Feb 18, 2015 | by Michael Champlin
The tapes sounded like crap. I was strangely okay with this.
I’ve had a flair for the nostalgic from a young age. I grew up with a typewriter on my desk, and preferred immersing myself in my parents’ record collection rather than listening to the music of my peers (I didn’t really start appreciating Nirvana’s music until my twenties, but that’s another tangent for another day). I could probably blame it on a lot of things — growing up in a house full of antiques, years of homeschooling, a flair for the undeniably analog hobbies of my parents. At any rate, this tendency has stuck with me know throughout the decades.
When I started driving my pickup a few years ago, I could have opted to replace the old radio / tape deck with something shiny and new that I could use with my iPhone and Bluetooth. I didn’t. A friend generously donated a tape converter so she could plug in her phone when she rode with me, but I was uninterested. Instead, I started scoping out cheap cassette tapes from thrift stores and record shops. There was the 25 cent Bob Dylan I nabbed from the bin at a thrift shop in Wichita (Blonde on Blonde, in case you were curious) and the handful of choice nineties albums I found for a dollar a piece at Starship Records in Tulsa.
After my move to Austin it became a sort of right of passage — anyone who spent any time in my truck started looking for tapes too, and soon the collection was growing. There was Marvin Gaye’s Greatest Hits from a woman I dated briefly (the relationship flickered out, but What’s Goin’ On lasts forever), Crosby, Stills and Nash from a close friend, Wings Over America from god knows where. There were some tapes in the glove box, some under the seats; they stayed there through the hot summer and cold winter, taking on the patina of age.
The people who bought me tapes, whether seriously or ironically, understood something important. Having access to every song a person could ever want in their pocket, that’s a pretty amazing milestone for technology, and I am duly impressed, but it’s missing something. The music on those tapes was alive, and I built a relationship with it every time I flipped the tape. We love vintage things, old things, things with stories because we can connect with them in ways that Spotify can never compare with. We can hold them in our hands, we can find them in dusty boxes and admire their dated cover art, we can give them to someone on a date. They’re true ephemera in an age where everything is ephemeral. And if you ask me? Mixtapes will always, always be better than playlists.
For our readers: what’s in your tape deck?
Have questions about how to care for your vinyl collection? Check out this post.