This post is by Guest Blogger Jeffrey Perkins
Some say I’m old fashioned but I prefer to say “retro”. However, I am something of a “luddite”. We didn’t have colour TV in our house until 1987, I am last to everything Apple has ever invented, I don’t have an iTunes account and I’m not on Facebook….so guilty as charged.
I recently bought a classic car and rediscovered an old flame. The car still has its original tape deck and so began a nostalgic trip down memory lane followed by a largely fruitless hunt around NYC in pursuit of long forgotten cassette music.
Whilst music snobs wax lyrical about the warmth and tone of vinyl, no one remembers the humble tape with any great affection. Urban Outfitters on 5th Avenue have a section devoted to selling perfectly shrink wrapped vinyl of what I can only imagine they believe to be the most classic albums of all time. They also sell the type of record player in a box that my Nan used to have, so if you are a mustachioed Brooklyn hipster looking for a new copy of “Tubular Bells”, then Urban Outfitters is the place for you.
My musical tastes were shaped by the cassette tape. Whilst everyone else had the new Sony Walkman, I was happy with Strangeways Here We Come playing through the dying batteries of a bright red Philips Personal Stereo Player. An old family friend was and still might be the very coolest person I know. He had hundreds and hundreds of tapes, all recorded from originals with every track perfectly listed in the neatest of script. Music piracy was born in this man’s apartment and I loved it! The Clash, The Jam, The Undertones, Tracy Chapman, Echo & The Bunnymen, Paul Simon, The Police, R.E.M….he had all the music that I thought I needed to be “cool” and it was all on tape. Yes, of course I owned prized vinyl such as my Adam and the Ants gatefold copy of Prince Charming which I still treasure and the infamous Blue Monday by New Order on 12” but these were expensive and my pocket money didn’t extend to buying records every week.
The tape seemed altogether more portable and just a bit more personal. Playground debate would be around the merits of recording on BASF versus TDK. You would stick a pencil in a tape and spin it as fast you could to rewind it. Occasionally, the tape would get stretched and makes these long, slow, strangled noises. More often than I care to remember, the tape would get chewed up and you would marvel at just how much mess it could make and how difficult it could be to retrieve it from the deck. If you did happen to buy an original album on cassette tape, you would wait with fevered anticipation to unfurl the inlay card, every concertina fold revealing the lyrics of the next track and the full credit listing- ah, those were happy days.
Alas, it seems that I’m alone in my devotion to this dinosaur. Record shop owners greet me with strangely quizzical looks and direct me to a torn cardboard box on the floor. On a good day…and this is a good day, you might chance upon something by Everything But The Girl. On a bad day…and these are plenty, you might leave with an ELO album that you know will never get played but you buy it all the same. The point is that cassette tapes are now so rare, that I buy anything I can get my hands on. The same record shop owner that greets me with suspicion and disdain will still happily charge me $5 a tape when he senses my desperation. The last three weeks have turned up a Best of The Kinks, Bob Marley’s Legend, U2’s Joshua Tree and a very unauthorized David Bowie live in Berlin.
My 7 year old son is amazed that any sound at all comes from this small piece of rectangular plastic with it squeaky wheels of brown tape and….quite frankly….so am I.
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