Will Cassette Tapes Make a Comeback?

Recently I chatted with a friend who bought a car. This is not terribly unique; people buy cars all the time. There’s a whole industry about it. To learn more, visit your local library.

What was unique was the car that he bought had a cassette tape player in it. He therefore bought some cassette tapes at a used record store in anticipation of blaring them out the window on a hot summer night, getting people excited to hear the classic Guns’N’Roses album, Appetite for Destruction.

Boy howdy, if all the people on social media who were praising Axl Rose recently for his sentiments on certain things could hear that album now, they’d clutch their pearls and faint. But that’s beside the point.

I began to wonder, though. Given that LPs (vinyl records) have made a comeback, will cassette tapes make a comeback?

This image is terrible | kesseljunkie
No reason for this image. This is just a cringey stock photo.

Well, Will They?

No. They won’t. You may as well ask if VHS will catch on again.

Cassette tapes were terrible, by and large. They were a net positive only by virtue of their portability. Before CDs, it was the easiest way to carry around music.

Of course, mix tapes were great. Kids these days will never know the sublime joy of making those laborious love letters. Of course, I also mixed some completely awesome tapes just for personal use since Spotify playlists weren’t a thing.

But our preferences for preserved technologies have a limit. We enjoy LPs because they can deliver superior sound quality to the conditioned ear when we want something better than the compression rates on an mp3 can deliver. I know some who enjoy CDs for similar reasoning, though that has yet to get the same hipster foothold that vinyl has.

Cassette tapes are just caught in a no man’s land of preference. CDs are just as portable, and the sound quality is arguably better. CDs can also have mixes on them, which removes a secondary use for cassettes.

So cassette tapes are ultimately doomed for the garbage dump to decay slowly alongside all the other plastics leaching into the soil. Perhaps some future archaeological dig will unearth that tape I made for…well, nevermind.

All I know is, we may bequeath the future to apes who can talk, but Cornelius is going to have one hell of a time growing anything edible thanks to those cassette tapes.

No wonder they hated humans.

It's a Madhouse Planet of the Apes Charlton Heston | kesseljunkie
“It’s a mixtape! A miiiiiiiiiiiixtape!”

In response to “Is the Phantom of the Opera Abusive or Romantic”?

Recently, “The Warden’s Walk,” an excellent blog I’ve been reading for some time, posted a question of whether the Phantom of the Opera is abusive or romantic. Certainly, given the high drama of the famous musical, it’s a worthy debate. He approaches it, though, afrom the vantage point of Joel Schumacher’s big screen adaptation.

(Quick disclaimer: I was a HUGE fan of the Weber musical. Saw it on Broadway with some members of the original cast still there, that’s how old I am. I was a troubled kid and it spoke to me. Go figure.)

That said, he raises good points. I invite you to read the blog in question. My comment there is the seed of what grew into this post.

Yes, the Phantom is a villain. He’s a bad guy.

There are no two ways about it. He manipulates, he murders, he distorts, he kidnaps, he intrudes, he steals, he covets, he treats himself as God-like. He’s the poster child for breaking every Commandment.

I think that the real beauty of the original novel, the original Lon Cheney movie, and the inimitable stage musical, is that it doesn’t disavow that. He’s the bad guy. He’s the villain.

But he’s also a product of his experiences. While I hesitate to say “sympathetic,” the Phantom is, at least, understandable.

The silent film version is truly wonderful. Long, but wonderful.

 So what of the idea that it’s a romantic story? In short, we see “romance” through the Phantom’s eyes. The problem is Phantom doesn’t know how to be romantic. He merely thinks he is romantic.

He also doesn’t understand love; like Anakin Skywalker with Padme Amidala, he thinks he is in love, but really what he’s feeling is possessiveness and a desire to redeem himself through the other person. Desperate for acceptance, he sees his manipulation of Christine as the way to it, even if only vicariously.

While there’s no mitigating factor for his actions, it still shows a villain struggling with his humanity. He does have talent, mad as it is, and he desperately wants to be good and desirable. To adapt the words from Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, Magnolia, he has love to give, he just doesn’t know where to put it.

There is some small piece of him inside that knows what he is doing is wrong. The problem is that he lacks the ability to control his baser impulses. The irony is that all of his ingenuity, had it been turned to good and natural ends, would have led to the acceptance he so craved.

The redemption of the Phantom is that, at the end of the book/play/movie he realizes he *has* been wrong. He realizes it’s wrong because Christine has the courage and strength to show him mercy, which is in itself a foreign concept to him. It’s a postulation that, if he’d been shown some sort of human kindness in his life before then, maybe things could have been different.

