Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Compulsive Chronicles #6: "...And the livin's easy."

Compulsive Chronicles is an ongoing music column for SPOKE(a)N(e) Magazine. Each month, I post supplementary material to the column’s topic on this page.

Songs from Summers Past (Mentioned in Issue #6):

“Ode to My Car” — Adam Sandler
“Morning Song” — Jewel
“Sonnet” — The Verve
“Popstar” — Pretenders
“The Safety Dance” — Men Without Hats


When I hauled the dusty box downstairs, Grace stared at the cassettes with some skepticism. “Do they play movies?” she said, having some memory of the VCR.

“No, music.” I started grouping the tapes into piles. Summer mixtapes in one. Ex-boyfriends with bands and/or pubic radio shows in another. Noel Gallagher on the radio in Seattle, January 1998, in with the other Oasis bootlegs. The Mike Flowers Pop covering “Wonderwall?” Forgot I had this, cost me 25 cents out of the Hastings bargain bin.


“But some of them play movies?”

“No, just music.” Full albums — David Bowie, Teenage Fanclub, Björk — clacked into a pile. I dug around some more. “Oh wait.” I held up an 8 mm tape likely containing a Spanish class video project involving la lechuga. “This one plays movies. This is what video cameras used to use.”

“Why don’t they anymore?”

“They’re smaller now. Or use DVDs.”

“Oh.” Grace stared at the other tapes and started to laugh. “They’re kind of funny.”

“Why? You don’t think they can play music?” I read over one mixtape and saw a Happy Mondays song I forgot I had, “Stinkin Thinkin.” Even before I’d fully noticed the trends in my music listening, there they were. Another band from the North of England.


“They’re just . . . plastic.”

“Well, how do you think CDs play music?” I asked. She shrugged, so I dug around some more and produced a tape of Oasis b-sides Amanda made me. “Come on, I’ll show you how these work.”

We went into her bedroom where she has a small stereo with both a CD and cassette player. Fumbling a bit with the tape, I wondered again why it is that some players have the tape go in right side up while others slide in upside down. Her player takes tapes upside down with the side you want to play facing outwards.


After a second of white noise, “Listen Up” began. Liam singing, which despite being the original version, I hadn’t heard in awhile. “Oh!” Grace said, “I recognize this song.”

We had a conversation about not touching the actual tape reel, about being careful with the old case and not to accidentally step on it. “It’s like CDs,” she said. “How you can’t scratch them so they still play.” She listened in her room for a little while, and shortly after I showed her how to flip sides, she came back out into the living room.

“Hey, Mommy? I’m going to pause my song tape so that I can eat the rest of that bagel. I know which button says pause.”

“Okay.” Her reading has improved, but in this case, I suspected knowing had more to do with her working the DVR remote. I stared at my laptop, then back at my black notebook with scribbled late-night thoughts. Every idea I had was a half-formed one, or too big to articulate just yet.

“So why did you bring the videos down here?” Grace said after sitting with her bagel again.

“Tapes. They’re cassettes.”

“Oh, sorry. I keep forgetting.”

“So why do I have these out?”


“I’m writing about them. Or some of them. I don’t know yet,” I said and thought, Everything I ever write about music has the same three subjects woven into its DNA. Everything and everyone that are so important to me are probably tiring to everyone else. One lone paragraph stared back.

“Oh.” Grace finished eating and jumped up. “I’m going to go back into my room and listen to my music tape again.”

“You like it, then?”

She nodded. “Yeah! I know the songs.”

Everything that was ever important, we get a chance to pass along.


(For more detailed notes on the photos, please visit my flickr page.)