Sunday, January 7, 2018

back in the day, cassettes

It's no secret I sometimes get compared to a particular, famous Irish blowhard when I sing. I get it. I'm not fond of that fact. A rasp is a rasp. Today I listened to the latest offering from that band, I can't even bring myself to name them. If I could have my 40-odd minutes back, I would spend that time listening to the latest album from Robert Plant called Carry Fire, which was released in October of last year, or maybe I would listen to Iggy Pop's Lust for Life, or -wait for it- Flesh For Lulu's Plastic Fantastic -an album so vastly underrated and ignored that it is living proof there is "no justice in this world". I used to own that album on cassette.

To give you an idea, I've spent the last 8 hours or so, working at the kitchen breakfast bar. 

I spent the first hour of this session returning emails and coordinating what will be a cassette pressing of the new SPOUSE EP, Sell the Silver. Side A is the vocal version, Side B is the instrumental. We're pressing 100 of them and they'll come with a digital download card. I'm sure, when the time comes, I'll mention the pre-sale here, on Twitter, on FB, and to the mailing list subscribers (who haven't heard from me in over 2 or 3 years).

Anyway, I digress. I was thinking about cassettes. I remember the most important piece of music (not my own) I've ever heard on cassette. It is a chunk of the song, "Lost Continent" by Comstat Angels, that I recorded on my boom box while listening to WNEK -Western New England College's radio station- one evening as a young teen in Springfield, MA. I wouldn't find out the title of this song or the artist for twenty years; not because of Google, but because my friend Rob in Portland, OR immediately recognized it when I was relating the song to him and maybe singing the chorus.

All I had for a long time was a piece of this song. As far as the composition goes, it's heavy, heavy 80's alternative production, but the rhythm, the chord changes, and the swimmy reverb are the goddamn Polaroid of my adolescence - growing up gay, depressed, and a victim of sexual abuse, this song created a mood for me that was both warm and calming, and excitingly simple, accepting, and powerful. 

At the time, my mind was corroded by the ginormous amount of strict, Catholic upbringing nonsense that was such a big part of my familial and cultural rearing. There was so much shame and self-hatred brewing, and honestly, music was going to be my way of making something positive with all the negative emotions I was feeling. It may not have been an original realization, but it was, at least, genuine. It didn't help that my mother was in the habit of rummaging through my things while I was out of the house. She stumbled upon my first several sets of lyrics and came across some pretty awful ones; both in composition and in subject matter. She was so worried; and when she confronted me I felt that my privacy had been incredibly violated. I felt twice as bad. I hardly ever communicated with her after that, and now that she has dementia and her mind and memory are severely compromised, I wouldn't even be able to chat with her about this, even if I had the chance. Maybe this is the case for a lot of folks?

Anyway, yeah, cassettes were easy to carry around but annoying to fast-forward and rewind, They were perfect for recording songs being broadcast over the airwaves. 

I heard on a podcast that I listened to over a month ago, that some labels are pressing cassettes again and actually selling them to the young folks. Novelty can be fun. Maybe that's what this is? but part of me thinks, if we're moving away from CDs to return to vinyl, the next step may be to move away from digital streaming and return to portable, inexpensive, analog cassette tapes. So, we're trying it. We're making cassettes. It's also the 20th anniversary of the first SPOUSE release - a self-titled cassette with a number of songs I no longer have access to. Thank goodness for the accompanying digital download.