It has been said that every memory we have ever had, every single waking experience is locked up inside our minds just waiting to be recalled. Some information is considered incredibly mundane, which is precisely why you can’t find your car keys. But sometimes things are stored with a bit of metadata that tells our brains to keep it ready because someday it will matter. I’m about to put this in context here but I should warn you that although this post deals with my memory recollection, it is in almost no way important. In fact, it will explain a lot about me to some, leave others in a state of confusion, and the rest will simply back away slowly desperately avoiding eye contact. In a few moments you will have the opportunity to peer into my childhood memories in a way which is actually quite disturbing. It deals with music, and will shed some light on why my musical nature is beyond warped. It will also confim some suspicions that I am stark raving mad. So without further adieu, I mention:
THE BUICK TAPE
Right after my family moved back to the United States from Athens, Greece, my family went through a series of changes. I was pulled away from my mediterranean home, my brother grew large enough to drool, bite things and flush random objects down the toilet. My dad also bought a new car. It was a 1980 Buick Century with a (wait for it…) stereo with CASSETTE PLAYER. In order to demonstrate the amazing audio that could be enjoyed while driving, a simple cassette tape was included in the glove box. Over the next couple of years, it became known as the Buick Tape.
Now, this tape wasn’t just played, it was played to DEATH. I still have the cassette, but the iron oxide inside is more or less gone. We played that tape so much, I’m surprised it didn’t make my parents go so far as to fill my bed with tarantulas while they ceremoniously burned the tape with napalm. We played it on every trip back to my grandparents’ house in Kentucky, and almost any time we had to go somewhere taking longer than a few minutes.
At this point the story is pretty straight forward. Most kids love to hear music and when they find something likable, they tend to wear it out. Repetition is the key there, to the point where it irritates other more mature listeners. But the problem was that this tape did not contain what most people would call good music. In fact, most people would take one listen and pray for oversized jetpacking sewer rats to fly in and stab them with sharpened knitting needles than endure the songs contained in the Buick Tape.
You have to remember what kind of music would have been popular with the average Buick owner in the late ’70’s. No, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Rush and the rest were nowhere near this tape. Unfortunately, we have a category of music out there today called Adult Contemporary which serves little purpose than to soothe uptight, stressed-out upper-middle class mall dwellers who may or may not be emotionally frail. Back then, it was called Easy Listening.
The sad part to me as a music person is that Easy Listening was a softer, sleepier collection of tracks that were so sterile they couldn’t possibly contain any artistic value, and the wretched arrangements were remakes of actual good songs. A trend began where good music was deemed too antagonistic for the average person so softer, cheesier versions were created to satisfy a person’s musical cravings without them having to know what they were actually hearing. Remember, Rock ‘n’ Roll was still considered evil. Some artists went for this softer style and created acts such as The Carpenters, Captain & Tenille, and Dan Fogelberg. But at least those performers had some talent and worked with good material.
Now back to where I fit in here. I did not get to listen to much music that was outside the realm of symphonic or classical. I got to hear a lot of crossover stuff in the form of Vangelis, thanks to amazing TV programs like Cosmos and movies such as Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner. The truth was that while other children were hearing various forms of pop and rock music, I came of age hearing orchestras, synthesizers and many layers and textures, including those which are present in the pseudo-disco-easy listening Buick Tape. By the time I enteres first grade, I had heard more Bach than Beatles.
I admit, to this day, I still like the music in the Buick Tape. When I found the mp3’s online, I instantly recalled every sound, even the ones I couldn’t identify back then, but now know are steel guitars or delay pedals. It took me back and other memories started flooding in. I unlocked a drawer in my brain that allowed me to remember that the license plate number of that car was MLB-046. The other car was GSA-624, and eventually we wound up with 624-FRL on another vehicle. But I digress.
So, I thought I was being kept safe from the dangers of rock music? Wrong.
At least one instrumental on the tape is the song “Beth” by Kiss. Since we all know that stands for “Knights In Satan’s Service,” I’m yet again surprised that the cassette remains intact. There is a London Brass version of “Hotel California,” which I was taught was actually a reference to the Church of Satan. One song is by an artist named Evelyn “Champagne” King. How can a wholesome person include an alcoholic beverage in her name?
OK, that last paragraph was a bit facetious and maybe sarcastic.
The point is that I think my parents partly allowed me to keep that tape because of its wholesome, non rock-n-roll properties yet here I am, over 30 years later recalling all of this and making fun of it. Because not only did I eventually discover rock music, I learned that you can’t stifle creativity in any form, even the irritating ones. You can’t shelter a person from good music for very long, and even great music has some appalling qualities at times. You can have new favorites every so often and you can admit to liking some cheese. But music is music. Rhythm, melody and harmony can come together in ways that blow the mind, or cause us to vomit. Sometimes both at the same time. I think the primary reason they let us play the tape is because it got two bratty kids to shut up for the tiring trip from Dayton to Lexington. Ugh. That means that in my youth, I loved some pretty cheesy stuff. And on one stopped me. (Maybe that’s why I still like Mr. Bungle and Tom Waits nowadays.)
So while you’re out there enjoying something good, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the Buick Tape all over again and imagine I’m 6 years old on my way to my Gran’s house. The music may be awful, but man, it sure relieves some stress. Time to escape.