I have a bit of a reputation among my friends of being that guy who goes from zero to 100 when it comes to be being obsessed with new things. And when I heard the loud click of the huge power button on my “new” 1989 Pioneer SX-1100 receiver powering my brand new NAD BEE model CD player, Springsteen’s “Tenth Ave. Freeze Out” blasting out of old Sony speakers salvaged from my deceased 1997 Sony stereo, I realized my long-dreamed-about “FrankenStereo” was born at last and in my joy I had to stop myself from going to eBay to buy more useless old tech crap.
With such things in mind I bring to you, from the July 2, 2001, Journal Gazette, this AP story about a sure-to-be comeback that never was: 8-Tracks, featuring collector Len Saaf peering smugly from behind a vintage 8-track player, the unmistakable blunt end of an 8-track cassette jutting out at you like a plastic tumor.
I scanned dozens of photos on Google Images trying to find anything that looked close to the model of 8-Track player I remember my dad owning. I’m pretty sure it was from the fine folks at Realistic, a Radio Shack brand, something which I bring up only so I can mention Radio Shack again. But it was the player he had mounted under the dashboard of his old Chevy Silverado pickup that got the most play on Saturday afternoons. That’s how I learned everything I needed to know about the “best” of The Guess Who, as well as just how much fringy leather a band could possibly wear in their group photo.
8-track cassettes were clunky, flimsy pieces of plastic that you shoved into machines that made more clicking and whirring noises than they did music. But hey, you could take your music with you, right? And in the ‘70s, did you ever. At least until someone came up with smaller “Compact Audio Cassettes”, or just plain old “cassettes” to most people, and thereafter the dads of the '70s made sure the middle spot of their truck’s bench seat was occupied by a beat up suitcase full of homemade Maxell cassette mixes, and their once top-of-the-line 8-track player was exiled to where all old stereo equipment went…the workbench in your garage next to the bolt bins and Turtle Wax. Bet it still works though.
As for Len Saaf, his “audio rack,” and his growing 8-Track collection, the Donna Fargo “My Second Album” 8-Track that’s wedged in that player is currently going for $2.97 on eBay. So yeah, I’m guessing he’s going to be spending a lot of time in the garage. It must be noted the website mentioned in the article, www.8trackheaven.com, is still operational, but abandoned. Seems fitting.
I was a child of the Compact Disc era. And because CDs are still on the outer distant edge of the “they still make those” tacky phase, we tend to forget the sheer convenience they offered at the time; you could play and program your own songs all with the touch of a button in a format so durable you could eat a breakfast scramble off a disc without causing any damage. Because of this, I’ve always, despite the lectures from long-haired hipsters who lurk around whatever passes for a stereo store these days about how records have the superior sound, been resistant to get a record player again. I mean, records are kind of well…dorky. I’ve got to lift an arm and needle every time I want to hear a song over and over again?
And then my dad says he’s got a turntable to donate to my FrankenStereo, which would be my first record player since my WKRP in Cincinnati turntable/DJ table I used to blow sound out of when I was a kid. And suddenly, right on schedule, I become “that guy,” eager to do what I said I’d never do: rebuying music I already own except now in an entirely new “old” format sure to sound all scratchy unless I cradle it in my arms while tip-toeing back to its (ugh) “sleeve”. But just hear how “warm” that analog sound is, right?
But instead of re-buying anything, maybe it would be fun to just fill an old milk crate or two with whatever used records I might run into at yard sales, record stores or, if I had a time machine, at the Dec. 27, 1982, “After-Christmas Music Sale” at Walmart featuring Stax-O-Wax from popular artists such as Barry Manilow, which appears to have a song on it called “I Want To Do It With You Memory” (gross); a record from Bob Seger indistinguishable from his others except by that guy who empties the change machine at your favorite car wash; a second volume of greatest hits from the Eagles for those people who prefer “I Can’t Tell You Why” over all that earlier stuff with the banjos; a Foreigner greatest hits record that’s useless since it came out before “I Want To Know What Love Is” and “Say You Will”; the last Pat Benatar record anyone needed to own until “The Legend of Billie Jean” soundtrack came out; a Donald Fagen solo album I’ll discreetly admit I already own on CD; Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which I would have sworn was just issued to you back then thanks to an NEAA grant; and a Lionel Ritchie album where he’s wearing a sweater.
So yeah, if you’re somewhere in Mattoon and late one night you hear the faint sound of Donald Fagen’s “The Nightfly” playing through the walls or ceiling, I’m sorry. Try to be content with the novelty that you’re the only person in Coles County who’s hearing the only person in Coles County (under the age of 50) still listening listen to a Donald Fagen solo record through a stereo receiver from 1989 so old that he has to actually get up and push a lever to control the volume. I’ll try to keep the slider under “3” if I can.
Meanwhile, where in the world am I going to find empty milk crates?