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In memory of mixed tapes

Barry Smith
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyBarry Smith
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In 1990 two friends and I piled into my 1971 VW van with a very loose plan. Basically it was this: drive south.

We were in our early 20s with no time constraints, no jobs, no desire to have any. We each had a tiny bit of money in our pockets and were blessed with an amazing capacity to not know any better.

I didn’t meet the prerequisite for being a VW van owner ” meaning I wasn’t a mechanic. VW vans break down. That’s just what they do. But we’d be in Mexico by the time mine broke down, and there are loads of VW mechanics available down there. We hope.

We hoped to get as far as Guatemala. My father assured me that I’d end up in a Mexican jail just for being young and in Mexico and driving a hippie van. I assumed that he was probably right. Still, I had to drive south.

So what does one do to prepare for such a trip? Gather maps? Plan a route? Make hotel reservations? Check weather patterns to avoid hurricanes and monsoons? Learn Spanish?

I suppose. But all I did was make tapes.

You remember making tapes, right? You take an album and you play it while pushing play/record on the cassette recorder (if I’ve lost you, just google “album,” “cassette” or “Jurassic period” and get yourself caught up). Then, when you’re driving, you choose one of these “tapes” from the big unorganized box o’ tapes, put it in, and listen to it all the way through.

To me, getting as many tapes made as possible seemed like the best way to prepare for this epic journey. Can’t have an epic journey without a soundtrack, right?

We did make it as far as Guatemala on our trip, then all the way up to Canada (the “drive north” leg of our trip), then back to California where we’d started, then out to Colorado where I’ve lived ever since. The van did break down according to plan. The trip lasted about three months, cut somewhat short by lack of money and need for employment ” two things which always conspire to ruin good situations. And we did the entire trip with about 25 tapes.

Limited tapes means repeated listening. I heard Pink Floyd’s “Meddle” album 30 times on that trip, probably more. In case you need a good road trip song, check out “Echoes” from that album. Twenty five minutes of sheer driving-into-the-unknown bliss.

Last week I drove to Fresno. Hardly an epic journey, but it did offer me some good music listening time. And I have so much music to listen to. All of my albums, and a few that I’ve “borrowed.” Enough that I could start at the beginning and let it play all the way through my drive to, stay in, and drive home from Fresno and not hear it all. So to listen to an entire album all the way through, even an entire song all the way through -” seems like a waste. I don’t have time for that. I’ve got music to plow through.

So when I put on “Echoes,” my classic road trip standby, I only lasted a few minutes before I decided I needed to hear Rage Against the Machine’s “Down Rodeo.” Or, more specifically, the first half of “Down Rodeo.” OK, first quarter. Then I had to listen to RL Burnside’s “Poor Black Maddie.” Great intro, which is as far as I got before switching to Sonic Youth’s “Teenage Riot.” Then I pulled into a gas station to get some more iced tea and another pack of Big Red.

I wonder why having everything has taken away the preciousness of having anything at all?

Don’t get me wrong, I love having an Ipod, but it does sometimes make my epic soundtrack appear to have been assembled by a over-caffeinated DJ with ADD.

But this can still change. I still have a long drive home from Fresno. And during that drive I’m going to listen to “Echoes” all the way through. I promise.

Unless, of course, I get a phone call.

Read more about Barry Smith’s adventures at http://www.barrysmith.wordpress.com.


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