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 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.
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 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.