A workmate spent years trying to enlighten his spouse, and after this extensive period of indoctrination she brought him James Blunt’s Back to Bedlam for Christmas. He snapped it in half and filed for divorce. Compact cassettes played a critical role in my adolescence. They enabled me to listen to whatever I desired, at the volume I chose, emancipated from the whims of oppressive parents, DJs and record executives. Another reason I dedicated much more time than was healthy to producing these tapes was the teenagers’ prime mover, the only thing that drags them scratching and blinking from their pits every morning: sex.
My logic was simple. People in bands were cool, and the young ladies I coveted wanted to sleep with them. At least they expressed the desire to do so, as lack of proximity, and hence opportunity, precluded putting this supposed lasciviousness to the test. More importantly I doubt whether Simon Le Bon, Nick Heyward, David Sylvian and George Michael would have wished to make the beast with two backs with any of them.
I may have been too young for the drugs, but I certainly wanted the sex, and it was inextricably linked with rock and roll. If women were willing to throw their panties at Tom Jones, a pensioner who resembled an old brown shoe being mounted by a Brillopad, then music must be an absolutely astounding aphrodisiac.
Now, if I’d had some talent and a modicum of application, I could have formed, or joined, a band. Unfortunately, I have as much musical talent as, well, the average aspiring indie band, not to mention many who’ve made it: I’m tone deaf, and aged seven, my recorder teacher and I underwent a mutually beneficial separation. I was also barred from the Walton Hop, so I didn’t have the opportunity to blow any pop impresarios in return for pop stardom. (The X Factor may exploit the dreams of the terminally deluded, but at least its supplicants only have to perform for a panel of judges rather than predatory pederasts.)
I was never going to be the lionized lead singer of a supergroup like Led Zeppelin, so another approach was required. After much musing I surmised that I could only be cool was by association. Perhaps, if I produced an über mix, any girl who heard it would be so impressed that she’d have no choice but to whisper seductively: ‘That was sublime, shall I fellate you here or wait till the bus arrives.’
There were many problems with this theory. My compilations may have been potent aural aphrodisiacs, but no one listened them. Apart from geeky teenage males, with names like Stretch and Killer, Dangerous Dave and Tippy, The Chinaman and Vic of Nazareth, and, although I respected their taste in music, I didn’t want to make them my own. I just didn’t know any girls to give them to. A problem exacerbated by attending an all boys school. We did have monthly ‘discos’ with the local convent, but Dangerous Dave produced the tapes for these events. (A circumstance not open to non-physical negotiation.) And even though the compilations were damn fine and the atmosphere more sexually charged than an Austrian family meal, he didn’t get any.
Maybe I was hoping that my coterie would pass them onto any chicks they knew. But as the only females they ever chatted to were their sisters this was unlikely. No matter how inspired the contents, a brother was unlikely to corner his sibling and say, ‘Hey sis, have you heard this great tape Steve Watt made? You should fuck him?’ I suppose I could have driven around, trawling for sexy female hitchhikers to pick up so I could play them my latest musical creation, but such nocturnal dalliances hadn’t worked out well for Uncle Fred and Auntie Rose. Another flaw was that, even if they had heard them, most girls wouldn’t have liked my compilations. Unsurprising really as I neglected to include any Duran Duran, Haircut 100, Stephen ‘Tintin’ Duffy or Wham. German imports of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn may have made the Chinaman twitch, but would have left most knickers dry. I’ve subsequently realised that the whole enterprise was pointless. It wasn’t the music that made Plant synonymous with Priapus. It was the fact that he was a world-famous, hedonistic, multi-millionaire who made his living flying round the world on a private jet, performing bare-chested nightly to millions of adoring fans. Who wouldn’t want a bit of that? I know I did. Some people produced mix tapes for their lovers. I didn’t as a girlfriend already thinks you rock, so an awesome audio compilation is redundant.
