Saturday, December 27, 2003

The tape game

On my most recent trip home to Nashville I filled my truck with a dozen or so boxes of things from childhood. This was it, the last bit of stuff I still had stored in the old homestead. Ereck can confirm that I have been in a throwing-out phase of late, and though it may seem strange to cart items 600 miles only to throw many of them away, that's what I did. I wanted to go through them first.

This evening I dealt with one of the most evocative boxes: the tape box. And these weren't just any old tapes--well, actually, they were exactly that: the tapes I never could bring myself to carry along to the various places I have lived as an adult. That is, this was the music I deemed not worth bothering with when I left home in 1989, at age 18. And it is, in many respects, a grim collection indeed. There is Phil Collins here. In fact, it is the Phil Collins tape I nicked from a Nashville record store while on a shoplifting spree with a friend in 1983. Adieu, reckless youth.

One striking thing about this collection is that a lot of it is music I tried out because someone I knew and liked was into it. But I guess I didn't care for it, which explains the presence here of the Smithereens, the Fine Young Cannibals, and the Sugarcubes (sorry, Ereck).

Of course, there also are tapes here of music I liked a lot, and still do. There is Elvis Costello here, and Police, and Who, and Beatles. I think these tapes stayed in Nashville because I had extra copies.

Many of these tapes remind me of particular events or people. I have here a Midnight Oil tape I bought the night I attended an astonishing concert by the socially conscious Australian rockers at the Cannery nightclub. The show blew me away; the tape, if I recall correctly, did not.

I'm also reminded of a road trip three buddies and I took to Seagrove, Florida the summer after 11th grade. This Thomas Dolby tape, The Flat Earth, was important to that trip.

Sigh. As Yogi Berra should have said if he didn't, nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

There also are strange things here, things I'm certain I never listened to. I'm not even sure how I ended up with a lot of these: INXS, the Church, the new age artist Kitaro.

I'm also reminded of the archival and artistic possibilities inherent in the cassette tape. Back in the day, it seems like all my friends had a boombox with a microphone, and we spent hours making recordings: sometimes of candid moments, sometimes of more elaborately planned productions.

In a similar vein, one tape from this batch (actually one I liberated from Nashville a few years ago) is of songs recorded from a hits radio station in Nashville ca. 1984, and between songs the taper, who sounds like a boy of about ten, recorded himself impersonating a local radio DJ: he identifies songs, announces call-in promotions, and relentlessly plugs his favorite radio station in a thick Middle Tennessee drawl.

Funny. In a post-cassette era, do kids still do stuff like this? Is it all about the camcorder? I have an MP3 player that can record up to nine hours with its built-in microphone. Would some kid out there use a device like this to emulate a set by his favorite Clear Channel personality?

At any rate, out of a couple hundred tapes in the box, I gave some to the thrift store, discarded even more, and kept five titles. Four are comedy:

Cheech & Chong, Wedding Album
Monty Python's Meaning of Life (original soundtrack recording)
The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"
Eddie Murphy, Comedian

And there's one music tape, by the obscure British New Romanticists Haircut 100: Pelican West, which features the early MTV staple "Love Plus One."

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