High Fidelity

From A to B and back again: this is your correspondent, running out of mix tapes

Moore also discusses this materiality. Looking at the "cold kiss" of a CD, he says, "A cassette rocking at normal bias will bring healing analog tones to the ear-heart." It's true. The more you play it, the more scars it accrues. You can learn to love its bruises: A warp in a track ingrains itself in your head so deeply you begin to think that's the way it was meant to sound.

There are anecdotes about Moore obtaining a ghetto blaster for a mid-'80s Sonic Youth tour, another about a shouting match he witnesses between M. Gira and Lydia Lunch. Moore even gets philosophical, asking, "Do you pretty much just love yourself?" of someone who makes a tape with tracks only they like. He considers ex-Minuteman Mike Watt admirable for willing to sacrifice and "make a tape with songs [his] loved one likes." Conversely, Jim O'Rourke gets down on himself for including a The The song he didn't like on a tape he made when he was 15 simply because he wanted to impress a girl.

The most interesting aspect of the book is the way in which participants affix various approaches and opinions to their mixes. Dodie Bellamy nervously analyzes the collaged cover of a tape given to her by a younger friend, Camden Joy notes the subtle diss of an Elvis Costello song cut short, and Matias Viegener drops a brief manifesto positing "The mix tape as a form of American Folk Art," bringing to mind the work of Geoffrey O'Brien in his book Sonata for Jukebox.

photo: Thurston Moore/Universe Publishing/Rizzoli International Publications

Prior to Avery templates, artwork tended toward collage: clippings from old encyclopedias and Uta Barth photos (shadowy corners, odd vantage points). A friend released a cassette about his ex, including a razor blade with each copy. Radio Shock's cassette came packaged in a Radio Shack bag. I photocopied a Dada woodcut 30 times and chopped each one into pieces, creating a moveable cover consisting of dark puzzle pieces.

One thing Moore doesn't look at is homegrown music labels that only put out cassettes. My most extended foray into the cassette realm came via these labels and a weekly four-hour college radio show I hosted consisting entirely of cassette-only releases by labels like Shrimper, Union Pole, Catsup Plate, Blue Tounge (sic), Cactus Gum, Eldest Son, etc. Favorite cassette label moment: ordering a

Shrimper tape that was recorded incorrectly and included a full-length set by Al Green instead of Lou Barlow. Worst cassette label moment: running out of good stuff to play on the show after five months. I had my own label, Sweet Baboo, which I ran with the guy who made me the Bowie-Neubauten mix (who also mixed De La Soul and Fugazi). We eventually did a couple seven-inches, but my favorite projects by far were the cassettes, especially Will You Please Be Quiet Please, a compilation that grew murkier as we redubbed it on our shitty equipment. Perhaps grabbing Raymond Carver seems coy or ponderous. We also read through John Barth, netting Another Version of the Old Prison Joke. Then came the Pynchon-inspired subtitles . . .

Digging through my closet, I couldn't find the majority of the tapes mentioned. Pretty lame for such a cassette snob. I guess the loss goes along with dissolving relationships. Maybe, as Daniella Meeker hints in her piece about a breakup mix, when the person who made it is no longer around, its scarcity becomes your own act of self-preservation. A mix tape can be the most personal thing someone gives you: When that person's gone and songs take on new shadows, string the insides through the trees around your house, and let their latent sounds provide nests for birds.


Brandon Stosuy is a staff writer at Pitchfork. His anthology of Downtown New York literature will be published by NYU Press in 2006.

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