Cassette tapes have a special place in my heart. Growing up, they mostly served their purpose by playing Steven Wright and Sam Kinison sets over and over again. I wasn’t too much of a rebel with what I listened to, but every once in a while I’d go nuts and throw on that Eddie Murphy Greatest Hits tape that I was told not to listen to.
I’d record songs off the radio just like everyone else. You press pause then record so it’s ready to go at a moment’s notice. I was immensely disappointed when I finally grabbed that Stabbing Westward song I thought was so great, then got to listen to over and over. Holy crap so bad. Then I got a Tascam 4 track for Christmas. It was a huge pain in the ass that represented freedom. You had to work for tapes. First thing my dad and I learned is that you have to have something to mix down to. We hauled off to Guitar Center of all places because we thought you had to have some specialized device, which of course you don’t. Then there was all the he said she said of it. Somewhere I heard that it sounds better if you record at a faster speed. I couldn’t tell the difference but I did it anyway even though you could also slow the tape down and record more. My friend Brad and I recorded the same songs over and over again because it somehow felt productive and because it helps for dudes to have a project to work on when they’re hanging out.
Then came the portability factor. I obsessed over music but those portable cd players were such a pain in the ass. You could throw a bunch of tapes in your backpack without fear of scratching them or breaking those brittle cd cases. Tapes didn’t skip. You could easily stick a few in your pocket at the used record store. Stealing music or anything else sucks, but that’s a thing I did.
Then cassettes quit being okay. I stayed dug in. Mp3 players were popping up but they were expensive. The shitbox cars we drove still had tape players. We fooled with those things that were tapes with wires sticking out of them for the portable cd players but those always had a short shelf life. Regular tapes just worked. You’d have to be careful where you put the CD player in your car to keep it from skipping. Portable CD players were like carrying an egg around with you that played music.
You could still buy Bauhaus tapes but in the mid 2000s you weren’t going to find the newest Deerhoof record on cassette. The chain stores quit selling them. Still, to broke ass punks tapes still offered freedom. CDRs were expensive but you could grab a ten pack of Maxells for cheap. Our band would self release our songs that nobody wanted and drop them off at venues to try to book shows that we ultimately never got. They were cheap enough that you could just give them away. Some bands did and finding these tapes felt like belonging to a secret club of people older than us that we wouldn’t meet until a few years later. It never occurred to me that people wouldn’t have tape players anymore.
I kept the player around but CDRs got cheaper. You could get MP3s off Napster for free. Several years later of mostly buying CDs and vinyl, I found out about Wolf Eyes. They made tapes into art. I remember one being cased in a DVD case melted in black plastic. I bought these tapes from bands directly at House of Tinnitus. I got bitter when people didn’t respect cassettes that I cared so much about.
Then I dug into MP3s and vinyl pretty hard. Now you could get any song for free and throw it on your phone. Only noise dudes still really used tapes and even most of them moved to CDR. I moved around a lot and the players were either lost or broken. After a while I wanted to blast my Mojo Spleens tape and a few cassette only releases I’d picked up. I bought a few new tape players and none of them worked. I’d spent a lot of money trying to get these things to play. Around this time tapes starting coming back in all genres. The whole point of tapes was that they were cheap and I couldn’t even get these things to work after spending a lot. I got pissed and decided this was nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, and tapes could go fuck themselves.
Then I finally up and did what I always should have done and bought a cheap tape player from a pawn shop and rode it back on my bicycle to my tiny Chicago room after hassling the employee about their return policy. Now I get it again. These things don’t take up much space and I get a cheap physical copy that I can put in my pocket and get home with. They’re cheap enough that I can buy a “local noise” (wound up being Brooklyn) tape because I like the skull picture on the cover. I don’t have to baby it like a record, and taking care of my records all this time taught me how to take care of cassettes. I’m bought in again for now. Bring on the tapes.
All this goes to say that I looked at your calendars this week. Garage rock is fine, but you know what else is fine? Other stuff. I feel like a powerless one man crusade to bring back bad vibes to rock and roll. Also I didn’t go to The Owl, because on Saturday I ate a shit ton of Laffy Taffy, two Alarmist beers, and half a sopresseta. Turns out that makes you feel no good. Also turns out the avant grade jazz series is every Sunday, so this Saturday I won’t be an asshole to my stomach, then I will buy a tape from their vending machine on the way out on Sunday.
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