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Cassette (Re)collection: 6

Posted by NumberSix , 27 September 2009 · 387 views

The "boom box" was invented in the mid-'80s and became all the rage among those boors who wanted transportable music but couldn't wait for the Walkman to be invented. Before the boom box, the now-obsolete "tape recorder" was our only vehicle for accessing audiocassette content. For today's confused youngsters, this is a tape recorder:

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The retractable handle made it easier to schlep around with me so that my friends and I could get together and sometimes make up our own radio shows, but it was never cool enough to drag around in public as a constant entertainment companion. The batteries would drain too quickly (I learned to love AC adaptors at an early age) and the volume knob only went up to the equivalent of 5 at best. It was good enough for me and my purposes. Besides, I didn't have a choice -- my family couldn't afford to upgrade anything we owned. We didn't get cable till maybe 1986, color TV around 1988 or so, and our first VCR in 1990. (Even our first computer wasn't till 1993, and it was the cheapest Montgomery Ward had to offer. We had no Internet access, but just enough memory to play an original Wolfenstein demo or the lovably demented Sam & Max Hit the Road, albeit without a sound card.)

After I turned 16 and joined the working class part-time at McDonald's in 1988, then my Golden Age of Technology began. The first appliance I saved up to purchase was an electric typewriter (ooh, fancy!) to supplant my grandma's decrepit Smith-Corona with the keys that stuck together and the carriage return that sometimes slid halfway across the page in the middle of typing a word. In 1990 I finally saved up enough to buy my very first gaming console, the magical marvelous Nintendo...just in time for the new Super Nintendo to be introduced and turn my moment of joyous victory into a celebration of instant obsolescence.

Around that same time, I also made the conscious transition from the tape recorder I was given to a boom box I could purchase myself. I never had the urge to carry one around and share my music with strangers, though. I never understood that impulse in others -- from the dual standpoints of rudeness and battery wastefulness. Also, I'd seen and loved that famous scene in Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home, and I vowed never to become that guy. Eventually, I kinda did in a way, but not on public transit.

But enough about musical wessels:

Black Crowes: Take five average kids, raise them on bar bands and Aerosmith, throw them in a recording studio with professional hook-honing experts like Rick Rubin and Brendan O'Brien, and the end result was the derivative yet indelible Shake Your Money Maker, a beast that refuses to leave the airwaves nearly twenty years later. Turn on any classic-rock or AOR station, wait half an hour, and either "Jealous Again" or "Hard to Handle" will invade your space like Lenny and Squiggy. Before Jet and Buckcherry made the world unsafe for tribute bands that refuse to admit they're tribute bands, there was the Black Crowes. I liked them the first several thousand times I heard them, but as both songs approach their one-millionth replay, I find myself leaping to switch stations.

Fortunately the other songs haven't entered the terminal stages of commercial radio overexposure. "She Talks to Angels" was once on the watchlist, but has cooled off in recent years. "Twice as Hard" attempted overkill but never quite reached that level of irritating ubiquity. The rest of the album is an affable, sufficient Americanized substitute for all the Stones albums I don't own, which is all of them. I've likewise never felt the need to buy another Crowes album, either -- future single "Remedy", from their sophomore letdown album, dragged when it should have bounced, and nothing else of theirs received airplay 'round these parts until last year's "Goodbye, Daughters of the Revolution", which offers a promising though convoluted chorus, but runs out of steam by the end.

Garth Brooks: I'm not a country fan, but I also don't believe in dismissing an entire genre out of unfairly generalized cultural bias. Thus I added the zillion-selling No Fences to my personal museum after hearing two songs by accident and being pleasantly surprised to hear that neither was about excess drinking or being dumped (not that the album lacks for those -- cf. "Friends in Low Places" and "Same Old Story", each aptly titled). The former arena sensation delved into more sensitive emotional territory with the controversial hit "The Thunder Rolls", about a marriage in severe trouble -- how severe depends on which version you hear and whether or not you've seen the video. On the lighter side, the peppy "Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House" is a celebration of new marriage, one of those old societal institutions that no one ever likes to sing about in a positive light. Also on the taboo-subject tip, "Unanswered Prayers" reflects on a faith in God that's matured enough to appreciate the fleeting nature of, and reasons behind, some short-term disappointments.

With just a touch of crossover rock beats here and there, Brooks transcended the unfair stereotypes of his peers to craft a diverse collection of hummable tunes for the kind of listeners who yearn for more than just sex and rebellion in their music. Fiddles, pedal-steel guitars, and forced Southern ak-say-ents aren't normally my cup of tea, but as I've aged nearer and nearer to my inevitable fuddy-duddy years, No Fences has grown on me Not enough to regret getting rid of the redundant follow-up In Pieces years ago, but still. Who knew.

[Next entry: Oldsters that bands I like like better than I do, and the first band I ever saw on MTV.]

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