Thursday, July 30, 2015

I Remember Cassettes

Last fall, Canadian indie-rock band, The Rural Alberta Advantage, released their fourth album, Mended With Gold. What was surprising for this release, in the digital age, is that they offered this album in a format that my kids would barely recognize.

Audio cassette.

Remember those things? Does anyone still drive a car that has one as a standard feature? Hell, my car and my van each have a CD player, and I can't remember the last time I used them.

But I remember audio cassettes, I remember them with a touch of nostalgia.

I remember buying 10-packs of high-quality tapes. I went through these packs like they were candy, filling them with my favourite songs, writing out the titles and artists in the lined slips, writing themes along the spines—Depression HitsCar ToonsDance Ditties.

I made mixed tapes for my friends, too, loved to share my music. I could make the music flow, ensure that the song that played would mix well with the previous song, see to it that the next one would carry on, wouldn't ruin the mood I was trying to create.

Maybe those weren't just audio cassettes: they were mood influencers. And there were endless ways to personalize those moods.

When we were kids, my sisters and I acted out skits, my youngest sister directing all of them, telling us what to say, getting upset when we strayed from her unwritten scripts. I loved to be the roving reporter, interviewing random people. Anchoring bogus news stories.

We always sang into our recorder, my youngest sister having a great voice, even at an early age, and still to today.

What I wouldn't give to hear those tapes again.

When my kids were small, I recorded their voices, captured the sounds they made when they were only three or four. We dug them up about six months ago, played them for our girls. We remembered the high-pitched giddiness of our eldest, remembered how vocal and fluent our youngest one was before she was even two. Hearing those voices, now gone from our maturing young ladies, brought tears to my eyes.

Audio cassettes, while they don't have the quality of a CD, vinyl, or even, I would argue, MP3, still bring a sense of excitement to the ear.

I haven't made a mixed tape in decades. I no longer have my old stereo components. The last time I put music on tape was in the weeks leading up to my wedding. We didn't have room at our venue, the Mackenzie-King Estates, for a DJ; instead, we sent out song requests, to be written on the RSVPs, and made a list. I borrowed a friend's DJ equipment, and recorded all of the songs on a VHS cassette, which played non-stop for almost six hours.

Would I buy an audio cassette today? No. I can't play them in my vehicles and I only have one machine in my house that can play them. Long gone are the Walkmans that I carried around as much, back then, as my Android device, today.

I suspect that there won't be an audio-cassette revival, like we have had with vinyl. The Rural Alberta Advantage did something unique with there last release, but I doubt they'll repeat it for their next one.

Audio cassettes are a blast from the past that aren't meant to last.

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