Walk in Silence…The Singles

Listen in Silence. Sure, kind of a goofy name for a compilation (let alone a series that’s still going strong to this day), but the aim was this: these are the songs I listen to, in silence. They’re not aural background, they’re songs I actually pay attention to. It’s a compilation I’d listen to at night on my headphones, after everyone’s gone to bed and the rest of the world is fast asleep.  Starting off with the well-known snotty guitar riff of Violent Femme’s “Blister in the Sun”–itself one of the very first tracks I’d ever heard on college radio a few years previously–and filled with album tracks and songs I’d heard on 120 Minutes over the previous month or so, LiS may have been the fourth “official” non-radio mixtape I’d created, but it was the first one that I was proud of. It was also the first compilation in which I’d consciously chosen all college rock tracks.

I don’t have a specific date when it was made, but I can safely say it was sometime around August of 1988. There are some current tracks, but there’s also quite a few older tracks as well.  They were all from cassettes I’d purchased in the past year or so, all of which were rotating through my Walkman and being borrowed by my college-bound friends for dubbing.  In retrospect, I also think this is also the one compilation that wasn’t created out of any specific theme (like the three before it) or mood (like the countless mixes thereafter).  It was the last gasp of being close to all my friends of the previous year and a half, who’d graduated just a few months earlier–and this compilation was sort of a ‘greatest hits’ of that time.

The first Walk in Silence compilation on the other hand, was created to fit a mood a few months later.

By this time I was back in school, floating through senior year, trying to get through this last bit of hometown residency so I could get the hell out of Inkspot and on to college in The Big City of Boston. I put WiS together in October of 1988 to combat the frustration and annoyance of all my closest friends having left Inkspot already, as well as having no real girlfriend at the time. It started out very similar to LiS in that it was to be another collection of “college rock greatest hits” but soon ended up containing quite a few tracks reflecting my mood at the time.  It starts off strong and angry with Depeche Mode’s “Stripped” and ends exhausted and resigned with Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”.  Many tracks were actually taken from promo singles that had been lying around at the radio station where I was working. The station had still been receiving the occasional promo single and album, mostly from Warner Brothers affiliated labels, but since the station ran via satellite feed, these gems were gathering dust.  I’d taken it upon myself to borrow them between shifts and dub them onto compilations so I would have them in my collection. By this time I think I understood the “flow” of a compilation, having innately picked up the trick while listening to various concept albums I enjoyed. I’d discovered quite early on that I enjoyed an album that had continuous ebbs and flows, as well as a nice strong bell curve as if it told a story. [This is why I thought John Cusack’s diatribe about making the perfect mixtape in High Fidelity cracked me up, because it’s so true.]  Whereas LiS sounds like a jumble of tracks that flow together well and sound like a shuffled playlist from a typical weekend afternoon in the late 80s, WiS deliberately starts out strong, comes to a relatively positive peak at the switch of tape sides, only to show the breaks in the wall and ending up with the stark minimalism at the end.

The title actually didn’t come to me until midway through making the compilation, when I’d realized that “Atmosphere” would be the perfect track to end it with. I’d toyed with various titles that afternoon, but somehow I knew that using that lyric would be perfect.  The bit at the end, “…The Singles,” is something I stole from Chris, who’d been making his own compilations around the same time; we’d both borrowed it from the couple of greatest hits compilations that were floating around at the time, specifically The Cure’s Standing on a Beach – The Singles. Giving it the name Walk in Silence also ties in with why I called the previous oneListen in Silence…if that one was for listening, this one was for when I felt I was truly alone.  It was a compilation to drive the point home that I was on my own, for the most part.

Compilation-making was about borrowing and dubbing someone else’s tapes and records, especially when one of us was heading out of town for the long haul. We’d make copies of these albums, but we’d also create these ‘albums’, sometimes with themes and sometimes just a mix, while we still had all the source material.  We always called them compilations, not mixtapes…or at least I did, at any rate, as for some reason I always thought of ‘mixtape’ as an unorganized jumble of tracks, like my old tapes of stuff I got off the radio. I treated them as full albums, like the K-Tel albums we used to buy years before, only with music suited to my own tastes. And like the K-Tel albums, each one would be given a specific name.  It was something I’d do on a Sunday afternoon before my shift at the radio station, finishing it just in time for it to have its premiere listening that Monday on the bus ride to school. Walk in Silencewas the first one–the first of many, really–to capture my moods on a ninety-minute tape and truly give me a soundtrack to my life.

Twenty-four years on, I still make these compilations, and still use some of the same names as well, including the two above.  The creation isn’t nearly as time consuming, since for the most part I’m making copies of mp3s, putting them in a new folder, adjusting the running order, and editing the tags.   In essence, instead of creating a playlist that can be deleted or lost, I create a new album, just as I did in the past, only digitally this time.  The blank cassette is gone along with writing on the c-card, and debating how much I can fit on each side without anything getting cut off or wasting blank space.  It’s quick and painless, and I can even re-edit the running order if need be.  Some of the magic of getting everything on tape–listening to each track from start to finish, listening to it evolve organically, and doing the best we can to catch the entire song without a bad edit–a lot of that’s gone, but the output is still the same, especially when it comes out a lot stronger than you’d expected.

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