Friday, February 25, 2011

Past is prologue

The last few days we've been cleaning out our office. Amongst the thousand year old files, outdated equipment (zip drives! floppy discs!) and random detritus, we found a box of personal stuff owned by the former manager. Just to show how long she had been here, in the box was a Walkman with a Fugazi/Shellac tape in it. The weird thing is I'm pretty sure I had the same combination of albums on a tape some time in the past.

Finding this stuff was like stepping back in time. When you move into a new job, you can look at the previous person's itunes and snigger that Jack Johnson is on there. Finding these tapes is like finding a pre-historic itunes but in this case, the music taste is pretty awesome. This is pure nostalgia for me. There was a whole period of my life that revolved around music taped on 90-minute cassettes. Having ateended uni in North Queensland, any trip to Brisbane by bus was at least 24 hours long so you'd make sure you'd have sufficient tapes and batteries to last the arduous journey. I remember at one point, I had Sugar's Copper Blue on both sides of a tape so I could just turn it over and listen to it over and over again without having to rewind it. Another time, I remember having some herbal medicine on a particularly long trip to Sydney (the bus broke down for four hours somewhere just outside of Buttfuck Nowhere, NSW) so I leaned back and listened to OK Computer while watching swirling patterns on the back of my eyelids.

This was a time when all my friends and I would make tapes for road trips. One particular memorable one started with the Knightrider theme followed by Trans Europe Express by Kraftwerk - two songs that go surprisingly well together. That tape was fantastic, it had Get the fuck outta dodge (Public Enemy) and Heatwave (by Martha and the Vandellas) as well. Somehow making playlists and mix cds has never really caught the magic of making tape mixes. I think it’s mainly because rewinding songs is pretty monotonous so when you gave a mixtape, you were pretty assured that whomever you gave it to was going to listen to it all the way through. The convenience of cds and ipods (play a song again with the push of a button) has undermined the intent of a good, well thought out compilation.

Post Walkman, I never was a discman type of guy - I kind of made the leap from the Walkman to no music to ipods without really embracing the portable cd player. I found they skipped too easily and cds always got damaged as soon as I took them anywhere.

Then ipods came along and I have long said that I believe it is the single piece of technology that has had nothing but a positive effect on my life. I must admit that apart from the advantage of storing whole cd libraries on ipods, they have one significant advantage over the Walkman. When a Walkman's batteries started to run low, you could hear the music getting slower. Subtly at first until it worsened into slurring blur of the music you love grinding to a distorted halt. At least when ipods run out of batteries, they just stop, you don’t have to listen to your favourite music die.

I miss mixtapes but in the age of the ipod, I ain't ever going back.



  1. ah, the mixtape. The CD mix doesn't have the same effect - right. But, I use a discman still, to this day. Mostly because I happen to store MP3s on disc - and play em that way. The amount of flack I've copped from people saying Wow! Retro! - is silly. I just say: it's the new iPod!

    We had a car full of tapes just recently... all my old shit mixed and compiled. They do have an intense nostalgia about them - car-tape combinations. Like a very trebly tape I made of Trompe le Monde and 1969 live by the velvets. That was my first car, my first job as pizza deliverer, that got cranked on the dark roads at night. But gee, that music has sunk into my DNA like nothing else. It's part of my mental cement. Listened to it driving, listened to it stoned, listened to it again.

    Also, I was making tapes since I was a kid. Finding stuff I did as an 8 yr old, playing it again in the car --- is strange.

    But now, oh joy, we got a car with a CD player, USB and all that jazz - and now I'm digging all the mix CDs of MP3 albums I got. Again.

  2. Oh Rino, you have no idea how my life changed as a child when I got a dual tape deck stereo (with fast dubbing!). I used to tape stuff off the radio (in the days before DJ's felt the need to talk all over the music) and would make mix tapes of my favourites songs generally compiled from my older brother's exhaustive tape collection. Ahh nostalgia...

    I think you're right though, the most memorable mix tapes are one's I've listened to on road trips and in cars. I can almost remember song for song, a mix tape we had when we drove from Townsville to Brisbane to go to Livid in 1994. It's amazing how songs just attach themselves to our DNA.

    Dude, rockin' the discman is definitely a statement - fuck the haters.

  3. Livid in 94... was that with Helmet and the Beasties and Custard and Dirty Three? That was a good year. Even a couple of fake droogs dressed up in Clock/orange gear, wandering about being nonviolent.

  4. Ahh, that Livid has a special place in my heart - Buffalo Tom, Beastie Boys, Frank Black, Superchunk as well. I have fond memories of watching Kim Salmon whose band was ostensibly the Dirty Three from what I can remember. I still have the Live at the Wireless recording of Helmet which I listen to from time to time. It was probably the fiercest mosh pit I've ever been in but lot's of fun. Also, it was the day before my 21st birthday so I was especially happy to be there. Ahh nostalgia...