Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Inner Tape-Mix Nerd

Via MP3s, I’ve realized the Inner Tape-Mix Nerd never really dies, even after the death of mix tapes (save for a hearty few who miss the warmth of cassette hiss and chewed-up tapes). I’m now winding down on a Celtic Music project, where I’ve incorporated anything Celtic-sounding in my collection, a few things from stalwart, now-celtic-rock-band member P.J., but mostly a huge chunk of tracks from Emusic, which has this genre covered with its myriad collection of small indie labels.

Right now, I have about 560 tracks! So, that Inner Tape-Mix Nerd has morphed into a monster who now collects hundreds of songs pertaining to a music theme as opposed to tastefully sifting through x number of CD’s and pulling 2-3 dozen tracks to narrow down to one tape. Every now and then I’ll employ the creative legwork of making a mix CD, like my upcoming Christmas offering, but even that’s starting to feel like an archaic function. Doing so makes me feel like I’m riding one of those turn of the 20th century tricycles with a four-foot high front wheel.

Last time I was back in PA, my brother had just bought a used pick-up truck, a 2004, and the odd thing about it was that even with a sell date only four years past, the pick-up had a cassette deck! This is like seeing a Model-T’s front hand crank on a 57 Chevy … just unbelievable that the auto industry was putting out vehicles in 2004 with these archaic devices. I also recall seeing a few mix tapes stacked on a shelf in my old bedroom back there, ones I had made back in the mid-90s, before CD-Rs came into vogue. So I made sure to break a few out when we went for rides that week, mostly the 70s Pop ones I made that are painfully accurate renderings of the Top 40 junk kids were listening to circa 1975. I don’t know how kosher it is for two grown-ass man to be driving around in a pick-up trick with “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace blasting away on the tape deck, but I enjoyed myself.

(A recurring fantasy I have: a few years ago, a guy at work was raving about a new Peter Frampton album, how it was a return to his mid-70s glory days and worth picking up. I sampled it, and while it wasn’t bad, in all honesty, I was never a huge Peter Frampton fan to begin with. I was one of the five kids in America who didn’t own the Frampton Comes Alive album or eight track. But it got me thinking of this concept of grown men listening to music they grew up with, which is not at all unusual and in fact far more normal than grown men listening to new music. I thought it would be a cool idea if me and a few of the fortysomething guys from work got greatest hits CDs for Journey, or Styx, or Frampton, got a 76 Nova with tailpipes, got sleeveless concert shirts for the aforementioned artists, drove down to a suburban high school at 3:00 pm, hung out in front of it, and posed like tough guys on the Nova while blasting songs like “Don’t Stop Believin” and “Blue Collar Man.” I know – we’d get shunned like the plague or arrested – but for some odd reason, I can’t escape the urge to try this.)

I should stop kidding myself that I still subscribe to any pre-designated rules of taste with music, because with MP3 files and these gigantic collections I’ve amassed over the past few years, I fully intend to go on listening to everything I’ve ever listened to in my life, and expanding outwards with blues, country, celtic, etc. whenever it grabs my ear. That concept of barriers in music has fallen away, which is liberating. I knew this before when I was buying CDs, that wave of 90s reissues of previously-considered lame 70s acts (think ABBA and such), but with MP3s, forget it, I’ve amassed collections that match and supersede any musical phase or experience I’ve experienced before.

It’s odd when I piece together these gigantic collections – in my quiet life, it’s a monumental event. I’m literally forming large groups of music that I will listen to the rest of my days. The same way I bought building block albums in my youth by the Beatles, Stones, Bowie, etc., I’m now either documenting those days or forming new tastes with a wild abandon that wasn’t possible in the old days of albums and cassettes. It’s a big thing to me … that means virtually nothing to just about everyone else! I’ll usually pass off copies of these collections to various friends whom I know will “get it” in some sense. And that’s often a strange experience. When someone give you a DVD with 500 songs on it, what the fuck is a normal response. What do you do with this? I’ve learned the best thing to do is let it sit for a week or two, then slowly digest it, like a boa constrictor eating a very large chicken. Because it’s impossible to absorb that much music all at once.

It’s not a fantasy world to me – this is real music, I have it and am listening to it – but it feels like a fantasy world in terms of what it means to anyone else. I’m assuming that if I was married with kids, this is the sort of shit I would do in my “den.” Like on The Brady Bunch – Mike had that huge room on the ground floor to himself where he’d presumably be working on his architectural projects, but was more than likely watching porn on Betamax, when not listening to old Dion & the Belmonts albums and wondering how he’d become such a stuffy, old asshole. (I never gathered whether Mike and Carol were divorced or widowed. Nearly every divorcee I’ve met has dealt with a minor, or major, world of shit with the ex, and this never seemed to be an issue on the show.)

