Monday, February 25, 2013

The Music Remains the Same: Vinyl, Tapes, CDs, and MP3s

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA


Vinyl, Tapes, CDs, and MP3s. The music remains the same.

I'm a Gen X'er and was barely alive during the dreaded 8-track years. When I think of 8-tracks, I think of vans owned by swingers with bearskin carpets and a bottle of Quaaludes.When 8-Tracks became a quick fading fad like Pet Rocks, the world embraced the cassette tape for a couple of decades before CDs came along and made cassette's obsolete, and the digital revolution led to the creation of the MP3, which ave rise to the retro-feel of vinyl. Behold planned obsolescence.

In the days before MP3s (and FLACs) became an integral part of my daily listening pleasure, I was beholden to both cassette tapes and CDs. As an adult, I was too broke to establish a vinyl collection, but during high school I had a small collection of vinyl records, mostly singles. I originally had a ghetto blaster and single tape player in grammar school, but in high school for my 15th birthday I got a combo deck with a record player and dual tape deck. My mother had a decent collection of vinyl relics from the 60s deep in Motown, Helen Reddy, early Beatles, and calypso music like Harry Belafonte. For the most part the bulk of my music collection were cassette tapes, which I stored in an old Dellwood milk crate that I had stolen from behind the local grocery store.

Most of the tapes were duped copies of albums. During high school, we'd take the 6 train down to Canal Street and buy sleeves of blank cassettes for super cheap at these big electronics stores that sold knockoff goods. Every day I'd give a blank tape to one of the hipper kids in my class who had extensive music collections. A core group happily made copies for me and I offered trades of non-radio and non-conformist music for video games after I amassed decent collection of cracked Commodore 64 games including a heavily-sought after copy of Strip Poker which I sold for $5, or $10 to freshmen.

My apartment building was not yet wired for cable television, which meant no access to MTV. The only source of music came from the radio, which meant I was drowning in top 40 pop. The kids in my homeroom were a valuable source of music. Some of it I didn't like and I'd tape over it. Some of the stuff I loved and wore out. Most of it I grew out of. That's what happens. Tastes change and evolve. I'd hate to see the day when I stop seeking out new music and my tastes get shut off like a gated community in Florida with octogenarians living four decades in the past.

Mike B. lived in Staten Island and had a bitch of a commute to the Upper East Side of Manhattan ever day for school, but he killed the time on the ferry and subway by listening to music, which was one of the reasons he had the most extensive collections in my class. Mike B. turned me onto The Clash, The Smiths, The Lemonheads, The Cure, The Pixies, They Might Be Giants, and Sonic Youth. My buddy Giuseppe's dad was a low-ranking guy on Gotti's crew and his brother was a ticket scalper. His favorite band was Bon Jovi, but he was into some other heavy metal and industrial music like Metallica and Nine Inch Nails. Bobby Walsh had a ton of Rolling Stones and he was kind enough to copy all of their classic albums for me.

Enter the bourgeois girl I liked named Imogen1 who went to Chapin and she didn't like me that much, which made me want her even more, so I hung around her like a sad puppy dog. I was oblivious to the fact that her friend Gretchen was madly in love with me. I was clueless but gladly accepted the mixes she made for me with hand drawn playlists. Gretchen introduced me to Athens bands like R.E.M. and B-52s. She also got me into Australian bands like early INXS and Midnight Oil.

I acquired a CD player during my senior year in high school and my first-ever CD was the Grateful Dead's Skeletons from the Closet, which I purchased at Tower Records in the Village. A couple of weeks later, I picked up Doors' Greatest Hits. I didn't do drugs2... yet... but with both albums anchoring my new collection, you knew that it would be a matter of time before I ate some acid and dove down the rabbit hole. During my senior year I signed up for Columbia's CD club through an ad in Rolling Stone magazine. I slowly built a small collection of classic rock albums via the mail and I learned how companies make tons of money off of inherent laziness. I added a few more CDs from Tower Records and a couple of other indie stores on St. Marks. I also developed a taste for white boy rap like Beastie Boys and 3rd Bass, yet but exclusively listened to classic rock stations on the radio.

I graduated high school and moved to Atlanta for college. I took all of my CDs but only a handful of tapes (mostly Rolling Stones, random rap, and mix tapes with flowery doodles on the cover made by the Chapin girls).

During college, I collected Dead bootlegs... all on cassette tapes.... from different friends who went to stuffy prep schools in Connecticut and got their tapes from Trustafarians. My CD collection (mixed with mail-acquisitions and selections from the East Village) at college had a lot of turnover. I'd say at least 1/3 of it got stolen or destroyed in my fraternity house. I added a lot of local bands like Widespead Panic, Drivin N Cryin, The Grapes, and this band of freaks that would get super famous called The Black Crowes, who often played at my fraternity when they first started out.

The first Phish addition to my collection included a live bootleg from my bud Feldman. I was a huge Deadhead in college and if you'd ask me in Fall 1992, I'd say that I liked Widespread Panic a smidge more than Phish, only because I went to school in the South had seen more Panic shows at that time. I underwent a religious conversion in early 1993 after I saw three crazy, sick Roxy shows in Atlanta, and then Rift came out, which blew my mind because we were eating a ton of mushrooms that semester. Early 1993 was a watershed moment in my personal musical journey and Phish finally surpassed Panic in my eyes. The Vermont quartet were nipping at the heels of the Grateful Dead, but Phish took the top spot once Jerry died in 1995. Anyway, by the time I left college, I bought Phish's four out of Phish's five CDs, but after graduation I packed up my car and only had 2.5 (half of Junta's two-disc album was missing) Phish CDs.

