the paralyzing fear of rabid dogs

Posted: April 8, 2012 in Arts
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

So I have this case brimming with old compilation cassettes, all recorded between 1981 and 1998. The case holds 120 tapes and is nearly full. Creating compilation tapes was an essential part of being a music lover in the pre-digital age. For many of us this was not a casual activity. It required thought and careful consideration. One of the best descriptions of this process comes from Nick Hornby’s wonderful 1995 novel, High Fidelity.

To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with “Got to Get You Off My Mind”, but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and…oh, there are loads of rules.

I hope Nick doesn’t mind that I lifted this passage. Maybe this will help: If you haven’t read High Fidelity, run out now and get a copy. Now! (You can finish reading this later.) You may have seen the movie with John Cusack, but as is almost always the case, the book is far better. And while you’re at it pick up all his other novels.

Anyway, this compilation business has changed. Nowadays the activity of creating tapes has morphed into creating digital playlists. We can amass literally hundreds of playlists, pop them onto our iPod, and tote them wherever we go. Cassettes are old technology, gone and forgotten. I suppose people still burn compilation CDs, but that also seems to be disappearing. What a shame. Dragging and dropping songs onto a playlist is such a detached activity. When making a compilation tape you sat through each song as it recorded, often choosing the next song based on what the current one inspired. Digital playlists can be created in minutes. Compilation tapes took hours, but rewarded you with two things. (1) A real feeling of accomplishment, as silly as that sounds. (2) A tangible, physical thing, something you could hold in your hand, then listen to in the car or at a friend’s house. I suppose you can still inflict your music on other people using your iPod, but these little devices almost seem too personal to share. Today no one whips out their iPod and says, “Listen to this music for the next 90 minutes. And pay special attention to the ebb and flow of the songs.” If you tried this you’d probably be asked to leave the party.

Being the organized creature I am these tapes were numbered as they were recorded, stopping at #129. In looking at the collection I notice gaps in the sequencing, undoubtedly due to tapes getting destroyed somewhere along the line. A tape eaten by the machine playing it engendered a special brand of anger and helplessness. 2, 4, 5, 49 and 58 are among those lost souls. However, tape #1 still survives.

Other patterns emerge. With a few exceptions, the first 67 tapes were only titled if they consisted of songs from one artist or band (ie: “Assorted Dylan”, “Assorted Beatles”) or were borrowed albums I taped since I didn’t own a copy (ie: Fresh Fish Special by Robert Gordon, Otis Redding & The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live at Monteray by Otis and Jimi). True compilation tapes, those consisting of varied songs from varied artists, were untitled. The exceptions:

– “Instrumentals” (#11, recorded August 1981) – Just what it says. A bunch of songs, including a few classical, all containing no lyrics.
– “A Yearly History of Rock & Roll” (#25, recorded September 9, 1981) – One song from every year starting with 1955’s “Rock Around the Clock” up through 1981’s “The Breakup Song”.
– “Hard Core Mega-Rock” (#52, recorded December 6, 1981) – Looking at it now, most of these songs are hardly hard-core or mega-rock. They’re just loud.
– “Instrumentals” (#67, recorded November 15, 1983) – Again no lyrics, but this one contains only classical pieces.

“13/13” (#68) started the trend towards astounding creativity. The title was remarkably crafted from the fact side A and side B each housed 13 songs! This brilliance continued on #69 with “13/13 – Vol. II”. I know, I know. It’s hard to fathom the scope of imagination needed to devise these titles, isn’t it? Hallelujah, life is truly amazing. Things continued evolving with such beauties as “Across America” (#84), “25 Songs in the Life of a Tape” (#86), “Toe Tappin’ Tunes” (#93) and “A Collection of Unrelated Music and Mayhem” (#95). You know, the title of this last one seems to go against the basic spirit of compilation tapes. Let’s delve in and check out the songs.

Oh my.

“Snookero” kicks things off. If I remember correctly this is a catchy, but wholly odd, ditty recorded by Ringo Starr. Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” follows which, of course, makes total sense. Among the other logical choices on side A: “Polly Wolly Doodle” (Leon Redbone), “Rhythm of the Rain” (The Cascades), “Down Under” (Men at Work), the theme from Hawaii Five-O (artist unknown) and “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me” (The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack). Side B includes “Big Ten Inch Record” (Aerosmith), “Seaside Rendezvous” (Queen), “Florin Dance” (The Princess Bride soundtrack) and “A Sort of Homecoming” (U2) before wrapping things up with “What a Wonderful World” (Louis Armstrong). And that’s just a sample. Ummmm…let’s move on, shall we?

