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Eight-Track Mind

My veteran stereo receiver recently reached the end of its days. My needs are simple, but I wasn’t taken with any of the immediate replacement options. A friend offered to give me an old Yamaha receiver, so I took him up on it. It’s cool and old-school, without the surround-sound pizzazz that would have been extraneous for my use, but with a sufficient number of inputs. I need inputs for phono, CD, TV, cassette, and mini-disc. I hooked the whole magilla up Tuesday morning, and tested the respective inputs with a Peter & Gordon LP, a power pop compilation CD, a Veronica Mars blu-ray, a B.D. Love cassette, and a back-and-forth mini-disc run-through of playing The Flashcubes and recording the previously-noted Peter & Gordon LP. All systems GO!, and my rock ‘n’ roll capabilities have now been duly restored.

While I had everything disassembled and about to be put back together, I tested one other piece of equipment, something I’ve never had hooked up on any permanent basis. I connected my eight-track player, and listened to a minute of my only eight-track tape, Dedication by The Bay City Rollers.

Although all but 16 days of my teen years were contained within that garish decade called the 1970s, eight-tracks were never my thing. I was primarily a vinyl guy, LPs and 45s alike. My first tape recorder was a reel-to-reel, and I moved from there to cassettes. The reel-to-reel was exclusively a plaything for recording–I never owned a prerecorded reel-to-reel product–and my cassette players were mostly for recording, too. I had a few cassettes, though the only one I remember owning in the ’70s was my copy of the Billy Jack soundtrack. GO AHEAD AND HATE YOUR NEIGHBOR, GO AHEAD AND CHEAT A FRIEND..!  Oops–sorry! ’70s flashback there. I also recall listening to my cousin Mark’s Deep Purple cassettes during our summer vacations in Missouri. To this day, a spin of “Highway Star” calls those happy days to the forefront of my memories. 

But really, my cassette deck was mostly used for creating mixtapes, accomplished by placing the little gizmo right next to one of the speakers at our home stereo, putting the needle on a BeatlesElton John, or Three Dog Night record, and trying to press RECORD on the deck before the music started. Fidelity? Not my main interest. I also tried to record my own comedy bits, either solo or with Mark. Not much fidelity there, either.

It must have been around 1977 or so that we got a new family stereo, with turntable, AM/FM tuner, and…eight-track? Awrighty. The eight-track never got much attention from me; I have a vague recollection of trying and failing to use the eight-track to record…something. God knows what. Still, knowing there was an eight-track player at my disposal, I bought exactly one budget eight-track tape: a collection of early sides by Paul Revere & the Raiders. That eight-track contained material predating the Raiders’ more successful run with Columbia Records, and it included stuff like their instrumental hit “Like, Long Hair.” I chiefly remember a song called “Sharon,” because I was keepin’ company at the time with a girl named Sharon, whom I’d met that fall ’77 semester at college. Sharon wasn’t in the picture with me for very long, making it really easy to pinpoint the approximate date of that stereo and its underused eight-track.

For dramatic purposes, the part of my ex-girlfriend Sharon shall be played by my vintage 1977 poster of actress Suzanne Somers

That stereo is, of course, long gone, and so is my Paul Revere & the Raiders eight-track. And, um, Sharon, too; she was gone by the end of ’77. I never gave much thought to eight-tracks again until, believe it or not, the ’90s, courtesy of my radio co-host Dana. Some time in between the death of our first radio show We’re Your Friends For Now in 1991 and the dawn of the inexplicably long-lived This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio at the end of ’98, Dana surprised me with the gift of an old eight-track player, and the above-mentioned Bay City Rollers tape. 

It still works, or at least it works as well as an eight-track player should be expected to work. I’ve often thought about hooking it up and leaving it hooked up, just because, but I could never spare an input for it. 

Until now. 

My freshly-installed Yamaha has enough open jacks for me to leave the eight-track player in place, and be free to re-live the ’70s Bay City Rollers eight-track experience at will. If I could find ’em cheaply, I could even expand my eight-track collection with tapes by The RamonesThe Flamin’ GrooviesThe Isley BrothersThe Raspberries, and…and….

No.

Over these past few years, I’ve begun a conscious effort to curtail my natural packrat ways. I’m not going to stop accumulating books–let’s not get crazy–but I sold nearly two-thirds of my comic book collection. I still buy new comic books, but I only keep a few of them. I rarely buy vinyl, and I try to keep my CD purchases within range of my ability to store them. I’m trying to cut back on tchotchkes. I don’t need to add eight-tracks to my vast accumulation of stuff.

So, with some reluctance, I disconnected the eight-track player and put it back in storage. If I ever really want to, I could hook it back up should the mood strike me, whenever, subject to the whims of my eight-track mind. Push and play. I feel younger already.