I arrived in Atlanta to start college as a skinny and scared 17 year-old kid with a dozen CDs and 20 worn tapes of Rolling Stones albums and New Wave mixes. Four years later I left with over 100 CDs and 25 crisp Dead bootlegs including five shows from May 1977, when the Grateful Dead achieved perfection.

In my early 20s I moved back to NYC and added even more Dead bootlegs to my college -- all on cassette tapes. I befriended Bruce through work at the museum and he and his brother owned a massive collection in these wall-size wooden cases. Thousands of tapes. Thousands of hours of the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band and other side projects like Old and In the Way. When I was in high school, I went to Chinatown to buy blank tapes to give them to friends and preppie girls to fill up with their favorite tunes. Five years later, I was going to Chinatown to buy blank tapes to give to Bruce so he could dupe his favorite Dead shows.

I worked with a bunch of musicians and they were in either jazz or punk bands. By sheer osmosis, I got a quick rundown of the best of the best in each genre. I added jazz CDs and lots of Iggy and the Stooges and the Talking Heads. When I moved to Park Slope in the mid 90s, my roommate Ursula had tons of obscure 70s Brit punk and 80s American punk albums that I happily gobbled up.

Before I moved to Seattle in 1997, I had a tough decision and could only take two dozen or so of my favorite Dead bootlegs (out of hundreds) and limited myself to 40 CDs or 20-25% of my collection. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.3

In Seattle, the CD collection tripled during my time in the Pacific Northwest, but before I left, I sold mostly 90% of it and only kept a handful of CDs. I retained most of my Dead bootlegs and added a dozen more from a group of hardcore Deadheads and old-school hippies I had met who grew herb and turned me onto DMT and liquid sunshine. I also acquired a couple of Phish bootlegs like both October 1995 shows at Key Arena, Sugarbush Vermont 1994, and Arrowhead Ranch 1991. My bud TC gave me a few smoking mix CDs with some of his DJ sets that include deep house and dub reggae.


When I moved back to NYC at the end of the 90s, I retrieved the bulk of my collection I left behind in storage at my mother's apartment when I moved to Seattle. I only took the best of the best with me to Seattle but only returned with a small portion of those elite albums because I sold them when I was broke as a joke and needed some cash to fund Phish shows in Las Vegas for Halloween 1998. Those were some of the best live concerts I had ever seen, so it was worth selling off a portion of my collection at the used stores in the U District.

Upon my return to NYC, I went through the old Dead bootlegs on tape and migrated the best of the best to CDs. Before the iPod was birthed, whenever I went on Phish tour (especially to Japan), I brought along a discman CD player and 24 CDs (because that's how many my "CD book" held). It was always tough to split up half the space between albums and Phish/Dead bootlegs. It was always an arduous process and I tortured myself over the specific six sets of Dead and six sets of Phish I wanted to take. Remember, these were rarely full sets and usually partial sets because CDs could only hold 74 mins. Choosing music was always a headache and drove me nuts. I coordinated my CD picks with travel mates to make sure we didn't double up.

After the millennium passed, I acquired my first Macbook and migrated more old bootlegs from cassette tape to CD, then from CD to MP3s. For the first time, I had the bulk of my collection on a laptop and iPod. When I got into poker and had to move to :as Vegas for my first major assignment, I didn't have to freak out and force myself to make painful Sophie's Choice-like decisions on which albums stay and which get to go. I actually bought a cheap Dell laptop and left my Macbook back in NYC with my brother so I wouldn't lose my entire music collection just in case I got robbed at the WSOP or jacked at the Redneck Riviera. I loaded up my iPod with a ton of music -- new and old -- and headed out West once again.

Between Nicky and myself (a collection spread out in NYC and California), we have no idea how many hours of music we have. Combined we probably have more than we could ever listen to for the rest of our lives.

To this day, a lot of old cassette tapes and CDs have found a (permanent) home in my childhood bedroom in my mother's apartment, which has become a storage and warehouse like the end scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark with boxes and boxes of artifacts from different points in my life. Whenever I visit NYC for the holidays during Christmas and the older I get, I find myself spending more and more time sifting through those boxes of my stuff... stepping back in time, and getting drunk on old memories, pictures, ticket stubs, notebooks, and Dead bootlegs.

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FOOTNOTES:
1. Imogen sounds like a stripper name if you live in the South, but in snooty South Hampton circles, it was rather exotic.

2. I went to high school at the end of the 80s and it was more of a cocaine crazy time of excess. I toked weed a couple of times in high school during two specific periods: the summer between freshman/sophomore year, or the last half of senior year.

3. When I moved cross country to Seattle in 1997, some of the albums that made the cut included... Skeletons from the Closet (Grateful Dead, my first-ever CD for sentimental reasons), Highway 61 Revisited (Bob Dylan), Fear of Music (Talking Heads), Kind of Blue (Miles Davis), Picture of Nectar (Phish), Live at the Fillmore East (Allman Brothers), The Band (The Band), Stand! (Sly and the Family Stone), London Calling (The Clash), One from the Vault (Grateful Dead), 3 Feet High and Rising (De La Soul), Loaded (Velvet Underground), Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones), III (Led Zeppelin), The Harder They Come (Jimmy Cliff), Rubber Soul (The Beatles), Paul's Boutique (Beastie Boys), Welcome to the Canteen (Traffic), Blue Train (John Coltrane), Jerry Garcia (Jerry Garcia Band), and Odelay (Beck).

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