Early this week I was able to negotiate a deal with the Central Christian Church of Wichita to purchase the remaining inventory of their community bookstore. Unfortunately, like many area retail stores, they are part of a dying breed of businesses unable to compete with the low prices found on the Internet and at your local Barnes and Noble.
The majority of the inventory was books; however, the store also carried audio cassettes, and had approximately 1,000 late 80's/early 90's Christian and Gospel albums. The manager of the store mentioned that if I didn't buy the lot, they would probably be disposed of, and I decided that it was my duty to rescue this collection and find caring homes for each and every cassette. Needless to say, I got a pretty good deal.
But who really listens to cassettes anymore? In our age of the MP3*, even CDs are quickly becoming obsolete. Most recording artists allow you to download entire albums for a few dollars or individual songs for about a buck apiece. So who wants to bother listening to an entire album anymore? Especially if you have to use a Fast Forward button and flip the tape deck every 30 minutes.
Surely there is a clandestine group of cassette junkies out there. Vinyl has always been cool, and 8-track enthusiasts are perhaps the hippest and most obscure of all, but does anyone still have the time to handcraft an actual mixTAPE.
The best mixtape I ever received was from a high school English teacher of mine. I had given him a mix a few days earlier to showcase my burgeoning taste in bad, bad music (think Straight Edge hardcore metal followed by the Barenaked Ladies and closing with Jewel's "Who Will Save Your Soul?") and he returned the favor by compiling a thoughtful and timeless playlist of obscure hits from Jonathan Richman ("O New England"- I was a literary snob obsessed with the northeast), The Clash, American Music Club, Leonard Cohen, De La Soul, and even a spoken word bit by Jack Kerouac (I was also simultaneously obsessed with the Beats- I know, how cliche). Besides my Van Morrison cassette collection and the occasional David Sedaris audio book, this is the only cassette I still play in my car's tape deck on road trips from time to time.
I believe the FIRST cassette I ever purchased on my own would have to be either Milli Vanilli's "Girl You Know It's True" or New Kids on the Block's "Hangin Tough", purchased at the Army base in Hanau, Germany. Surprisingly enough, I am not ashamed of nor do I regret making either purchase, as I believe the Milli Vanilli album still holds up as a funk pop masterpiece to this day (regardless of who is actually singing) and I believe that NKOTB made it okay for me to have a man-crush on and listen to Justin Timberlake as much as I do.
The most listened to cassette in my musical history would have to be the Beastie Boys "Ill Communication." I remember the green colored rectangle of audio delight that I would listen to every time I mowed our large yard in Alexandria, Virginia. The front lawn had "Sure Shot", "Root Down" and "Sabotage" and the back lawn was the more funky, instrumental side with "Flute Loop", the noisy "Heart Attack Man" (which I would have probably skipped on an IPod shuffle) and that priceless blurb about Mashed Potatoes which was always good for a hearty chuckle.
1994 must have been the banner year for my love affair with the cassette, because not only was it the year that the Beastie's album was released, but it was also the year a much lesser known, yet equally near and dear to my heart album was released: "Clean Cut" by The Eunuchs. I am guessing that less than 500 copies were released, and nearly all of them distributed among the 14 year old male population of the St. Mary's School in Alexandria. This metropolitan DC punk rock classic featured such local hits as "Hellmann's" (yes, after the Mayonnaise), "Blur" and "Food for Thought." I don't think I have busted this one out in over 10 years, so tonight is the night I take a long drive and relive my glory days of hanging out at 7-11 and sneaking out at night to go skateboarding. And the perfect skateboarding soundtrack for any kid who lived near our nation's capital in the 90's was every Fugazi cassette ever made up to that point in time.
I am sure that I have a handful of other stories regarding specific cassette tapes that are permanently etched into the fabric of my musical memory, but I wonder if there will ever be another one. Will the next album from The National be released on audio? Are we at the dawn of a cassette tape revival? Doubtful. Do I currently have the largest selection of brand new circa 1987 Christian rock audio cassettes in the Midwest? Quite possibly. Will anybody buy them from me? This remains to be seen.
*In this article, I do not intend to bash on MP3's or the convenience of modern day music technology, in fact, if anyone stands to benefit from consolidation and digitization of ridiculously large music albums, that man is me. In fact, one might consider the cassette single the predecessor to the modern day MP3 file. I did not want to buy Del Amitri's whole album, but I could not get enough of "Roll to Me", and turns out that the B-Side, "Long Way Down" isn't half bad. And I could listen to Young MC's "Bust a Move" single over and over again until I had the lyrics down pat so that I could impress the young ladies on the back of the yellow school bus.
A small sampling of what's left of the once massive cassette collection:
The rare and highly sought after Eunuchs debut:
Please share your treasured cassette tape memories. What was your first? Your favorite, the one you wore out or damaged the film on? Did you prefer a walkman or a boombox? Do you still listen to cassettes, or plan to ever again?