The titling schema took a noticeably more radical turn at #103 with “The Paralyzing Fear of Rabid Dogs” which sounds like something Syd Barrett might’ve thought up. Sprinkled among the chaos from that point forward are “Dreamworld” (#108), “Kings, Empires and Revolutions” (#113), “Whiskers in the Sink” (#117), and “Supple Wrist” (#122) until culminating with “20th Century Goes to Sleep” (#129). I know this final one is a lyric from REM’s “Electrolite”, the last song on the tape, so a bit of reasoning lies behind it. As for the others…how about this weather!

I have no way of listening to any of these tapes. I don’t own a cassette player and, even if I did, I imagine the tapes have probably deteriorated something awful over the years. Magnetic tape was not built to last 30 years. I suspect the really old tapes are probably stretched out (or whatever happens to them) to the point where every song sounds like it was sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks. Yet I still hold onto these relics. I guess somewhere in that strange casserole of my brain I realized one day I would need something to write about. And having done that I guess I can toss these space hogs straight into the trash, right?

Not a chance.

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Comments
  1. mysterycoach says:

    Nooooo! don’t throw them out! See what’s on them and put them on the computer! I say this ONLY because a. I mean it LOL 🙂 And B., because you may have songs on there you haven’t heard in years that you may have forgotten about (oh that would be me) and you’d lost them!

    This. Coming from a person who has a paper box full of tapes. Thank you. 🙂

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  2. To this day, I love and miss every mix tape I made.

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  3. I was just discussing this very thing last night with the Masshole and my other friend who is a huge audiophile. He’s moving so we were talking about getting rid of certain belongings. He doesn’t own much, but he has 1,000’s of cd’s.
    We agreed (after much deep breathing) that the tapes can probably go because we had no way that was readily available to play them. He’s not ready to part with the cd’s.

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    • John says:

      Gotta keep the CDs. I have a lot (not 1,000’s, but a lot) and I’ve ripped them all into my iTunes library. The physical CDs are good backup!

      Like

  4. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Trask, this was a great post – I made cassette tapes when I was growing up. That brought back some memories! My best friends mom, had an old Gran Torino and she would take us to school sometimes – she would pop in a cassette and we would – baby, baby it’s a wild world – all the way to school.

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  5. kayjai says:

    I still have a collection of tapes somewhere in the bowels of a cabinet in the basement that Hubby invariably attempts to trash every month or so. I’ve fished them out of the garbage bag destined for toxic wasteland time and time again. Even if I can’t listen to them, I still hear them in my head. Nice post!

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  6. Adore this. My boys saw the cassette player in the dash the other day. They of course asked what it was for and now they are convinced I was born when the dinosaurs walked the earth. Thanks for some nostalgia!

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  7. I am also curious about the Paralyzing Fear of Rabid Dogs. After reading your post, I just hunted out Polly Wolly Doodle on iTunes. Good stuff.

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  8. This reminds me of audiophiles I knew in college. They would play their vinyl LPs exactly one time – to record them on a cassette tape thus preserving the pristine condition of the vinyl classics. I’m curious what songs are on the ‘Paralyzing Fear of Rabid Dogs’ tape. (And it does sound like a Pink Floyd concept album.)

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    • savorthefolly says:

      yes, good question. what is on that tape. I too would like to know.

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      • John says:

        Well, I see no songs about dogs or by Pink Floyd or songs about dogs by Pink Floyd.

        The first three cuts on side A are “Heading for the Light” (Traveling Wilburys), “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You” (Heart) and “In Your Eyes” (Peter Gabriel). I could do without the Heart song.

        The last three cuts on side B are “Fat Man in the Bathtub” (Little Feat), “Over and Over” (Dave Clark Five) and “Yer So Bad” (Tom Petty). Could be worse, I suppose.

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  9. savorthefolly says:

    sounds like a lot of good memories in those tapes.

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    • John says:

      If only I could hear them!

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      • savorthefolly says:

        would it be possible to burn those tapes onto CD so you could have a more enduring copy? I realize the sound quality wouldn’t be good. but at least you could hold onto the memories and listen from time to time when you wanted to reminisce.

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        • John says:

          Hmmmm, I don’t know. I could probably reconstruct a lot of them since a good portion of my music has been digitized. But that seems like a lot of work. lol

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