On the podcast last week Martin asked me if I remembered the advertising campaign in the 1980s launched by the British Phonographic Industry to reduce copyright infringements.
“Do you think anyone took any notice?” I asked.
We agreed that nobody did.
I wrote recently about buying a CD player, tiring as I do with the infinite choice offered by the streaming services. But it isn’t just the endless availability that takes something away from the experience of listening, it’s also too easy.
Making mix tapes was much harder and all the more rewarding for it.
To say it became an obsession for me would not be far from the truth.
I would spend my Saturday afternoons browsing second-hand record shops, trading in old albums and selecting new ones to take home and painstakingly stitch together, pressing down “play” and “record”, and releasing the “pause” button as I carefully dropped the needle of the record player in the precise spot between songs.
Calculating whether there was enough left of the spool for one more track or whether to play it safe with a longer-than-ideal “run-out” was a part of the art.
In the evening, I’d take my newly crafted offering to “The Minstrel” having adorned it with a name which may or may not have anything to do with the running order.
I’d be paid with a pint and the next weekend I’d do it all over again.
Sometimes, I’d hear a song on the radio and want to add it to a tape, and then I’d have to track it down and find the right album.
On one notable occasion, I heard “Come Around” by The Mutton Birds in the chip shop but when the DJ named the artist at the end I heard “The Mockingbirds” (who wouldn’t?) and then had an awkward conversation the next day with the bloke in the record shop until we were able to identify my mistake.
These days, I’d just “Shazam” it, but where’s the fun in that?
I thought about making mix tapes again this week during a conversation with someone about death.
We bemoan our ageing bodies, the aches and pains that once passed almost as quickly as they arrived and now seem intent upon sticking around like an unwelcome guest at a party.
It reminded me of a picture once drawn for me by a therapist illustrating the inevitable trajectory of physical decline juxtaposed with the widely achievable continuous growth of our intellect, emotional capacity, and spirituality, right up until the day we stop breathing.
“Use it or lose it.” That’s what a mix tape represented.
The effort required, the time that it took, and the careful expression of one’s own emotions through the words of another.
Everything felt more vibrant because you were a part of the process rather than someone who just happened to be standing alongside caught in the slipstream.
It’s not that everything is better when it’s hard but perhaps we idolise ease more than is good for us.
When a cassette became inadvertently unspooled you’d have to stick a pencil into the spindle and wind laboriously until all of the wayward tape was contained again.
If you could find a pencil just the right diameter it was possible to secure it and then spin it around like an old-style football rattle mimicking the action of the mechanical rewind in the cassette player itself. Perhaps that was the sweet spot between too much effort and just enough.