Sad times here at Casa del SG. I've been cleaning out the basement bit by bit over the last few weeks and have been trying to purge some of the stuff that's accumulated down there over the years. Most of it won't be missed. But, I'm having a hard time saying goodbye to my collection of cassette tapes.
I'm part of that narrow slice of Gen X: the cassette generation. Post LP but pre CD. Oh, how we were duped. Deprived of LP cover art and of the pristine sound quality of CDs, what did we get? Well, we were the first to enjoy the simple thrill of popping the music right into the dashboard (or walkman) and listening on the way home. And rewinding to just the right spot -- oops, wait -- there it is! -- and listening again. That's something, I guess. Otherwise it's just a lot of hiss and lame Dolby NR options that never really worked anyway. But I loved music and craved convenience, so did I really have any choice?
I still have hundreds of them, loosely organized in plastic bins. Some store-bought classics, many guilty pleasures, and a few selections best classified as "what the hell was I thinking?" (Looking at you, Shalamar.) Throw in a few cassingles from the one-hit wonders, just to round things out.
There's also a bin dedicated to mix-tapes, the hard currency of friendship in the 1980s. These might be the hardest to part with. Can't classify it as an art (a la High Fidelity), but making a tape for someone was a kind of craft. It took a whole afternoon or evening of selecting songs and carefully ordering the playlist, recording in real time, monitoring the levels, and stressing over the pauses between each selection. So, maybe we got a little conceited in the process. Our sensibilities were never as sophisticated as we thought at the time -- no minds were ever technically "blown" by my audio expertise, anyway. But we did it because we cared. I doubt many kids today would take the time to express themselves that way. Why would they, with blogs, facebook, and text-messaging at their disposal? They don't lack the tools to let everyone know what they think and how they feel. We had to be slightly more subtle, and let Lou Reed, Chrissie Hynde, James Taylor, and Stevie Wonder do the talking.
OK. Trying not to dwell, here. I don't have a tape deck anymore, and for the most part love my iPod lifestyle. Some of the artists have migrated with me, others have been left behind (where have you gone, Hoodoo Gurus?). The vast majority of those tapes have gone unused for over 10 years now. I'd like to find a good home for them, because it's hard to throw away Abbey Road, no matter what the format. But I also have a hard time believing that my local library would want a copy of the album where Eddie Murphy sings with sincerity.
Do I wish that timing had been better and all of my collection was on CD? Sure. The really sad part is that as the format loses value, all the tapes become equally worthless. On cassette, the Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, and early Prince are dragged down to the level of Scritti Polliti, Billy Vera, and The Force MDs. Now that's a shame.
Even though I probably spent thousands of dollars building this now-worthless collection, it's the free mix-tapes that are hardest to let go. Any advice?
P.S. Check out this interesting NYT graphic on music format popularity, indicating cassette sales peaking in the late 80s, just when my appetite for music was also at its peak. As a tribute to those cassettes now headed for the dumpster, I'll finish with this nostalgically appropriate tribute... "such a pity to say goodbye to you..."
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