Songwriting and Mixed Tapes
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Over the Christmas Holidays, I went with the family to the local library. I wasn't sure if Santa was going to bring me any good books to read, so I grabbed a handful from the feature display near the check out counter. All of the books I signed out were about Rock and Roll. I can't say that I've been an avid fan of this genre in the past. The only book I can remember liking was Great Jones Street by Don Dililo. And I do recommend it. The books that I did sign out were of varying degrees of interest. One book was called Love Is A Mixed Tape, by Rob Sheffield. It was a lot like the movie High Fidelity, basically an ode from a music critic to his wife who died tragically and way too soon.
This title appealed to me because I love mixed tapes. I loved making mixed tapes and I loved making the covers for mixed tapes. My older brother Don was a big influence on this love. He had a huge collection of mixed tapes with great home-made covers. One of my favourites was This Ain't No Party, This Ain't No Disco....It's A Head Cleaner! I once made a tape of all these songs with space and doomsday references like Bowie's Heros and The Stone's Sympathy For The Devil interspersed with clips from Orson Welle's War Of The World radio program. The cover had a picture of a display of lipsticks arranged like missiles. I called it Apackoflips Now. I loved that tape. Another one had a picture of these men doing a synchronized drill with folding lawn chairs being tossed to each other. I called that one If I Had A Rocket Lawn Chair. One day whilke walking my kids to school I seen a small box that was filled with mixed tapes. Of course I took them home. Since the only working tape deck that we own is in our van, the only chance I got to listen to these was when I was driving someplace. Most of the tapes were dance mixes of this and that. Lots of eighties stuff. I would listen to about 5 minutes of each before tossing it onto the floor. But then, one tape doesn't start out with the Pet Shop Boys or New Order. No it's actually a letter written from a young man to his friend. This guy was working on a cruise ship someplace as a d.j. and was telling his buddy all about this glamourous life on the high seas. Oh the romance! This guy was far from modest. I was captivated by this tape! And then I found another one. This one was written from England where our hero had taken shore leave with his new girlfriend. In this cassette letter, this guy bemoans the fact that his girlfriend doesn't really understand him and all that he is going through. He details all the wonderous discoveries that travel has laid before his feet. Such as his inability to buy French's Mustard in England. At one point he is making the tape in a drunken state, whispering into the microphone because he is in bed with his girlfriend and doesn't want to wake her. Those were funny tapes. I should have made covers for them.
The best mixed tape story I have, though, was from the time I was living in Banff. I had made a few tapes and put Scotch whiskey ads on the covers and called them Scotch Tape I and Scotch Tape II. I did something different for Scotch Tape III. I went to the Banff Library and found the Halifax phone book. I turned to the 'M' pages and ripped out a random page with lots of MacDonalds, Mac Dougalls etc. And that was the cover. I'd play this tape at the restaurant where I worked. One day one of my co-workers picks uy the tape and says "Hey my parents name and address are on this cover." True story.
I didn't really like Love Is A Mixed Tape (though he does mention the song Save It Fellator, by the English Beat). The next book I read was Black Postcards by Dean Wareham. It detailed the history of his band, Luna. In detail. I really don't know why people would want to know what a particular hotel in Brussells was like back in the 80's ( then again, why would anybody be interested in what I read over the Christmas holidays? I do have a point to all of this. Which doesn't really explain why anyone would be interested in it. But it's good to have a point.) But the writer does talk about songwriting and the making of songs. The third book was called Things The Grandchildren Should Know, by Mark Oliver Everett. Good Book. A good read about someone who just had to make music. In this book and in Black Postcards, the writers talk about the little recording studios that thy literally had in their closets and how much time they would spend making songs. Neither of these two guys had more than a basic training in music. But they had to make music. And it was the closet reference tht caught my attention. It was a big deal for them to be able to make music in a bigger way. They came out of the closet.
And I'm coming out of the closet, too. I am a songwriter. I write songs. As a 45 year old it feels strange to admit that. It's like saying I partake in modern dance in my spare time. And coming out of the songwriting closet on a blog (that as far as I know, nobody reads) is only slightly more daring than shouting out to the Grand Canyon. During the off- season. But it shouldn't be daring or embarrassing. Songs get written all the time. Everyday. And songwriters aren't chosen like the next Dalai Lama: a spiritual quest that highlights the individuals who have been touched by God. Maybe some songwriters are. And I didn't say that I'm a good songwriter. I just write songs. Heck, 20 years ago almost everyone I knew would have laughed at the notion of people paying me real money for my artwork.