Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Artifact

An artifact (sort of) found in the excavation site of my garage.  And it still plays!  Photo by J Berta.

Greetings All:

Friday was a big day for me in that the Camaro returned home after it's winter of hibernation.  It needs a bath and probably an oil change but, oh may, it runs.  For my friends in the neighborhood, you'll see it driving around, including my daughter Cassie in the driver's seat.  Hey. if you need to learn to drive, why not the Camaro...under some (alleged) adult supervision, of course.

As I was waiting for my friend Greg to pick me up to get the car, I found this.  Well, "found" might be a bit much as it was not that far buried in the garage.  Still, I was not looking for it, so sure, let's call it a find.

When I got to the car, I was not sure if the tape would even play.  I think the last time I played a cassette in it Bush was our President...and it was his first term.  But as luck would have it, it played just fine.  This past weekend, I've enjoyed tooling around listening to some of my favorite Squeeze (Goodby Girl, Tempted, Up the Junction) and R.E.M. (Begin the Begin, Superman, and of course The Flowers of Guatemala) songs.  I forgot just how sweet the sound of the hiss as the tape rolls to the next song.  The is not an artifact, that is true.  However, it sure is from a different age.

If you came of age like me in the 80s, you almost certainly had cassettes.  Sure, there were the commercially purchased ones.  You likely also had a dubbed version that a friend gave you.  I will never forget in August 1986 when Mikel Derby slapped in my hand a copy of R.E.M's "Murmur" album and said, "J, you gotta listen to this- best band ever!"  (Or words to that effect.)  At time, and on the fifth floor of Burge Hall in Iowa City, he was absolutely right.

There were a variety of blank tapes back in the day.  There was TDK, Sony, Memorex and Maxell.  The poster below was a common sight in a lot of dorm and fraternity rooms back in the day.  Even when CDs became available commercially, the blank tape had its place for cars and Walkmans.
The iconic Maxwell poster from somewhere in the 80s.  Fair use claimed and come to think of it, I'm pretty sure I bought this poster at some point in college, so I'll also claim that as well. 
Then there was that most special form of cassette- the mix tape.  It was possible to hear The Police, The Cure, R.E.M., Dead or Alive, A Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode, Oingo Boingo, U2 and you name it without having to change a tape, album or station.  It was great!  All courtesy of the blank cassette tape.  Thanks.

The mix tape also could serve another purpose.  People could communicate through music.  You could share music with others.  I had a roommate from Chicago that was into jazz.  He made me a thoughtful mix tape of his favorite jazz and I truly appreciated the gesture.  Mix tapes also could have a deeper purpose-courtship.  If someone said, "I made this (mix tape) for you," it was a lock they liked you.

I recall spending damn near an entire Saturday afternoon my first year in law school making a mix tape for a young lady I liked.  (This was obviously before I met my lovey and wonderful wife four years later.)  Instead of spending the time studying Con Law as I needed to, that case book's binding remained un-cracked.  Instead, I pressed buttons, recorded music and hoped that the pauses were not too off between songs. 

And selection was important.  I had to causally communicate the message, "You're cool/I like you."  There was a delicate balance to strike.  At one point, I recorded over one song after telling myself, "no, No, NO!  That song says way too much."  What a dork.

The tape got finished and mailed off.  Nothing came of that effort and it's just as well.  Oh well, I'll always have the music.

As I'm writing this, I'm sitting outside with Dawn and the Pandora radio app is playing thru my iPhone on my portable speaker.  It's exactly what I need and I cannot beat the convenience.  

The musical legacy of the cassette, the iPhone and portable/Bluetooth speaker.  Photo by Jeno Berta
In the time it would take me to record two songs back in the 80s, I can create an hour plus of music as a playlist.  It can go to my iPhone or iPod and I can play it instantly.  Oh, and there is no hiss, just perfectly timed silence.  If I want to change music, there is no need to press fast-forward or hit eject. Nope, just a swipe of a finger.  Yah, that is pretty cool.  Even so, it's been cool to spend the last few days listening to music from my past the way we listened to it back then.  An artifact? Nah.  But good enough for me this weekend.  

Be well my friends,


A note on the sources.  There are some links below to the history of cassettes and some thoughts on the role of mix tapes in our recent pop culture's history.  Please check them out if you'd like, thanks.

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