Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about freedom. Everybody wants it but nobody really knows what to do with it. It’s perplexing and troubling and mysterious but, as someone once said, I like the trouble and I like the mystery.
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.”
What’s “happening” here is that the aliens are landing, or revealing themselves, or whatever. 26 years later, it hasn’t happened yet. I remain hopeful that I’ll live to see it, but I’m not holding my breath.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.