Star Wars, 8-Tracks, and Stairway to Heaven or Dim Really Needs to Lay Off the Sauce
Bear with me on this one. Xteen and I are starting to think about buying a house and one of the main reasons for this is that our apartment is starting to feel a tad on the small side. One giant reason for this happens to be the 1,500+ CDs that are housed in various wooden apparati that choke out every available inch of wallspace in the joint.
So, basically, we need a house because I'm an idiot and buy too many CDs. This I know.
But I was thinking to myself, "What if all of these CDs were cassette tapes? What if they were records? Where would I keep all of them?" And then it got me thinking more. Since I was born in the early 70s, I, like probably most of the residents of Dim City, can say they have been a part of five major types of music media: the vinyl LP, the 8-track tape, the cassette tape, the CD, and electronic music files. Now, don't get all uppity on me and say, "B-B-B-But Dim!!! What about Digital Audio Tapes???" Piss off. No one has any of those. And if you do, they're probably collecting dust alongside your beta max.
So, I was thinking about comparing the media (save the electronic music files) that we have lived through in three really important categories: Look, Portability, and Practicality.
I know what you are thinking.
"B-B-B-But Dim!!! What about SOUND?? Isn't that what it is all about anyway???"
My ears are ravaged from years of playing in loud bands and listening to Maiden, so I could give a crappin ass less about stuff like high ends, low ends, Nyquist frequencies, quantization noise, hertz, kilohertz, and islammedmyfingerinthecardoorandnowithertz. I don't want to hear, "B-B-B-But Dim!!! Jazz and classical music sound SO much better on vinyl!!!"
Go screw and listen to some RAWK, Junior!!!
So here we go:
The LP Vinyl Record:
Take away the goofy colored vinyl that seem to be collectors' items for people who get unreconcilable boners over concepts like the aforementioned Nyquist frequencies for a second. These are the same dolts that are fascinated by red pistachio nuts. But I digress...The black circle is just that. A brittle, black disc with a whole in it. Engraved in it, a solitary groove that winds around and can contain everything from Handel to Donna Summer without prejudice. Looking at an LP record, one could ask, "How much more black could this be?" And we all know the answer is "None. None more black." But the best part of the LP record was actually the protective cover. A nice, large, artistic representation of the music contained within. It could be iconic, like a Warhol-designed banana, or a collection of people that the Beatles would like to see at a fictional concert. Or, it could be something like these. Yeesh.
LPs were a little bulky and oddly shaped to lug around. You'd basically have to carry them under your arm, like schoolbooks, and pray that you didn't screw up and have the slit in the jacket facing to the left or right while carrying, which would result in the inevitable separation of the album from its protective sleeve and equally inevitable decimation at the hands of an unforgiving ground (see: Practicality). Storage is a factor too, because the only thing that fits them are milkcrates. And you need tons and tons of milkcrates for your albums. And that really sucks if you are lactose intolerant. Yeah, I just got the new Leo Sayer but I haven't listened to a single note, because I've been stuck on the can! You might make him feel like dancin', but he makes me feel like dropping a deuce.
And forget about the actual portability of the playing device for the albums. Unless you have an 8-mile long extension cord and a wheelbarrow, you are shit out of luck.
Cool thing about LPs, other than hearing that inital crack when the needle hits the vinyl is that you could rig your hi-fi to play stuff backwards so you could really tell if there were Satanic messages in "Stairway to Heaven". That's gotta be worth something more than Robert Plant's eternal soul, no?
A downside is that these things shattered more easily than Sam Jackson in Unbreakable. I remember holding a Star Wars record (my most prized possession at that time) in my little hands when I was a kid and having it slip out of my wee grasp and land on the living room floor, pulverized into more pieces than the Death Star after Luke blew it up (thanks entirely to Han Solo). I was completely devastated and haven't really completely forgiven vinyl since.
I have one other major problem with LPs. Each side could only really store about 30 minutes of music. For the most part, bands adhered to that strict time limit, but then, all of a sudden, it dawned on them and they said, "Hey, we're rock and roll! Fuck the rulez!!!" and the started to make the "double album", which was four sides of musical goodness. Problem with that came with the record players that were able to hold multiple records on the spindle at once and then drop the next one down when the one playing was finished (seemingly by magic). I seem to recall double albums, at first, having sides 1 and 2 on one disc and then 3 and 4 on the other. This fucked everything up, because you would put the double album on the spindle and listen to side 1, then side 3, then turn them over and listen to side 4 and then side 2. And with something like Pink Floyd's The Wall, listening to the songs out of order would make the plot of the album confusing, instead of crystal clear like it is when you listen in order. I know, Roger...we're all waiting for the worms.
Anyway, they somehow managed to figure out a fix for this using some sort of mathematical formula and finagled things so it lined up OK, but by then, no one wanted LPs anymore. They moved onto bigger and better things like...
The 8-track tape:
Before I get going on this, let me cut you off by saying that I do know that these things existed pretty much concurrently in the 70s, but we seemed to have an 8-track after a record player in our house, so this is the order I am going with.
A cross between a cassette tape and an Atari cartridge on steroids. Not exactly a chick magnet.