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He Buys Every Rock ‘n’ Roll Book On The Magazine Stands, Part 1: The Circus And The Stone

The first rock ‘n’ roll magazines I recall seeing were issues of Circus and Rolling Stone. I found them around the house, and I presume they belonged to one of my older siblings, probably my sister Denise. I am reasonably certain that neither of my parents would have been into either magazine. On the other hand, my Dad worked at the post office, so it’s equally plausible that these were dead-letter subscription copies that had been discarded, and that maybe Dad brought ’em home. Either way, these magazines made their way to our living room in North Syracuse.

Circus never meant much to me, and although I occasionally flipped through new issues on the magazine racks when looking for rock ‘n’ roll reading material in later years, it wasn’t something I cared about. Until a couple of days ago, I’d largely forgotten that Circus was my first, from 1973. I remembered that Carly Simon was on the cover, and a bit of Google sleuthing led me to the likely culprit pictured above.

I liked Simon at the time. I was an AM radio fanatic. I enjoyed her singles “Anticipation” and “You’re So Vain,” as well as “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” and I would continue to like a few more of her hits before I lost interest in the mid ’70s. I’m sure I read the Circus article about her, and I would imagine I at least glanced through the other cover-mentioned pieces about Deep PurpleYesBlack SabbathStevie WonderTommy, and Colombo‘s Peter Falk. But I remember virtually none of it. Not even the Uriah Heep calendar! Though it is fitting that my first rock magazine should presage my first live rock show: my first concert was KISS with opening act Uriah Heep on December 16th, 1976. A coincidence, sure, but a cool connection nonetheless.

My second rock magazine had a little more lasting impact: Suzi Quatro on the cover of the Rolling Stone, January 1975. Swoon! I was instantly smitten with Quatro, even though I’d never heard of her before seeing this magazine. I read the article about her, but didn’t get an opportunity to hear her music until much later. When I finally got to hear and see Suzi Q sing “I May Be Too Young” on the British TV show Supersonic in 1976, it verified the veracity of my smitten nature. Did I mention swoon? Thanks, Rolling Stone!

Most rock fans of my age or older had some affection for Rolling Stone at some point, and I was no exception to that. Other than a 1976 issue with The Beatles on its cover, I don’t think I read the magazine much (if at all) before starting college in 1977. But I devoured Charles M. Young‘s cover story about The Sex Pistols. My roommate Arthur had a subscription to Stone, despised punk, and eventually passed his copy of that Pistols issue to me (with the disdainful expression of one handing over a sack of poopy diapers). I bought Rolling Stone sporadically; I enjoyed “Bang The Head Slowly,” Timothy White‘s 1979 piece about The Ramones, but bemoaned the fact that The Ramones never rated an RS cover feature during their blitzkrieg-boppin’ lifetime.

I eventually subscribed to Rolling Stone, but I grew increasingly and frustratingly aware of the annoying polar opposites that characterized the magazine’s approach: one half rooted in a smug, condescending rote-hippie consciousness, the other not rooted at all, but embarrassingly eager to chase and embrace whatever shiny Next Big Thing mirage flits across pop culture’s short attention span. Come on–Rolling Stone‘s putz swine-in-chief Jann Wenner still insists on blocking The Monkees from The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but he’s fine with cover-featuring Kardashians? Sorry, even introducing me to Suzi Quatro doesn’t earn sufficient gravitas to compensate for that. Rolling Stone and I parted company a long time ago.

But let’s get back to the ’70s. In spite of being initiated via Circus and Rolling Stone, I don’t really recall reading many rock mags during my high school years. I was certainly into the music. I mean, I listened to radio nearly all of the time, bought records when I could afford them, tried to catch rock ‘n’ roll on TV when the opportunity presented itself. But the meager spending cash I had for reading material went to comic books, pulp paperbacks, and the occasional Playboy or Penthouse. The latter resource did include a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll coverage amidst its more celebrated, y’know, uncoverage. I remember reading the lyrics to The Kinks‘ “Here Comes Yet Another Day” in a Penthouse article, at a time when I was just beginning to learn about The Kinks. Penthouse also published an extremely dismissive piece about The Bay City Rollers, and an interview with Patti Smith that was the first time I’d even heard of her.

The only other rock-related magazines I remember from my North Syracuse High School days were Welcome Back Beatles, a series of fanciful scenarios detailing fictional Beatles reunions, and a Bay City Rollers one-shot fan magazine. Oh, and Marvel‘s KISS comic book. And there was still one more bona fide rock ‘n’ roll publication that did matter to me, and it mattered a lot. I only saw two issues of this during my senior year, plus one more back issue the following summer. Even so, the impact of those tabloid pages was far greater than any other rock read I’d experienced to that point.

This was something new. This was something different. This was Phonograph Record Magazine.

TO BE CONTINUED!

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