Monday, February 25, 2008

Humor Me: Memories don't bite the dust

Last week, I read about how Blu-ray had won the war with HD-DVD to be the next generation of high-definition video. It made me think back to a time long ago, in a faraway place, when I produced extremely looooow fidelity recordings.

Note: This column is posted at The Dallas Morning News. My recent DMN columns can also be found here.

Humor Me: Memories don't bite the dust

By MATT WIXON
The Dallas Morning News

The year: 1980. The place: A bedroom that included a doorknob-shaped hole in the wall, a Kool-Aid stain on the carpet and a new AM/FM clock radio. The event: The lowest-quality recording ever of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

It was low, low, looow fidelity. Even as an 8-year-old, I knew that, but it was the only way I could tape my favorite song. I had to pull out the enormous tape recorder, the one my dad used to tape insurance seminars, and place it on the dresser next to my clock radio, the first FM radio I owned.

Then I waited. The deejay said he was going to play the song soon, and finally, I heard the instantly recognizable opening beat. I pressed record, and for nearly three minutes, scratchy radio gold poured onto a tape formerly filled with insurance tips.

(Side note: My dad was done with the cassette tape before I used it. He had a lot of the insurance tapes, and even more jobs as an insurance salesman. He switched companies so often that we used his old business cards to write down phone messages.)

Anyway, in my recording studio, things were going well. The FM signal was strong, the deejay hadn’t talked over the music and Freddie Mercury was starting to belt out “and another one gone and another one gone” for the last time. That’s when my mom walked into my recording studio and said, “It’s time to set the table for dinner.”

Mom, how could you!

Well, it wasn’t the only time my recording space was violated. Quality control was pretty futile in a recording-studio bedroom with no lock on the door. I also shared the bedroom with my younger brother, who couldn’t stay quiet for more than 10 seconds.

So I had some interesting recordings. During Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” my mom started vacuuming outside my door. On my version of Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration,” a doorbell rang, followed by a dog barking.

I remember this well because I listened to the tapes over and over. I listened so much that, on the rare occasion I now hear Eddie Rabbit’s “I Love a Rainy Night,” it seems strange when it doesn’t end with a deejay saying, “But no rain in sight for us, as we’re going to have highs near 100 … ”

Pretty sad, huh?

I put a lot of time into those stupid tapes. I spent hours waiting for a deejay to play “Upside Down” by Diana Ross or for Casey Kasem to count down to Devo’s “Whip It.” I missed a lot of Brady Bunch reruns to expand my lo-fi music catalog.

Today, my music compilations are all gone, or at least lost somewhere in my parents’ house. Maybe more insurance seminars were taped over my songs. Maybe the tapes were thrown out. Maybe they’re under a stack of my dad’s business cards.

Wherever they are, I’ll probably never hear them again. And that might be a good thing. If I start getting too nostalgic for muffled ’80s radio, I’ll be scared that I’m becoming my parents — the people who spent 25 years with a toaster that rarely would leggo the Eggo.

“We don’t need a new one!” they told me for years. “This one still works.”

And then they would stick a fork into the toaster and remove a mangled waffle or bagel. Very strange. They had a deep emotional bond to that dysfunctional toaster.

I don’t quite feel the same way about my old tapes. My musical tastes have changed over the years, and even if I wanted to hear “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John, I’d probably go for a crystal-clear digital version. A version without backing vocals from my brother.

But I do wish I could listen to my old tapes once in a while. So many great memories would come flooding back as I remembered the songs I loved, the challenges of recording and the weather forecast for the greater Phoenix area.

If the tapes do turn up, I won’t lose them again. I might even record them onto CDs so I can preserve them forever.

Or at least until technology makes CDs bite the dust.