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.
1994 was a good year for music (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain; Teenager of the Year; Stoned and Dethroned; Mellow Gold; etc. etc.), and coincided with my discovery of some great older stuff and first tentative dabbling in hip-hop. The result was a two-cassette magnum opus that is still my favorite of all the mixtapes.
For a long time this didn’t really have a name, which is why the title is scribbled on the spine of the cover art in pen. It’s an odd assortment of moods, styles, and running obsessions, and at times wears on my nerves a little. But it has its moments.