Friday, July 17, 2015

Tale of the Tape

Nearly four years ago, I wrote a post about cleaning out my sewing room.

(You might want to read it. It's helpful for what follows.)

(Or not. Whatever. No pressure here.)

(But really, yeah.)

At the time (September 2011), I had no idea that this little spare room would eventually become my bedroom once my spouse and I separated-but-still-lived-together. At the time I just wanted to de-clutter a space that had become too messy and overstuffed for its intended purpose.

And damned if I haven't had to throw away even more stuff as I prepare to leave this room forever.

Not a picture of my actual room, but you know,
close enough.
In that earlier post (that you really should read), I included a picture of a box of cassette tapes that in the end, I couldn't part with. With which in the end I could not part. Whatever.

Well, guess what? I'm now faced with the same decision to keep or discard those old tapes. They're mostly mixtapes made by dear friends. Although I haven't listened to them in years, I still remember most of the song sequences by heart. Because music is that way.

It hath charms, people. Breast-soothing charms.
They've been sitting under a table for several weeks now. I've been told - and have told myself - over and over that these tapes are probably unplayable. They're muted and muddy and likely will break the first time they're played. Not that I have anything to play them on. On which to...WHATEVER.

Except I do. I have one device that will play a cassette tape: My nostalgia-designed turntable/radio/tape player thingy. My cars won't play cassettes, I don't own a standalone player or a Walkman. But I have this.

I've been promising myself that I would try to play my beloved, scruffy old mixtapes on this thing before deciding to chuck them. I've also been putting it off. I mean, come on, what are the odds that they won't sound like shit - so distorted and echoey that I can barely tell what the songs were supposed to be. And so I've avoided actually plugging in my turntable/cassette player thingy on the pretense that I have 500 other things to do.

Which is sort of true, anyway.

But tonight is Friday night. My Precocious Daughter is away. My spouse is working. I have the house to myself. I'm treating myself to a dinner of pizza and vodka to celebrate the end of another challenging week.

This is it.

So I plugged in the thingy. And I pulled out an old, dusty cassette to potentially sacrifice to the hungry gods of chewed-up magnetic tape.

I chose one my dear friend Trips sent me in the '80s. One side was labeled (in her unforgettable, spiky handwriting) "Driving Music" and the other "The Cut-Off Side." I love Trips, and I owe her a tremendous debt for introducing me to many of the musical artists I still love today. Talking Heads. The Jam. Tom Waits. XTC. She fostered my obsession with Bob Dylan and understood my love of '50s rock and roll. And she made the most amazing mixtapes.

With very low expectations of success, I pushed it into the cassette slot on the side of the thingy. I nudged up the volume, anticipating that whatever sound the tape made would be mostly inaudible.

And I heard the unmistakable voice of Chuck Berry singing "Brown Eyed Handsome Man." Loudly, proudly, and every bit as clearly as the day it was recorded from a vinyl record onto a cheap cassette. Which is to say, not with digital clarity, but amazingly damn good for a 30-year-old tape that had been sitting in a closet and hadn't been played since the first Bush administration.

I may have cried a little.

And then I tried one that Bestest Friend made for me in (maybe) the early 1990s. Again, a surprisingly well-preserved time capsule of music, made with loving care, one track at a time.

You kids with your shared playlists have no idea what an important and intimate thing it is to create a mixtape.

I can't believe these tapes still play, and still sound perfectly serviceable.

I apologize to the Maxell and BSF companies for all the smack I've talked about their audio products since advent of digital music.

If I get ambitious (and really bored in the absence of PDaughter), I may record a few of these tapes for my long-neglected YouTube channel. I don't even remember some of these songs any more, and it would be amazing if you guys could help me compile a track list.

If you've ever made me a mixtape, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I'm keeping them all. Forever. Not like marriage-forever, but like friends-forever.

That's really forever.


  1. That is wonderful! Who says you can't go home again. Music will take you there any time.

  2. That is wonderful! Who says you can't go home again. Music will take you there any time.

  3. The "Green Tape" you made me in the mid-80s is still one of my most precious possessions.


  4. If I turn my head like an owl, over my shoulder, and kind of twist a little downwards, I can see the box in which I still have most of my tapes from the 80s and 90s. I no longer have a bloody cassette player, of course, but I still have the damned tapes.

  5. Your devotion to the mixtape, to the intimate, personal, and, let's say it, time-consuming gesture should stand as a warning to Apple's regular "upgrades" that some of us have found make temporarily unavailable, or sometimes just completely wipe out beloved songs we thought we owned because we'd paid money for them. Sure, cassettes are a lousy media storage medium, but they can be shared and kept.
    And thank you for this blog. It's kind of like a mixtape you share with us.

  6. Tapes hold up surprisingly well. I have some that were my dad's. Everyone tells me they wear out quickly, but most of them sound pretty good, especially considering how many were probably left in hot vehicles for years.


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