Friday, April 17, 2009

Dude's White? No WAY He's White.*

I don’t think I’m all that much of a music snob. I like a pretty wide variety of stuff, and though I think that people who don’t like what I like have really shitty-ass taste in music, my tastes are broad enough that the shitty-ass club isn’t really bursting at the seams for members. But I do have a little … well, “pity” isn’t really the word I’m looking for, but maybe you’ll figure out what I’m trying to say despite my limited grasp of the language; for the time being I’ll go with “pity” … pity for the people who get stuck listening to music from a certain period of their past. It seems a bit sad, like the guy who graduates high school, but keeps hanging around, ‘cause he thinks those are the best days he’s ever going to see, whether it’s a conscious thing or not. It’s partly frustration, because I want to sit them down and play them some music THAT WAS MADE THIS CENTURY, and what is obviously some of the best music ever made, given that I like it. But like I said, I’m not all that much of a music snob**.

That said, I went down to the record store the other day and bought a couple of CDs that I knew from my youth, because sometimes, a little trip down yesterlane isn’t a bad thing. Those who forget the past, and all that crap. So there I was, happy as a clam (from what I know, their pleasure centers aren’t all that developed, so I don’t really know what that means) with Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Greatest Hits Volume I” and Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love."

I’ll leave a short space for the purists to deride my purchase of a “Greatest Hits” CD.

Fucking purists.

Anyway, I did have both of these albums back before the war, but in a format known as “cassette tape." For my teen-ish readers, a “cassette tape” was an audio (and later video!) recording medium based on some kind of magnetic voodoo technology, but the relevant aspect of the medium for this discussion is that there were actually moving parts. The little tape rolled along, from the feeder wheel, at 1 7/8” per second, getting wrapped around a bunch of wheels, pinched and pushed, brushed across the sensor dealy, to where it finally got taken up by the .. well, the take-up dealy. Some of my technical terms may be over your heads, dear readers, but rest assured, it usually worked.

The word “usually” in this case refers (in its negative implicative***) to the fact that occasionally the workings of the cassette tape player (almost universally part of a stereo/cassette/8-track/record player console, which was TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME) would devour the tape, at which point the listener would hear a garbling of the music, leap off the bed, perhaps tearing some Yessongs posters off the wall in the ensuing frenzy, and slam the stop button (located next to all of the other buttons, so basically this meant just slamming everything you could).

When this happened, a tape could rarely be saved intact. It occurred from time to time, when the moon was cusping just so, but usually, you were looking at two ends of a shredded tape. We knew back then, however, how to fix what was broken and not to waste .. after all, it wasn’t like you got 13 cassettes for a penny, with only 10 to buy over the next 3 years. The local head shop record store sold cassette splice tape, and just like ole grandpa done when his copper lines snapped, when we saw somethin’ busted, we said “well, hell, Ethel, let’s unbust it.”

What the hell was I talking about?

Oh yeah … the Bobby Caldwell tape I had fell victim rather early to the aforementioned fate. This being the case, the ingrained memory of the whole album contained a spot in a particular song where it got muffled, went silent, and came back again. To me and my shadow, that’s the way the album was recorded, produced, and released.

Imagine my shock, then, when I sat back in the chair, ready to embark on my time-machine trip back to my youth, and three songs in, I’m expecting the muffle/silence part, and this fucker keeps singing! No muffle! No silence! I mean, I was THERE, man, remembering driving hammered through the Reed’s Gym parking lot, seeing it like it was yesterday, then WHAM! back to now, like life was a cartoon wife with a frying pan upside the head.

Well, as you must agree, this was complete and total bullshit. I paid decent money for music from my past from the used CD bin at the record store, and I wanted a decent reliving of my past when I got home. I thought about calling the Better Business Bureau, but then it occurred to me that if I complained about it now, but had spliced it back then, well, then wasn’t I really just a complete sellout to the commercial buy-it/toss-it society that we’ve become and that I rail against, in my mind, if not in my actual buying habits or any other objectively measurable behavior? I struggled with that question for a long time, mostly because I was really hammered, but eventually, I did try to fix it.

My first try, which took most of the night, was to time the old cassette tape (why, yes, I DO still have it!), figure out when the splice occurs, and find on the CD where that point was, and then take the rusty nail that I was stirring my bourbon with and just scratch it ever-so-slightly, almost surgically. So I got my soldering magnifying glass out, and I’ll be damned if it’s not just a bunch of pits and lands. There’s no little liner notes, or song titles, or nothing. Those luddites might be on to something.

My next attempt was to import the file into a format that I could mess around with with sound editing software. Simple enough. I actually got to the point where I had cut out a section, almost exactly where the original cassette splice had been. I was never quite able to quite match that original tape, though ...

I finally gave up, and now I just listen to the full version. The past is past, and it’s not how I remember it. I get it. It’s always a little jarring when I get to that part of that song, though.

I guess we all have our memories of how things were. I know that even as our senses are taking things in, our predispositions, expectations, biases, etc, are framing these things into what will be remembrances, and I also know that the brain works in such a manner that over time, these memories will change, even as our insistence that they haven’t changed will remain rock solid.

"Because that’s how it happened, that’s why!"

But it’s a slow and imperceptible change, and when Bobby Caldwell doesn’t muffle and fade at the right time, after 30 years of playing it right, goddamn it, it can be like an earthquake after a long time of plate-shifting.

I don’t think I’ll use the word “pity” anymore for people who only listen to music from their past (even though “pity” isn’t really what I meant in the first place, but I still can’t think of the right word). Our past is really what we are at any point. I still think it’s a bit sad when some people seem to think that their best times were in the past, but I’m certainly not one to judge. I’ll keep handing people CDs, I guess, but with maybe a little more understanding at their reluctance to listen.

Above: Bobby Caldwell - "What You Won't Do For Love" (Live, 1992 - original song came out in 1978)

* Bobby Caldwell's first album cover had only a silhouette of him, so as not to reveal ethnicity. He is, in fact, a lily-white mullet-wearing honkie-ass, as the video above shows. Whitey can sing, though. Smooooooooov ...

** Indie is a description of production avenues, NOT a genre. Snobs.

*** I have no idea if "negative implicative" is a real phrase. The spell checker is telling me it's not. But it supposed to mean that the opposite is implied, or something. I'm really hammered right now.

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