-instrument show, and his voice is even pleasant and well matched to the program. I have not always agreed with his opinions on organs or music, but that is his field and I tune in to hear about it. Nothing he could say about music, organs, composers, etc. could be offensive or out of place. Today I heard him say something that got me to turn the program off and start looking for someone to tell how upset it made me. On the ‘Americans Abroad’ episode that aired 4/19/15 on WUOT out of Knoxville, TN he said something like this:  “The best pipe organs in Japan are made in America, and the best cars in America are made in Japan.”

This is an outrageous general statement that far oversteps his professional duty and displays his ignorance of fields other than his. I am as disappointed as I am furious. He has every right to make generalizations about organs, but automobiles? Really? I assume consumer reports told him his Lexus is superb and Subaru has more repeat customers than any other brand but that doesn't mean the best cars are made in Japan! I've spent enough time paying my bills by working in a European auto shop that I can state with confidence that the finest cars aren't made in America either.

It's not something I can prove one way or the other, that's not the point.   The point is I don't want to hear his uneducated ignorant parroting of such  drivel about cars on a show about music! The cartalk guys had that covered, they had a clue, I tune in to that to hear about cars. I understand the point he was trying to make, to give Japanese engineering some credit after  slamming their organs, but he could have illustrated it without such a  stupid specific statement. I mean, there are a lot more Japanese cars in America than there are pipe organs in the whole world. Please let him know he really disappointed a long-time listener, and I hope his Lexus has a recall on it.

The message was unsigned, though an email address was included.  Since I really am concerned with listener reactions to my program, and since by nature I love to respond to bait when I know something is amiss (and I am not at fault!), I sent this response:

Dear AnalogDream86 (your name was either not attached to or removed from the message forwarded to me):  I actually do care, particularly about the thoughts of PIPEDREAMS listeners, and particularly when listeners misunderstand (or incorrectly hear) what I say. This the exact quote from the program: to reference what I said, you can listen again online at http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/2015/1515/  Douglas Reed played on the Massachusetts-built C. B. Fisk organ in Minato Mirai Hall in Yokohama, Japan.  This is country which, particularly since the end of World War Two, developed a remarkable enthusiasm for organ music, the works of Bach in particular, but also instruments appropriate for playing Bach, as this Fisk is.  And though European imports count as the majority of modern-day Japanese organs (and there is a modest home-based trade in organ building), it could be argued that the finest pipe organs in Japan are American-made (which is again ironic, since so many of the finest automobiles here in the United States come from Japan!).

Find this quote beginning +97:20 in the audio stream.

Note that this was not a categorical statement on my part, but an allusion to the fact that the largest-selling automobiles in the USA are the products of Japanese companies.  That Japanese-designed cars from Honda, Toyota, Subaru, etc. continue to outsell USA-designed models, and often rate better than American cars in terms of reliability, would seem to indicate that for many the best (or finest) cars/deals/experiences come from these sources.  This is quite different from an assertion that “the best cars in America are made in Japan” (as you would have me say).

I did not state that (from whatever point of view you wish to assess the situation) the ‘best’ cars are Japanese.  Some are pretty fine, surely, and some are no better than their European (or American) equivalents.  The whole matter of what constitutes ‘best’ is illusory…‘best what’?

Frankly, I think it is great that Consumer Reports has given its highest-ever rating to the all-American product of Elon Reeve Musk’s Tesla Motors company (and in researching him just now I discovered that we share a birthday, June 28, but that does not influence my opinion of his product, I don’t think!).  I have seen Tesla cars on the road, one was even parked in our MPR guest lot a few weeks ago, and think they are wonderful as forward-looking concepts elegantly realized…and perhaps some day I can afford one and find out if they really are so good.

For the record, I pinch pennies and drive a 13-year-old, 175,000-mile VW Jetta wagon during the winter (I formerly drove Saabs exclusively, from 1973 until their unfortunate relationship with General Motors drove them to build cars that were uninteresting to me, and led them into functional extinction).  During good weather, I rotate through a ‘collection’ of mildly ratty older Citroens (I drove a 2CV yesterday to a recording project).  I’m not sure what that tells about me (non-conformist?), other than that reliability and practicality are not overriding concerns when it comes to my personal automotive transportation.  I did own a Geo Metro for a time (astonishingly efficient if not particularly elegant basic transportation…I bought it for $800 and drove it for a year until the transmission died at +260,000 miles), but otherwise have never owned a Japanese car, though I have eyed some used Miatas on occasion, and I am not much attuned to the Lexus brand, period.

So, I was glad to learn that you had enjoyed PIPEDREAMS (and me) in the past, am sorry that you have taken umbrage with something that I really did not say, and hope that our fences can be mended and you put back on an even keel regarding your opinion of me.

And next time, include a name.  Anonymous screeds such as your generally are just ‘deleted’, but I thought you might enjoy a clarification.


One never knows how or when the next shoe will drop.  In this case, it did, nicely, with this chastened response:

Mr. Barone:  Thank you so much for the clarification. My wife and I agreed on what we heard but I should have double checked. I usually do, and usually I write to commend programming not condemn. It's a shame that was the first thing you've heard from me. Shame on me! I am so sorry about that. I should have known better, you are always so well though-out and articulate. There is no excuse, but I do have an explanation for my awful hasty nastygram. I had a tonsillectomy 8 days ago and have been on a not-tibetan-approved crash course in Zen, complete with hunger strike, vow of silence, sleep deprivation, drug-induced visions, celibacy, water torture, house arrest. I guess I heard something to take my mind off it in an unproductive and certainly not personally spiritually enriching way. Really I feel silly now, most strange folk that would dig pipe organ music would probably have some odd vehicles. I have 4 Volvo 240s currently (diesel wagon, turbo coupe, half million mile sedan, and work wagon, all stick shift, mostly on the road lol), a volvo cabover flatbed, a vw thing, and several more, but none newer than I am. I'm not surprised you abandoned Saab, the 900 was their last great holdout, I've always wanted one. My wife and I have owned 59 vehicles in 14 years, not counting motorcycles or rolling chassis, majority brand is Volvo but majority country of origin is the us, and almost every major brand is represented except the "luxury" brands. Thank you for your time, you actually made my day. It's been a horrible 9 days so far but your message is coinciding with the light at the end of my recovery tunnel. I'm so embarrassed about how this got started, your program is lovely and I'm sure you''re a rational pleasant person, I assure you I can be as well. Surprising to hear you are a motorhead of sorts, but anyone keeping some old gems on the road is a friend to me. Thank you, really. And I'm so sorry, really. Look forward to the next pipedreams. I've attached some shots to add validity and identity to try to rebuild some lost dignity. The shots of the organ are at St. Bernards in Mt Lebanon PA, a young man was having a free recital for his performance degree and I happened to be nearby.
--Zachary Burkett, Knoxville, TN

So, all is well that ends well, and I think I have a new (renewed) friend in Tennessee.

PS:  both Nissan and Suzuki have major manufacturing facilities in Smyrna, Tennessee, southeast of Nashville, which brings up another question of just what is an “American car” or a “Japanese car”.  J

--Michael Barone, PIPEDREAMS host/produer/editorializer


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