Dusting Off the Old Tape Deck

When I was in college in the late 1990s, the Internet was a very new thing.  Emails were seen as computerized letter writing and cell phones were large remote control-like things with actual antennae. The phones could actually call people, if you were lucky to be within spitting distance of a cell phone tower, but you certainly couldn’t use it to check your email, look up anything, or play Angry Birds.

And all of our music was on CASSETTE TAPES.

Well, not all of our music.  I bought CDs, but there was no such thing as a CD burner in your computer (hell, I didn’t own a computer!), let alone a DVD burner (because we all had VCRs and VHS tapes), and the big thing was used CD stores.  There was one in my college town, Pocatello, called Budget Tapes and Records.  Yes, that’s right.  TAPES and RECORDS was the name of the store (it still is the name of the store, as a matter of fact.)  But they sold CDs, new and used.

Home Sweet Home

I spent hours and hours (and $$$) here.  Mostly what I spent my money on was blank tapes.  Maxell 90 minutes, with the gold label.  And I used these to tape my U2 bootlegs and trade them for other U2 bootlegs.

They came in 4 packs!

(Let’s just say this right now:  I am a nerd, and a boring nerd.  I love music, I love U2, and I was totally willing to listen to hours and hours and hours of live, poorly recorded U2 songs.  All day and night. On whatever media I had at hand, which was cassette tapes. And then I played the tapes in my Walkman.  That’s right.  I was stylin’.)

As I mentioned, I didn’t have a computer,  We had these things called “computer labs” where the school you went to bought a bunch of computers and then let you use them for free!  At my school, we had a lab in our dorm, located in the basement.  And I would hole myself up down there (with nothing to eat or drink, lest we damage the precious computers) and surf the Internet, looking for fellow U2 bootleggers. If anyone knocked on my dorm room door, and I didn’t answer, they knew the next place to look for me was the basement computer lab.

So 1950s!

So, this is what we did.  On the new-fangled Internet, we would create a very modest and plain website (mine was entitled “Your Blue Room” and only die hard U2 fans would get that reference.) There we would list all the various bootlegs we had (on tape or VHS, if we were lucky enough to have any of those).  Then we would email each other and tell them: I’ll give you a copy of 4-10-1987 in New Mexico if I can get a copy of 5-3-1997 in Salt Lake City.  We would buy the tapes, dub it over onto the blank tapes (one concert fit on TWO tapes), mail it out and hope to God that they would do as they promised.

I never got screwed.  Not once. That’s because U2 fans are awesome.

Over the years, I have tried to convert the tapes over to CDs, or even to MP3 files, but haven’t had the energy or TIME it would take.  You can’t do this fast: you have to sit there, listening to every song, and wait.  Then pause it between songs to get just that one song on a track, and then continue.  And you have to have a tape deck, which I got rid of many, many years ago. And then when you pause the song, it makes a jarring grsrewjeeeech noise that really interferes with the melody.

Mind you, I have well over 10,000 hours of bootlegged material.

At one point, I copied a lot of stuff to CDs (I was procrastinating writing my thesis in grad school) and I went back to them this week.  They have the WORST sound quality.  I was mortified.  But I guess after taping here, and then taping there, and then being copied to a CD, and then being stored for years in dust, that might just mar the quality some.

But then.  Then I found it.  A website where I can download bootlegs.  For free.  And U2 doesn’t even care, as long as you don’t upload their albums or anything.  So I have been enjoying my bootlegging hobby from years before, but this time in a more efficient, MP3 way.  Instead of taking 90 minutes to copy half of a concert over, now I can do it in about 3 minutes.  And the quality! It’s so great.  What took me about 9 months of work has taken me about 7 hours.  Thirty concerts in two nights!

I never thought in a million years that I would now be doing the same thing as I did 15 years ago, but with so much ease!  And so much less waste on the planet.  (That’s how I make myself feel better about wasting all my time on the computer: no stamps, no packaging, no tapes, no CDs, just my hard drive!)

That has been my nostalgia for the week.  It has satisfied a few of my urges, too.  Like my OCD.  I get to organize things? And throw useless things away?  Excellent. (Not good for the health of Mother Earth, but good for my mental health.)

So if you need to find me, I will be holed up in my loft, with my computer, a Diet Pepsi, and Bono.  My, how times have changed!

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