Smaller in size than the LP record, but significantly more chunky. Portable in the sense that you could listen to these things in your car, but not quite as portable as media yet to come.
This is where the shitstorm begins, because I would really like to meet the fucking genius to invented this thing. Here's my bright idea...we put music on a tape and make it smaller and more compact, so people can listen in their homes and in their vehicle. The size of the actual media is smaller, so you don't need to have a medicine chest full of Lactaid in order to store it. Is that a good idea?
Hells yeah! Any drawbacks?
Not a single one. Well, unless you count the fact that we have to split the music up into eight tracks (hence the name, dum dum) and when the track changes from one to another (which is completely arbitrary yet always in the middle of a song), the music ceases for three seconds and a "click" about as subtle as a sonic boom occurs before the music resumes. Other than that, it's aces.
"Hey man, throw on some Zeppelin!!"
And she's buyyyyyying a stair....way....to heav......
"Jimmy Page, man! Jimmy fucking Page!!!"
The Cassette Tape:
It looks like a, well, ummm, a cassette tape. You know. The main drawback to the look is that it took stunning and detailed album art and reduced to the size of a Shrinky Dink.
Now, we are getting somewere. The cassettes themselves were significantly smaller than the 8 tracks; you could grab them by the handful. Many cars had stereos equipped to play them and even carrying cases to hold them were relatively small in size and required little, if any, mass digestion of lactose in order to obtain. Portability of cassette tape players varied greatly. There was the "tape deck" which was small and easy to carry, thanks to a built-in handle, but setting the volume to anything over "2" ("4" was the lowest frequency a human could hear) caused the speaker to blow and everything, from Irene Cara to Foreigner, to sound like Charlie Brown's teacher. Which was actually a step up in sound. At least for Foreigner.
Then you had the boom boxes. The ill Run DMC-style box could hardly be described as portable as you needed a pulley system to hoist it onto the shoulder. But once you were able to get it up there, you were in good shape. Unless you count the spina bifida you developed from carrying around an 83-pound hunk of metal on one shoulder. But usually, the sound was kickin' and there was always those pimp canes to help out with your limp.
Then came the portable cassette player, universally known by Sony's product, the Walkman. People seem to only remember the late model Walkmen...the ones that were sleek; barely thicker than the cassette itself and weighed about as much as a ladybug. The one I seem to recall most vividly was the earlier model, generic, non-Sony Walkman, which was about as aerodynamic as a cinder block and was as stealthy as Darth Vader's breathing box. "The head cleaner is strong in this one..."
Again, like all media, a finite amount of music could fit on a single side, necessitating the buzzkilling "tape flip". The players were various and sundry. All shapes, sizes, and sounds. One drawback was, when either the player was hungry or the tape was frisky, it usually resulted in the once symbiotic relationship between cassette and player to turn into a murder/suicide. Once the tape was "eaten", more often than not, neither tape nor player could be salvaged. Alas.
The other thing that sucked was trying to find the beginning of a song on a tape. Unlike an album, which had a visible space between tracks, with a cassette, you were pretty much throwing shit against the wall and seeing what stuck:
"Dude, you gotta hear this 'Stairway to Heaven' tune, but you gotta listen to the WHOLE thing...the intro is so cool!!"
Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine...
"Oh wait, man, that's the wrong friggin side. Hold on."
If there's a bustle in your hedgerow...
"Oh shit, don't listen! That's it. Wait til I get to the beginning!"
"Dude, what the fuck's a hedgerow?"
"Nevermind...wait. I think I got it."
With flames from the dragon of darkness...
"Dude, what the hell is THAT? Is he reading 'The Hobbit'? Is that a mandolin? Are you listening to Jethro fucking Tull?"
"Man, shut up. I rewound it too far. That song's good, man. Even though a chick sings on it, it's about castles and shit."
And this goes on for awhile until they either find the beginning of the song or it's time to go play D&D.
They did invent cassette players that could actually "read" the spaces between tracks and you could program it to forward or rewind X number of songs. Unfortunately, these players were like $8,000. And by the time they came down in price, we moved on to...
Small and shiny. Dim digs. Artwork size drastically reduced from LP size, yet bigger than cassettes. Dim has mixed feelings.
Unless you are James Bond and some secret special spy shit no one's ever heard of before, it scarsely gets more portable. There are sleeves to store them in your car's visor. You can keep hundreds of them in a 3-ring binder, if you're not anal like Dim and need to have all the artwork prominently displayed along with the disc. Discmen are very easily to transport and pretty much every car made this millenium has a built-in CD player. The fact that it violently skips with every bump you ride over is a post for another day.
High ranking scores on this one. 80 minutes of music on a relatively durable, single disc. Even Tool has a hard time filling one of these puppies up. Only issue is that they look exactly like DVDs, so you have to be careful if you leave them lying around without their case because instead of listening to Josh Groban, uh, I mean, the White Stripes, you might find your car CD player desperately trying to read your copy of Fried Green Tomatoes, uh, I mean Rambo: First Blood Part 2.
So, what's the point of this whole post?
After careful re-reading of this whole thing, I think I finally came up with it:
The process of thinking about buying a house really sucks, so try not to buy a lot of CDs, even though it is tempting because they are small and shiny.