Down the Rabbit Hole Again

Every time I think I’m escaping the rabbit hole of 80s college rock and moving on, I end up slinking back in again!  Well, this time I’m not working on a related writing project…I’m just enjoying the music this time out, while I wait for new releases to come out.

Plus, I get to listen to some of my radio mixtapes from back in the day!  It was a little over thirty years ago that I decided to put a blank tape in my Jonzbox and let it record 30 to 45 minutes of whatever WMUA was playing that evening, just to get a taste of their playlist.  I’d just bought a six-foot retractable antenna for the radio, which boosted the signal considerably, so I could go nuts at any time of day.  Soon I’d expand to other stations, with WAMH becoming my home base for the rest of the decade.

By early 1987 I’d changed things up in my bedroom.  It had gotten a new coat of paint, I’d gotten rid of some furniture I’d grown out of, and my radio had moved across the room to the top of the bookcase, where the few books that I had were slowly being shoved out to make way for my growing cassette collection.  I was hanging out with the Vanishing Misfits gang, which meant that a goodly amount of my collection at the time was borrowed albums dubbed onto tapes of questionable quality and age.  But hey, as long as I had the tunage, that’s all that mattered!

Interestingly, I only made one college radio tape that year, but I think it was because all my hard-earned money was going to buy albums down in the Pioneer Valley!  I did make a few mixtapes that year, though, mainly commercial radio stuff, but by the end of that year I was itching to make more.  I had one of my buddies who was into the hardcore punk/metal scene (he also introduced me to Slayer’s Reign in Blood…at catechism class, no less!) make me a mix on the back of a cassette dub I had of The Sisters of Mercy’s Floodland (my favorite album of the moment and possibly my number 2 favorite of the year, just under Music for the Masses).

Thinking back, 1987 was definitely a sea change year on multiple levels for me.  Changes in friendships, tastes in music, personal and emotional outlook.  My writing was still crap, but it was better crap than what I’d been writing just a few years earlier.  Hell, I was even changing the way I looked, letting my hair grow longer (no more 80s spike, thank god), wearing concert tees and pins of alternative bands.  Taking myself a bit more seriously.  Sure, I had a hell of a lot more growing up to do, but that was the year it took hold.  I was no longer the annoying nerd trying to fit in.  I was the kid with the Walkman, listening to bands you’d never heard of.  I was the kid who spent his study periods in the library, writing away in a notebook.  It was the year I’d finally figured myself out and didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about it.

 

I need to make a new mixtape.

I usually make a good handful of mixtapes/compilations every year, but I’m falling behind.  The last one I made was late July, just before we headed out on our last vacation.  Considering we’ll be heading out on another one in a few weeks, perhaps it’s time to make another one.

Here’s a few favorite tracks of mine that have been getting some serious play lately that may just end up on my new mixtapes!

Forty-five Minutes a Side

[Note: the last two Blogging the Beatles entries will arrive soon, promise!]

My friend Mark posted a picture of a 1991 Radio Shack ad earlier today, and it got me thinking about the amount of money that I spent as a kid at that place. Back in the early to mid 80s, it was on Main Street in downtown Athol, next door to Cinnamon’s Restaurant and just a few doors from my dad’s office. A few years later it moved just over the border into Orange, just across the road from the Shop & Save strip mall, but that never stopped me from asking my parents or my sisters to drive me over there so I could pick up my “toys”.

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a budding tech nerd back then, really. I wasn’t really that into most of the electronics that they had over there; no, this was more about the audio accessories they sold. Some time around 1983 or 1984 I came to the realization that I could connect our well-worn tape recorder to my stereo via a 3.5mm-to-1/4″ audio cable and dub things from vinyl, or even better, from tape to tape. This eliminated having to lay the tape recorder next to a speaker for a tinny, crappy, live sound, as well as having to worry about someone walking into the room and making noise. Pretty soon I had a small but very useful selection of audio components at my fingertips.

Credit: tapeheads.net

Credit: tapeheads.net

Radio Shack was also my go-to for the blank tapes as well. I’d bought them elsewhere, but this store had the best quality tapes, not those smalltime knockoffs with questionable quality. The store brand worked pretty well, but it was the slightly more expensive Memorex tapes that worked well for me. Their 80s version of the popular DBS 90 (see pic) was quite colorful, and decently priced as well. This was the go-to tape for your general music fan–basically, the “it doesn’t need to sound pristine, just decent…I’m listening to it on my boombox from Sears and I just want the music” music fans like myself. It was also the perfect size, for multiple reasons: if you were taping stuff off the radio or making your own mixtape, you could easily fit about ten average-length songs on each side. If you were dubbing your friends’ albums and tapes, you could fit one album on each side with a bit of room to spare for b-sides or filler. I filled a lot of holes in my early collecting years this way. And yes, I did eventually end up buying or downloading the real thing.

This of course was the age of Home Taping Is Killing Music, which was the 80s version of this generation’s file sharing controversy, which most people found quite ridiculous. For the most part, at least in my view, it didn’t kill music at all–if anything, it spread it out at a time when buying music could be quite the chore. Those like myself who were headlong into college radio then had a bitch of a time trying to find half the stuff we wanted; you would most likely not find many punk records at your local department store or small-time record shop, and record clubs rarely if ever carried what you were looking for (unless it was on Sire, then you could probably find it via Columbia House–Seymour Stein was cool that way!). Our main source for albums was our friends’ collections. And if anything, we were the type of fan who would eventually buy the album anyway, once we finally found it.

I haven’t used a blank tape at least since 2004, I think. That was probably the last time I made one of my compilations to fit a ninety-minute tape. [And for the record, those were most likely bought at Newbury Comics alongside the new cds I was buying then.] For many and varying reasons, I stopped using tapes and went mostly all digital from there on in. It’s only this past New Year’s season that I started following the “forty-five minutes a side” rule on making compilations–that is, pretending that I was in fact making this playlist via home taping, complete with attempting the perfect segue from one song to another–and to tell the truth, it was a hell of a lot of fun.

It was like making the old mixtapes again. It may even have inspired me to make more this way!