It’s Happening, Side B

Year: 1996
Original Format: cassette

There’s a sort of narrative here: an extraterrestrial lands; is initially welcomed; meets a woman; is pursued by sinister forces; and in the end decides to return whence he came. It bears some resemblance to the plot of the John Carpenter/Jeff Bridges movie Starman, which I haven’t seen for many, many years. Apparently the Starman comes in response to the Voyager Golden Record, but at no point is he heard to say “Send more Chuck Berry.”

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Gangsters & Pranksters, Side B

Year: 1996
Original Format: cassette

This one has some trace of a narrative arc: Our hero tries to go straight, but is betrayed and pulled back into the criminal life; some scores are made and adventures had; but in the end the outlaw must die — because how else will we learn our lesson?

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Gangsters & Pranksters, Side A

Year: 1996
Original Format: cassette

These were the days of elaborate mixtape packaging. For this one I went so far as to commission custom artwork for the cover (which meant I asked my friend James to do a painting — isn’t it great?). The liner notes were folded up and slid into a little envelope glued to the inside cover, and looked like this:

I suppose some of that time could have been used to, like, start a career or something. But on the whole, no regrets.

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Turn the Future On, Pt. 3

Our Electric Destiny/A space is made by telephone

Year: 1995
Original Format: cassette

For the most part, the music on these old tapes still sounds really good to me. But probably not as good as it did back then, when I still had those young-person high-frequency receptors. I wonder if this is why over the years I’ve tended to gravitate more toward bass-heavy music. That probably isn’t what A Tribe Called Quest meant by “The Low End Theory,” but it’s a low-end theory, anyway.

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Turn the Future On, Pt. 2

Words of Advice/The sun in the morning & the moon at night

Year: 1994
Original Format: cassette

This dates from that weird period right after Kurt Cobain killed himself. I was surprised at how hard it hit me; I liked Nirvana, I had their albums, but they were not a special favorite. In retrospect, this was probably the closest thing my generation had to a Kennedy assassination; I think all of us remember where we were when we heard the news — though as befits our nature, probably vaguely and incorrectly. I remember wandering around the house on Woodruff Ave. wondering what Kurt’s last moments must have been like.

The suicide was not a surprise, exactly; he had tried once before, and even written a song called “I Hate Myself and Want to Die.” But it was still hard to fathom that someone my own age (Kurt was eight months older), who seemingly had everything a person could want in life, would pull his own plug.

Around the same time I had bought the Rykodisc reissue of Young Americans, which was the first time I’d heard a lot of those songs. I was particularly struck by “Win,” the words of which seemed eerily apropos, especially

Someone like you should not be allowed to start any fires

and

Somebody lied, I say it’s hip to be alive.

I always imagined that if Kurt had heard this song at the right time he would have taken the shotgun out of his mouth. It probably isn’t so; the man had problems, and they were bound to catch up with him sooner or later. But I always like to imagine a happy ending.

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