Tapes ’n’ Tapes

May 20, 2015 at 3:37 pm

I remember getting my first cassette. It was a homemade rip that my mom made me with Springsteen’s “Born In the USA” on one side and Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” on the other. High speed recording was in at the time, and as long as you didn’t mind a little audio deterioration, you could get two albums on one tape. I wore that tape out. One side finished, fast forward to the end, flip it and repeat.  From there, I talked my mom into ordering a few TV compilations from TIME LIFE or some like variety. Now my back seat rides were filled with the sound of The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, The Foundations and all of the rest of the AM hits of the ’50s and ’60s.  

It was a time before I had experienced my first CD (that would come later with The Doors greatest hits), and while I had no clue that the future would give anything more than these pocket buddies, I had already made up my mind. The music was great, but man, I hated cassettes. I hated the fast forward and rewinding. I hated that you usually overshot the song you were looking for and had to go the other way, finally giving up and just listening to the song you landed on. I hated the way they’d get “eaten by the machine,” a phrase that would be foreign to most kids these days. Little brown magnetic tape that carried all the sounds that would change your life had to be wound inside, but sometimes it would come out due to a faulty machine or loose casing. And if it got too tangled in the deck, you were probably looking at breaking the spool and losing your tape. They may have been inexpensive to buy, but when you’re a kid, even a few dollars can be out of your grasp.  

And while I did find tapes useful for their home recording capability, you can imagine my happiness when they were taken over by CDs. I would keep a few blanks around in the event I needed to capture my latest karaoke stylings, or wanted to record Casey’s latest Top 40, but with every passing year, they became more and more extinct. But time is a flat circle, and much like that of the Jurassic Park series, tapes have found a sort of resurrection. Not in the way the vinyl has, nor do I expect it to get to those heights. Vinyl is back for great reasons. Quality of audio, big artwork, lots of fun. Tapes are mostly finding fans in people who weren’t around the first time or nostalgia hunters.  

Unexpectedly, tapes are also back in my life. I have a seven-year-old son who just happens to be a big fan of the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy.” You’ll remember that the hero of the movie carries around a Walkman with a mixtape that his mom made him. For Record Store Day 2014, they released a special edition of the soundtrack replicated to look just like the movie’s version. My car, a 2001 relic, only has a tape deck (mostly employed with an adapter that goes into my phone, so I can play whatever I want when I’m not listening to WFPK … which, by the way, is never). Put two and two together, and I thought it would be a cool idea to buy him that soundtrack for fun. And, oh boy, did he ever take to it. And he loved that they were small enough for him to carry. Obviously, he wanted more, so we sought out some of his favorites. Supergrass, Chuck Berry and The Beatles are now on nonstop in the car.  I laugh every time I hear him say, “Daddy, go to track four, so I can hear ‘Alright.’”  Yeah, son, not that easy.  

Now, 25 years later, my life is once again accosted by tapes. I still get frustrated with the back and forth listening, but I’m making my peace because while my son has grown up surrounded by piles of CDs and vinyl, his discovery is turning out to mirror my own and that’s pretty damn cool. It’s bizarre in the best way to look in the rearview and see him bouncing along to “Johnny B. Goode” and be transported back to my own little adventures, probably bugging my parents when I wouldn’t stop singing along with “Barbara Ann.” Sing on, little man. Just don’t accidentally record over it.

Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.