5 Thoughts: From Mix to Memory

1. A TREASURED ITEM IN HOUSEHOLDS of more than 40 years duration is the Mix Tape: an audio cassette of 40 – 60 minutes per side containing music from an LP or radio station which the user wishes to either preserve or make portable via boombox or Walkman. Some content may also come from such late-night performance venues as “Midnight Special” and “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.” This technology was part of a primitive file-sharing service called the “music industry,” which is something like Pirate Bay only more centralized.

2. Perhaps the most evocative of my own seven or 12 mix tapes was made in late 1978 through early 1979, AKA my junior year of high school. It’s mostly punk and new-wave air-taped from San Francisco radio station KSAN (a”h), which means what’s now played as oldies on “modern rock” stations true to their roots (e.g. KFOG, Live 105 and Alice@97.3): Talking Heads, Boomtown Rats, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Ian Dury, The Normal, Cheap Trick, David Bowie, Horslips, Joe Jackson and various artists whose names provoke blankness in the ignorant and bittersweet pangs in the worthy.

3. Listening to the same tape for 30-plus years builds up a close patina of memories and associations — not only of its making and subsequent hearing, but of individual songs as well. “Warm Leatherette” I first heard with two friends driving to San Francisco; “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” was recommended to me by a mad crush; “Changes” and “Ziggy Stardust” were two of my all-time favorite Bowie songs even before this tape. On the other hand, I can’t hear either today on radio, CD or MP3 without “overhearing” the version on “the KSAN tape.” (And “Harmonia” just doesn’t sound right without that two-second burst of static).

4. Extended listening also implies/shows/initiates a change of tastes, or at least of understandings. The suburban punk who cheered the frantic teenpocaplyse of “Rat Trap” has traded in, so to speak, for “Sultans of Swing” (which once seemed to me just a mellow bass line and amazing Knopflerian guitar run rather than a paean to everyone like “Harry (who) doesn’t mind if he doesn’t make the scene / He has a day-time job, he’s doin’ all right / He can play the honkytonk like anything / But he’s savin’ it up for Friday night”); “Walking In The Rain” is no longer anthemic, but “Surrender” is; the once-defiant dabbling of “Walk On The Wild Side” has given way to a bemused nostalgia.

5. It’s tempting, very tempting, to say that “they don’t write ’em like this anymore” — that today’s “modern rock” either takes itself too seriously, or ironically, or breathily[1] to be much fun — and to lament that the music of one’s own youth is co-opted to sell blue jeans, lifestyles and safely manufactured rebellion. Such is life among the short-spanned; things will always be both better and worse than they were in one’s youth. But remember this, o my fellow middle-aged punks: When the world gets as grim as it seems to be right now, the most brazen act of defiance is happiness.

_ _ _ _ _
[1] Really. Some of these people need to quit smoking or gargling with cotton balls or whatever it is they’re doing and leave the tentative whispering to spies and other lovers.

13 comments for “5 Thoughts: From Mix to Memory

  1. 2010.07.12 at 0645

    I especially like the part about the breathiness. An additional pet peeve as to today’s singers (especially the young pop divas) is the nasal quality. Get out of your nose! Flies in the face of everything our voice teachers emphasized.

  2. 2010.07.12 at 1100

    Nice piece, Scoop. I agree with both the breathiness and the nasal quality.

    That said, you are both clearly old. ;-D

    Whiny, unenunciated, breathy whispers are art in the same way that loud, and/or garbled, bizarre lyrics were.

    I am the Walrus.


    • 2010.07.12 at 1116

      @PA: Maybe that’s why they can’t breathe — all those flies in the face.
      @M: I don’t think we’re clearly old; most of my grey is in my beard, which has taken the summer off. 😉 I’m not disputing the artness of the enunciation — I see that more as an “aesthetics of the moment” (art people probably have a specific term for this). One of my favorite mental pass-times is to look at “stuff I like” within a temporal context: At what point does a piece of durational art (writing, song, theater, film/vid) seem less like itself and more of a piece with its greater “time?” (I look at Star Trek: TNG, for example, and all that seems dated to me is the late-80s new-agery of Picard and Counselor Troy and the more-than-one-second camera takes.) (Of course, and on the other paw, the “time” is itself of a piece with the art; no wonder art theorists and other post-modern culture-spelunkers tend to disappear up their own wordholes.)

  3. 2010.07.12 at 1732

    “Next week I come back and teach you to breathe. And don’t breathe until I see you again.” — Chico Marx

    • 2010.07.12 at 1747

      And as my colleague from HXRT Underbridge inadvertently notes, there were the tape-cassette collages — bits of audio foundsam and catchsam assembled seemingly at random, e.g., “One thing I’ll say for him, Jesus is cool” / “And God, I know, I’m one” / “cogitatecogitatecogitatecogitatecogitate” / “Let me assure you, that any organization like that — if you’re connected with it, I don’t want to see it or know about it” // “STRAIGHT ginseng?!?” // “Boy, I hope they get back before all this dry ice melts” (respectively, Jesus Christ Superstar; House of the Rising Sun; man’s voice, source unknown (but my friends and I put it on every tape we made); telephone conversation; apartment conversation; Firesign Theater’s Nick Danger: Third Eye).

  4. David A. Wilson
    2010.07.13 at 1511

    {EDIT}In part, my appearance here today is under the sponsorship of the Left-Handed Dairyman’s Association – An organization that stands in opposition to right-handed dairies, and their insidious product, Looking-glass Milk, the way that all matter stands in electrical and magnetic opposition to all anti-matter. (Tom Robbins) {EDIT}

  5. 2010.07.16 at 0449

    “man’s voice, source unknown” That’s the voice of David Lipton.

    • 2010.07.16 at 0520

      The Undersecretary for International Affairs? That’s weird. Also, were you truly the only one laughing with Mr. Robbins, or the only one whose laughter was caught on tape?

  6. 2010.07.16 at 1521

    (D. A. Wilson heard in background recording reading from R. A. Wilson)
    David Lipton: Isn’t that the man who was talking about Iranian homosexuals?
    Alan K. Lipton: Iranian homosexuals?
    DL: He has long straight hair, and his wife was carrying around a little kid. He was also talking about Phipps’ Department Store.
    AKL: Ah! I understand his interest in Phipps’ Department Store. I think he was talking about a bumper sticker that said, “Nuke The Gay Iranian Whale,” or something.
    DL: How can a whale be Iranian? The Persian Gulf isn’t deep enough to support whales.

    • 2010.07.16 at 1524

      Never heard that one. I do have one that’s been sitting here for Alan since … 1993, b’gosh, on which the Alternate Texts feature prominently along with “[muffled knock knock knock] “It’s DAAAAAVE WILSONNN!” Might could put it on mp3?

  7. 2010.07.17 at 0744

    I have digitized some of the tapes, including the entire “Pagan Jams/Neal Birthday” recording, featuring Sputnik as “cross-cultural bridge” and/or “social butterfly” and, in its entirety, “Ralph’s Fucking Speech.”

    • 2010.07.17 at 2152

      Oh. My. Ghawd. How may you be enticed? (I can set up an FTP directory here if needed.) And how did you do it, so I may do the same?

  8. 2010.07.18 at 1130

    Tom Robbins recording was one of the greatest audio jewels, among many, from the DVC library archive. Sadly, I don’t think I have the entire tape intact anymore, only selections on the mix tapes. I remember most of it verbatim though, and that tape has influenced my outlook for three decades now.

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