Look what I found recently! It’s a box of tapes from high school. TAPES. The only tape player still in existence is in my car, thank god. I’ve been riding around listening to these for the last few weeks.
I don’t even have words to describe how powerfully this takes me right back to being about 17 years old, cruising around Charlotte in my 1974 Super Beetle, right in the thick of everything. No air conditioning, windows down, taking the long way home as the sun goes down just to listen a little bit more.
I don’t remember what sine and cosine mean, can’t explain photosynthesis, and haven’t read anything by William Faulkner in years, but I can sing right along with Squeeze: “I bought a toothbrush, some toothpaste, a flannel for my face…” I know all the words to songs I didn’t even remember that I’d ever heard before. And it’s not just the words to the songs that come back. I can’t listen to any of this without remembering all the history and emotions that go along with it. High school is nothing if not highly emotional — joy, nervousness, hope, frustration — and these songs are like a direct line right back into it. It’s so close it’s almost raw – like touching a bruise.
Friends made these tapes for me or introduced me to the bands, and after all these years, the friends still match the music. Chad: Jane’s Addiction. Ann: U2 and Modern English. David W.: New Order and Depeche Mode. Lucia: REM. Peter: The Connells. Specific songs have their own stories, too. Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes reminds me viscerally of a boy who never paid one smidge of attention to me, despite my best efforts. Julie and I used to stand outside joking about an Edie Brickell song when we should have been on our way to English class. A friend from camp rode me to the beach on his handlebars and we listened to the Steve Miller Band – the Joker.
I’ve listened to plenty of music since high school, and a lot of it is probably just as good or better. But I’m not sure if it means as much to me now as it did then. When you’re a teenager, it’s not just music, it’s a way of defining yourself — your identity before you have much control over anything else. You couldn’t pick your car or your school, but you could pick your music. Mine was all over the map — there’s Mozart stuck in between the Beatles and New Order — but that’s who I was. (And still am, in some ways.)
Sharing music was harder then than it is now, but maybe more meaningful because of that. The act of physically giving or receiving an object — a lowly tape — really felt like something. Triple that for a mix tape, because you sat in your room at night and actually planned it out, listened through it, and tried to time everything just right. A playlist is not the same. And what do people even do now? Give each other gift certificates to iTunes? Do they share music like we did?
Anyway, I’m glad we did it, and glad I have it. There’s music on these tapes that I’ve been listening to ever since, but there are also songs I probably haven’t heard in 20 years. I love these dead-technology, poor-sound-quality, tired and faded tapes. It’s like finding high school in a box. I don’t know that I’d go back, but it’s really nice to visit with some old friends.
Top Ten Newly Remembered Songs (in no particular order):
10. 10,000 Maniacs: Verdi Cries.
9. Violent Femmes: Please Do Not Go.
8. Hooters: And We Danced.
7. Squeeze: Tempted.
6. Fine Young Cannibals: As Hard as It Is.
5. The Connells: Hey Wow.
4. A-Ha: And You Tell Me.
3. REM: 7 Chinese Brothers.
2. Erasure: A Little Respect.
1. Redd Kross: Love is You.