The first cassette tape I ever bought was the album Appetite For Destruction by Guns ‘N’ Roses. I had never heard their music. But my friend said the band was cool and I did whatever my friends told me. After a few weeks of saving my allowance, the plastic Hess truck finally had the eight dollars I needed to buy the album in that innocent time when recorded profanity had to be bought in person.
I barely had the tape out of the cellophane when I realized that my family’s sole cassette player belonged to my father, and that this cassette player was in his car. Driving myself was not an option, as I had poor motor skills and was in the fifth grade. Listening to tunes like “Nightrain” (Wake up late/Honey put on your clothes/And take your credit card/To the liquor store), “My Michelle” (Your Daddy works in porno/Now that Mommy’s not around/She used to love her heroin/But now she’s underground), and “It’s So Easy” (Cars are crashin’ every night/I drink and drive/Everything in sight) with my father in the car next to me was a little uncomfortable at first, but soon he was whistling along just like he did to Roy Orbison.
One of the things I remember most about cassettes was making mix tapes. A mix tape was a recording of assorted songs on a blank tape, usually of different artists, and frequently made for a member of the opposite sex, or, if you were me, made just for yourself. The main character in the film High Fidelity lists a number of rules for making mix tapes. I, however, had only one rule: Arrange the songs so that I would not have to flip over the tape in the middle of a song.
With only this one rule to obey, the mood of my mix tapes was a little erratic. For example, one of my mixes started out with “Dead Souls” by Nine Inch Nails, then “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, then Metallica’s “Blackened,” and then “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper. Another one of my mix tapes opened with “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, then the main theme from “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, then jumped to “Hammer Smashed Face” by Cannibal Corpse, and finally “V’Shomru” by Cantor Joseph Kanefsky. That mix was for my grandmother.
The other thing that stands out in my memory about cassettes was how they would get caught in the spokes of the tape player. I’d be pacing back and forth across the campus green, listening to The White Album over and over again instead of doing my Spanish homework, when all of a sudden Paul McCartney’s vocals on “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road” would be replaced by a loud crunching sound, and then there would be no sound but my own profanity.
Oh the humanity! I felt as if it were my arm that had been caught in the spokes, although because of the size difference only the end of my sleeve would get wound up. Try as I might to unwind the tangled tape and restore my beloved music, it almost never worked again, and even when it did the tape never sounded right. On some of the tracks it sounded like Paul was just screaming.
I no longer use cassette tapes, and even my compact discs are being featured on Antiques Roadshow. I now carry thousands of songs on my telephone. It takes seconds to arrange them in a mix, and I don’t have to flip over the phone unless I feel like drawing attention to myself. The only thing missing is the sound of cassette tape getting mauled by tape player spokes.
But I’m sure they’ve got an app for that.