Cassettes? Really?

Stop the presses! Did you hear the news? The 68Comeback Register, the newspaper of record in this area of town, has it on good authority that cassettes are making a comeback, and if that’s true, you really might as well stop the presses because it means that the hipsters have won Armageddon and the end of the world is truly nigh.

Speaking as someone who lived through them the first time, I will go on the record right now as saying, I thought that the issue was discussed and settled and that cassette tapes were, as a medium for delivering musical product, over. That’s largely because cassettes suck for that sort of thing, if you hadn’t already guessed.

I know I sound like a grouchy old man when I say this, but the best and funnest thing by far about being an old fart is the all-knowing, having seen it all-ness of the experience and so, what the hell is with kids these days? They truly do not know how good they’ve got it in this age of technological achievement. Like hey, it’s sort of adorable to see someone set off on a quixotic mission to bring back an obsolete (and inferior, even when it was current) medium, and it’s absolutely quite precious to hear them, in the process, extolling as particular strengths of that medium everything that has already been established is shit about it. But enough is enough, already.

I will allow that, as what there was to work with at the time, cassettes weren’t entirely bad, especially in that they were (and remain) more portable than vinyl. And, so it goes, they’re less expensive to reproduce than CDs, they offer packaging that can act as its own artifact or contain additional items that digital downloads can not, and then of course there’s the romance of making mixtapes for people (swoon).

The author of the article takes it too far, however, when he tries to make the case that the hiss of the tape is directly analagous to the pop of vinyl as some sort of ‘imperfection in itself is aesthetically pleasing’ ethic and preferable to the ‘perfection’ of digital. However you feel about analog vs. digital is your own business, but if we’re strictly comparing the sound of cassette vs. vinyl, it’s a ridiculous claim to make, it’s the ‘tell’ that he’s just being a rationalizer and he’ll get no sympathetic reading from us.

SO. I don’t know what I disliked more, the cruddy sound quality, the rewinding and fast-forwarding past songs you didn’t want to listen to, problems with ‘spaghetti‘ – a scratch on a CD may render the disc unplayable, but it does not pose any sort of threat to the equipment that plays it, whereas a semi-stretchy plastic tape getting unspooled among the mechanical parts that make it go is…ugly – or the high hassle/low value outcome of dubbing from one cassette to another (a la mixtape). Sure, making mixtapes for my friends was tonnes of fun, especially at the point in my life where there was so frequently nothing else I had to be doing but sitting in front of the stereo for three hours, recording songs. That time, however, is past. Nowadays, I have got shit to do, and I have got a computer that can burn someone a CD in a fraction of the time it used to take me. No, it’s not exactly the same thing, but you can’t ever dip your hand in the exact same river either, can you? My point being, so fucking what if it’s not the same? Toughen up, precious.

AND. The same article, with names changed to boost the writer’s contacts, appeared locally last August. I worry that no one has taken this seriously enough in the in-between time to put together a search party that’ll go out to investigate reports of cassette tapes and destroy any they find, once and for all, because if cassette tapes aren’t dead like Bela Lugosi, they’re not exactly alive either, which means it’s more like they’re undead, like a guy Bela Lugosi used to be.

  1. April 25th, 2010

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