In the end, the Phantom is a reflection of our own monstrosities as much as his. Society created him. That doesn’t remove his personal responsibility for his actions; his redemption, again, can only come from his personal recognition that his actions were wrong, and his repentance from them.

All that said, Joel Schumacher’s adaptation is not particularly good, trading theme and depth for artifice. Which is not surprising.

Why I Love the Original Return of the Jedi soundtrack LP so much

This is being shared on May the Fourth, Fake Star Wars Day, to prove I’m not a hard-hearted man. Also I promised to explain this to someone a while back, so the time is now.

This past Christmas, I purchased a vinyl edition of the Return of the Jedi soundtrack for my good friend @TheInsaneRobin. The album was carefully selected as a nod to a very important album in my personal history both as a Star Wars fan and a developing human being.

While he could horrifyingly have taken that to mean I sent him a sort of mixtape, nevertheless I persisted and sent it to him.

Return of the Jedi Teaser Poster
This poster is the shizz-NITE.

History of Return of the Jedi and Me

It’s no secret that Return of the Jedi is my favorite of the original three Star Wars films. I love it! It completely captivated me as a kid.

I drifted away from that as I got older, like so many of my contemporaries did, only to rediscover the love with the letterboxed collector’s set released in 1991 on VHS. It was amazing because after so long with pan-and-scan, Jedi is the most visually-improved of the series when the aspect ratio is corrected.

But that’s a discussion for another time. This is about the soundtrack.

The Return of the Jedi soundtrack was a single album, whereas the first two Star Wars soundtracks had been double LPs. This was disappointing even in 1983; in later source materials I discovered that Lucasfilm had cut back on things because soundtrack albums weren’t selling as well and so on. It’s a bummer that a financial decision drove that, but it is what it is. It doesn’t diminish the great music that’s on there.

In the era of uncut and expaned soundtrack scores, it’s hard to imagine what the world was like when such things were edited to the bone, produced to give tracks that served as a sort of highlight real. There’s a real concert feel to these things, and it produces stuff like the fanfare treatment that the Star Wars theme gets on its original soundtrack pressing.

Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi
Now you will experience the power of the turntable.

So Why Jedi?

Aside from adoring the music, I remember laying on our living room floor listening to the LP on our stereo system. I remember the feel of the carpet and the television we had in there, which was so small I’d consider it an insult today. I remember looking at the gorgeous production shots when the cover was open, and the elegant simplicity of that iconic poster art.

The big, puffy headphones on my ears, I would crank up the track “Return of the Jedi” (the music from the Sail Barge fight, or at least an edited version of it). I would listen to “Han Solo Returns (At the Court of Jabba the Hutt)” and especially the track “The Emperor,” which was actually the music from the climactic moment he’s frying Luke with lightning.

I was moved by the track “Luke and Leia,” and still am. “Into the Trap,” the haunting entrancement of the opening crawl as ST-321 made its way to the second Death Star. I could go on! But I won’t.

In a way, Return of the Jedi was the setting sun of childhood. The original LP version of the soundtrack is the score to a time when the world was still young and fun.

There were frightening world events but I wasn’t completely aware of their import or impact. My parents were still infallible. All of my grandparents were alive. I hadn’t encountered the heavier questions of mortality.

It was the last summer my friends still wanted to play Star Wars with me. It was the last summer of overflowing toy aisles crammed with X-Wings and action figures, at least until they figured out some of us had ever stopped wanting them. There was no EU to bicker about. There were no fans dictating demands about what to see in their space fantasy.

When I listen to that original LP version of the Return of the Jedi score, I remember what it felt like when the world was less complicated in perception and choice. I can smell the summer air. I feel the carefree sensation of a summer without homework and playing until the sun was sliding away and the sweat dried. It’s one of those sacred, distant echoes of what it meant to be a kid.

And so, when I share the Return of the Jedi soundtrack – the one released in 1983 – even more than any other piece of Star Wars, it’s like sharing a piece of me.

This album never existed, but man, it would’ve been great.

Would It Be Better to Know Less, or More?

Recently I crossed paths with an acquaintance – a fellow parent at school – and we started reminiscing about bands. I forget what got us on the topic, but it was a pretty joyous thing. We recalled the real music of our lives, and the bands that made the most impact on us.

Delightfully, I discovered that The Doors were also his favorite band.

For me, this is basically like discovering someone else is a giant Star Wars fan. I am literally joyous when I discover someone else that has a deep, abiding love for what I consider to be the pound-for-pound best Rock’n’Roll band in history.