Guys need this. Hell, everyone needs this, but grown men, in particular, seem to need that one thing in their life, that one burning interest or hobby, that they can go off and do on their own, and it’s their thing. That’s surely music in my life, but I also think it’s a shame that so many adults let their taste in music fall by the wayside as they age. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking music is a “kid” thing, a phase you go through in your teen years, and the best you’re going to do afterwards is buy copies of albums in different formats from that time to remind yourself how much fun you had back then (as opposed to having none now). As far as I’m concerned, musical appreciation is one of those cognitive abilities we should never lose, much like working out, which also falls by the wayside for most adults, thus the onset of any number of health issues as the years pass.

I sometimes get the feeling music is just a back-drop to my life – aural wallpaper of a sort – but then again, what was it when I was a teenager? If anything, music at that time is used as the running theme for kids in their little teenage worlds. The gist is supposedly that they’re feeling the music more intensely at the time, that it’s in perfect synch with their thoughts and emotions. But that wasn’t true. It was wallpaper for most kids – something to listen to because all the other kids were, and their parents weren’t. Forget about buying new music as adults, or even doubling back and buying that great old stuff in a newer format: most people seem to stop buying music all together after a certain point in their early adulthood because in some odd way, it's no longer expected of them.

Why? I have no idea, save the previous assumption that we’re brainwashed into thinking this is kid’s stuff. Shit, I’m listening to celtic music that in some cases is centuries old, played and recorded very well by people who were raised with and trained to play this kind of music. When I listen to music, that’s what I’m appreciating – the effort and artistry involved in making it. What does that have to do with rock and roll, or hiphop? Very little, or any trend that's come and gone since most music has been foisted off on society as kid stuff. It’s a shame we’ve attached the constraints of passing time and phases in our own lives with something like music, which exists apart from time, which moves with time or in some cases, like the celtic stuff I’m listening to now, stands for centuries for the simple reason that it defines a certain culture, and people go on sharing in that culture years after the fact much as they would a religion.

And I'm not even getting into the simple mystery of why music is so pleasurable, why it calms people down, or makes them dance, or sparks certain emotions. I can't stand meeting adults, especially when they're younger than I am, and they've seemed to talk themsleves into being stereotypically stern adults who've totally abandoned any concerns but money and responsibility. I thought people like this were fuckheads when I was a kid, and that goes much more so now. Whatever spark of humanity someone felt talking with me openly when I was eight, or thirteen, or twenty-two, I'd rather hold onto that basic humanity for the rest of my days than forfeit it for some stiff routine of adulthood. Music plays a large role in that basic humanity I want to maintain. Think it's childish? Look at the world of shit we're in now thanks to the responsible, stalwart leaders of our financial sectors who more than likely possess that false "adult" quality in spades. I can't help but think that useless, false sense of faux maturity so many adults espouse is the sort of thing that takes root when that closet full of albums goes for pennies on the dollar at a garage sale.

In my head right now, I’m hearing the opening guitar riff from “Fly Like an Eagle” by Steve Miller. I’ll be listening to this celtic stuff later when I hit the gym. I’ll go home tonight and download a few dozen tracks of new music, most alt rock and country, that I’ve had ear-marked on Emusic while I’ve been nailing down the celtic material. I feel like hearing “Do You Realize” by the Flaming Lips. I heard “The Rover” by Led Zeppelin blasting out of a car stereo the other day and had my mind blown that someone was still playing that shit loud in public.

Where does it end? It doesn’t for me. This stuff is always swirling around in my head. The Steve Miller thing comes from a coworker talking to someone named Steve Miller on the phone. Not the “real” Steve Miller. If I had speakers on my computer, I’d blast the opening riff to “Fly Like an Eagle” right now as a goof. And would wonder if Steve Miller heard it in the background and thought, “Fuck. I’ve been dealing with this shit since high school. Like the guy I met in the last business meeting who blurted, ‘Keep on rockin’ me, baby!’ when we shook hands. I guess I should be glad my name isn’t Leo Sayer.”

And now I want to hear a Leo Sayer song. With the trusty iPod nearby, these are always options. If you had told me I’d have these sort of limitless musical options when I was a kid in 1978, with my motley collection of albums and eight tracks, I’d have thought this was some sort of musical heaven. And I’m smart enough now to recognize that it is.

And here now, three of the celtic tracks I've pulled down recently for your edification:

Barleyjuice - High Drive

Damien Dempsey - They Don't Teach This Shit in School

Anna Murray - Dolina Mackay


Anonymous said...

Wow, Bill Repsher, a must read staffer at PSU's Daily Collegian, back in the day, good to see you out in the blogosphere Bill. I remember grabbing the paper on campus for the important things: Larson's The Far Side, Breathed's Bloom County, and whatever ramblings you would issue weekly. All three rarely failed to generate a laugh. The wallpaper of my college life is layered with 60's, 70's, & 80's music of both very good and god awful varieties. Woven into the same time tapestry are your articles just like dollar pitchers at the Gaff.

