Okay, so I bought some T-shirts from a local store that makes them. Basic goofy stuff—a picture of a Moog synthesizer, an argyle design with some skeletons, a drawing of Iron Man by Daniel Johnston for Marc, and a T-shirt that cracked me up because I thought of it as a commentary on today’s downloaded music wars. I thought someone made it up as a reminder of how these things come and go, and that the over-the-top nature of it pointed to a parody.
It gets a big laugh from the know-it-alls who live in Austin, so that makes it fun. I always supposed it was because they had the same read I did, but then tonight, while playing some of the records found randomly in our closet while moving, I found something. Something that I had never seen on the paper sleeve on a record before, and I had records in the 80s as a kid. And in the 90s, I had records, because I housesat for my parents and their CD player broke, so get-togethers with my friends involved the ancient record player and a copy of David Bowie’s Pin-Ups and Cyndi Lauper. And in the 21st century, I had records, because Norbizness convinced my cheap heart that in an age where a song online costs $1 legally, it’s a safe bet to get better sound and more songs by spending that dollar on a record. And until I pulled out the sleeve inside The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry with the intention mainly of listening to “Killing An Arab”,
Scanned for your perusal. So this was not a joke, and it’s possible that many people snickering at my shirt remember something I don’t remember ever seeing. And it’s not like my entire history of vinyl accumulation and transference has been obscure shit. My first records were Thriller and She’s So Unusual, for god’s sake. I listened to those until I wore them out in my tender pre-teen years. I’d think I’d remember something like that, even if other, less important things (like the names of elementary school teachers) fade from memory.
But I feel also that there was a dire prediction made by this paper sleeve. Did home taping indeed kill music? For me, it helped keep music alive, because I lived in Alpine, TX in high school, otherwise known as Buttfuck Egypt, the End of the Earth, and Shitsville. Upon hearing something cool, you had a moral obligation to tape it for your friends, which is actually how I first got my hands on an album that wasn’t exactly sold in Alpine in 1992, Nirvana’s Nevermind. It even had the hidden track. It’s how I got a copy of Sonic Youth’s Dirty into the Walkman of my best friend.
But perhaps the dire predictions were correct. Maybe the frenzy of tape-copying in the 80s and 90s meant that we had less great music than we might have. Maybe the recent surge of great bands is only possible because no one makes the mix tape anymore. (Recovering from the end of that art form was a period of despairing that I’d ever have a way to tell a guy I was attracted to or just a girl I thought was cool, “I like you.”) This seems unlikely, because even more of their shit is being traded for free on the internet, with the super-fast copying digital methods. But hell, maybe it was only the magnetic strips of the now-defunct tape that posed the real threat to music, and not the act of copying itself.