There have been plenty of bands with larger bodies of work, and longer histories. But The Doors were electric mayhem trapped in a crystalline time capsule, never to be repeated and leaving an impact that echoed all the way through the 1990s. They seem now to fade as never I thought they would, but that’s a topic for another time.

As I was talking with him, I realized that I slid into an easy groove that sometimes I’m not aware I fall into. Once the topic was tapped, a font of information was unleashed that eventually led him to say, “You’re one of those fans that likes the obscure stuff.”

He’s looking up the unreleased recordings of the Max Rebo Band before they found Droopy McCool.

Deep Cuts

In that moment, I realized he was right. Here was a guy who was sharing a love of the band with me. Without intent I had started riffing on all the volumes of information about them that I’d studied instead of paying more attention in school.

He just wanted to talk about the music. I was assaulting him with useless bits about how Manzarek and Densmore saw things very differently in their autobiographies.

It led, inevitably, to a reflection on something that Agent Bun said oh, so long ago when I was ranting polemical after my initial viewings of The Force Awakens. In that context, she said, “You need to relax. Normal people aren’t looking at the movie like you.”

During this conversation I realized the damage that too much “insider knowledge” of something can be for enjoying things. It was yet another jolt about habits I’ve formed over a lifetime.

I know I’m not alone. Maybe The Doors are a topical outlier, but spend some time with any rabid fanbase. The well of pointless knowledge runs deeper than imaginable.

So I had to ask myself the question, if it would it have been better – if it would be better – to have less knowledge of the things I love. Let the magician hold some tricks back and let me wonder.

When I wave my hand, Jedi ethics will become clear.
You don’t need to know what’s inside R2-D2. (He’s filled with sentient caramel.)

What Does a Person Gain From This Knowledge?

After all, what do I really gain from knowing all of these things? Does it truly add to my enjoyment of these works?

I know little of Ibsen, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying A Doll House. Moliere is lost to the mists of time but The Misanthrope and Tartuffe still speak to us. I don’t need to know how many drafts either wrote of their works, I just need to know what they’re saying.

Yet at the same time, context for Shakespeare’s day gives shape to HamletRomeo & Juliet, Othello, and the rest. Knowing that extra knowledge can inform, helpfully, what you take from them.

So I find myself stuck.

Perhaps there is too much to know. Perhaps I’ll never know enough.

I just wonder if it’d be better to know a little less.

* For the younger kids: “Acid” was slang for LSD, an awful mind-altering drug that led to slugabeds thinking they were philosophers.

Farewell, Ray Manzarek

Look, I’m not a newsdesk. As badly as I wanted to write about Ray Manzarek’s death the day it was announced, I just didn’t have the time to put something together that I would’ve felt was anything but a rush job to make an arbitrary sort of self-deadline. So I’ve spent the day thinking about it, shelved my review of Star Trek: Into Darkness for another day, and decided to say what I can say about Ray.

An important thing needs to be noted about my feelings on Ray Manzarek. I went from teenage idolator of The Doors to adult scarily-obsessed fan (like Oliver Stone), and finally, to sober adult capable of contextualizing my fandom where it belonged.

Ray, for any flaws he may have had, was the ONLY other voice I believe capable of even getting Morrison to work in a structured setting.

Sadly, when Ray wrote his book, I don’t think he was at that point. He probably changed, or at least mellowed. The documentaries that came out in later years and the books that were less worshipful and more honest certainly allowed Ray to recast himself as less of a cult leader to more of a man with a broken heart who lost his best friend far too soon.

In fact, I dare anyone to listen to Tightrope Ride and not hear the horrible pain that Morrison put Ray—and arguably everyone else in his path—through. It’s a song that Ray wrote and sang on The Doors’ first album released after Morrison’s death, and it still speaks to any of us who might know the anger caused when someone wastes the ultimate gift and shuffles off this mortal coil in totally avoidable ways. Hell, I listen to it and get mad at my past self for wasting years screwing around without purpose or focus.

Go on, listen.

Back now? Great.

At the end of it all, despite my very conflicted feelings about Ray and whether he let go of the Jim Mythos or not, there is a very important fact I cannot overlook.

He was a very, very key player in putting and keeping together the one band that ever spoke to me when my own head was completely gone and I couldn’t hear anyone else. The Doors aren’t everyone’s favorite, but they’re mine, and if it wasn’t for Ray I, and a lot of other people who needed/need someone to speak to that sadness wouldn’t have had them.

In the end, I thank him for at least trying to get the surviving band members back together, and for going on tour and giving two guys an evening to feel young again and get at least a glimpse of the impossibly lost.

Go with God, Ray. I love you for what you gave me and what you gave the world. I thank you for what you helped get me through, even though you never knew me.