Andy S. said...

"I sometimes get the feeling music is just a back-drop to my life – aural wallpaper of a sort – but then again, what was it when I was a teenager? If anything, music at that time is used as the running theme for kids in their little teenage worlds. The gist is supposedly that they’re feeling the music more intensely at the time, that it’s in perfect synch with their thoughts and emotions. But that wasn’t true. It was wallpaper for most kids – something to listen to because all the other kids were, and their parents weren’t."

Wow, you just reduced the entire rock-and-roll phenomenon down to nothing. If that's true and it really has no meaning or value to those who listened to it, why does anybody still listen to it today? And we know that many still do. A lot of money is being shelled out for classic rock acts. People are spending all that on wallpaper? For real?

William S. Repsher said...

Thank you, anonymous Penn Stater, go Lions, etc. Not sure if you're name-dropping the Shandy Gaff by chance, but I did write about the bar some time in the past here. If you do a search on the blog page for "shandy" I suspect the story will come up immediately. Enjoy.

William S. Repsher said...

Andy, to judge by how a vast majority of rock's audience has processed the music over a sustainable period of town, yes, it is reduced -- I wouldn't say to nothing. But reduced to either nostalgia or a faded memory. How many people keep up with these bands? I mean follow them, know what they did after their heydays, after they were kids buying product. How many people bought the last Stones album? Sure didn't get anywhere near the Top 40. Yeah, people will go see them live, for extortionate prices, but what is that? They don't want to hear any new songs. They want the classics, and some vague memory re-ignited. It's fair to say that sort of reductionism is an entirely accurate appraisal of what that music meant to a vast majority of the audience: not much. They're spending that money on nostalgia, not wallpaper. Wallpaper was when they were kids. I will stand by that statement that most older/adult listeners have lost the spirit of discovery and genuine love of music that drove them when they were kids. And I don't think it's "getting busy with work and family" and such. It's just losing that spirit. How many other people in your adult life, aside from people like me, J, a few others, are REALLY into music, digging for new stuff, always moving forward, trying new things? I'd wager not many, and a minute fraction of the number of people who did the same when you were a kid.

William S. Repsher said...

Actually, here's a direct link to the Shandy Gaff story:

Anonymous said...

Hello Bill, anonymous PSU grad back again. I believe you were an 86 grad, I was 87. I read through a lot of your material here but hadn't quite reached the Shandygaff story. Yes, sadly, for most of my junior and senior years I spent way too much time there, even had my name up on the damn wall for a decade after I left, but that's another story... and yes, I learned to eventually hate "American Pie" there; however, oddly, not as much as I hated Bon Jovi's "Livin on a Prayer" which they over-killed mercilessly and I never really liked from the outset. We share a very similar sense of humor and surprisingly a similar history. Only my mother was the dyed in the wool Catholic (whose heart I broke by choosing PSU after being accepted to Notre Dame - but for Christ sake (pun intended) I'd already had 12 years of Catholic education by then). I lost my father four months after I graduated PSU, as you know, there is never a good time for that, but it was very tough at 23. I remember an article you wrote for the collegian where I believe you mentioned chasing fireflies as a child as they took your grandmother away in an ambulance, you mentioned that the look in her eyes was telling you to keep chasing them. I am still striving to be the man my father always knew I could be. Again, good to see you're still writing.

Back on topic, I guess like most guys, my life has a soundtrack, each timeframe, friend, and girlfriend, seemingly each moment. The opening notes tend to unleash a torrent of memories. I regard that as a very good thing and I try to still seek out new music although admittedly not nearly as much as I used to.

Andy S. said...

"the spirit of discovery and genuine love of music that drove them when they were kids."

And that equals "wallpaper"? Regardless of what's happened in the intervening years, "spirit of discovery and genuine love of music" does not equal wallpaper. I think you've got a basic disconnect there.

I will requote part of what you wrote: "I sometimes get the feeling music is just a back-drop to my life – aural wallpaper of a sort." I wonder if the way you're listening to music now has some bearing on that feeling. There's a kind of indiscriminate quality to it, loading yourself down with so many tracks that it becomes difficult to maintain a connection to any of them. I could be wrong, but that's the way it comes across in these statements you're making.

William S. Repsher said...

Andy, the key word there is "sometimes" -- not all the time. And I am commenting on the switch from listening to just albums in and of themselves and larger collections -- it's a different way of listening.

Boy, that wallpaper thing really bugs you! And I'll still stick with it. But I'm curious -- you never actually defined what music means to you. You've questioned my motives, while yours remain pretty much unstated here ...

Andy S. said...

I'm not questioning your motives at all, Bill. I'm just trying to understand why you said what you did, especially as it seems to contradict almost everything else you said. That's all. No hidden motives here.