Anyway, most of my paramours wouldn’t have known the difference between Madonna and Morrissey, probably because I tended not to select them on their musical compatibility. Maybe if I had used this criteria, rather than what technique they used when eating a hot dog (inhaling being the favoured approach), then my relationships may have been more fulfilling. My friends justified their actions by stating that they wanted to share their passion with their sweethearts. Educate them as to which bands were acceptable and which should be sent on holiday to Cambodia. But this seemed like an exercise in futility. Yes, Abba are fantastic, but have you considered the Dead Kennedys? It’s not going to work. A workmate spent years trying to enlighten his spouse, and after this extensive period of indoctrination she brought him James Blunt’s Back to Bedlam for Christmas. He snapped it in half and filed for divorce. It wasn’t all about sex though. You were defined by the bands you listened to. Remove The Fall, Theatre of Hate and Half Man Half Biscuit and John Peel was just like your dad. So, I started to made mix tapes to impress.
I may not have nailed them to door of All Saints' Church, Wittenberg, but these anthologies were manifestos for my musical comrades: statements of intent, proclaiming my musical allegiances. Compilations also allowed you to share your passion with friends. It was all well and good being into an esoteric new group, but nothing engendered a wonderful feeling of smug condescension better than introducing them to someone else. I can’t remember how many people I handed a tape of the Stone Roses eponymous first album to with the words, ‘it’s only when you leave the cave, you realise you were living in the dark’. I’ve got the scars to prove it. I’ve lost count of how many tapes Incendiary’s lotus-eating editor Richard has sent me. Each one introducing me to rare gems from his substantial record collection. I certainly would have drifted through life blissfully unaware of German exotica like Cluster, Can and Faust. These tapes were a proto-Incendiary. Before he could share his musical predilections with millions via the world wide web, he distributed them to his friends via padded, brown paper envelopes. I have received far more interesting parcels, but this is neither the time or place to discuss them. I will, however, share this insight with you: unless you wish to end up like Jeanne d'Arc never open an unexpected package from Suave Paul as you’re chatting to your flatmate’s Christian coffee morning.
It may appear that all teenage tapes were produced with acquisitive or aggrandizing intentions, but this would be erroneous. But philanthropy was the inspiration for many mixes. To help a friend cope with an emotional trauma or to reassure them that the world is not a dark and foreboding place, with only death’s icy embrace to look forward to. Even I, in the spirit of solidarity, once gave an acquaintance a recording of Billy Bragg’s Back to Basics to help them endure when they felt overwhelmed by the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Now I’m not one for mawkish sentimentality, in fact, like Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias, ‘I don’t like animals’ and have to repress a strong desire to ‘carve up all me mates’, but I recently found a tape my close friend Jan* had given me, and, despite my tendency to repress the past, the memories came flooding back. His mum had given him the Man Alone Cookbook one Christmas to help him to cope with the vicissitudes of bachelor life following his divorce a few days earlier. It didn’t. Instead it instigated floods of tears, bitter recriminations, a frantic call to the Samaritans and the fire brigade being required to get him off the roof.
Obviously, after much therapy and psychotropic drugs, Jan recovered and this incident has since provoked much merriment between us. So, when I split up with my then girlfriend he not only provided me with the book (to help me supplement my diet of hard liquor and soft drugs with something of nutritional value), but also included a Man Alone compilation tape, to cheer me up in those dark, dark days. Which it did then, and continues to do so today. When I rediscovered it in my cellar, I realised that I could go on, put down the Mossberger and joined my family in the kitchen. I hope that some of the compilations I made have the same effect when they are stumbled upon. Of course, when we next meet Jan will, if he wishes to avoid a rather severe, Eddie Nash-style pipe-beating, have to account for including Dancing in the Moonlight by Toploader and a some indistinguishable dirge by Coldplay, but even so I’m glad he went to the effort of making it.
In mitigation, I would like to point out that he also included the awesome track Escape from Ibiza by Earl Zinger, which I had forgotten existed. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology though, I was able to download the entire album immediately onto my i-Pod, and have been listening to it almost constantly. I’m nothing if not hypocritical. I much preferred downloading tunes when I didn’t have to shell out my hard earned cash to acquire such musical gems, but that is the subject for another article I fear… the next one in fact.
Next issue: Playlist: The king of infinite space, bound in nutshell
* It should be noted that Jan is of Finnish stock, and his name is pronounced Yan. He went on to marry a Chinese girl called Ying. Ying and Yan. Jungian synchronicity and all that. What can I say? The man is a star. And don’t take my word for it, the Mighty John Peel included this anecdote on Home Truths, which is better than a Royal Warrant.