I still own a working VCR. True, my intrepid old Proscan hasn’t had much work to do the past few years (or past couple of decades), but it remains functional. I’ve kept it hooked up to my TV, just in case I ever want to play an old tape, or copy an old tape to DVD-R. Neither prospect occurs all that often. Nonetheless, my VCR stands poised, ready to answer the call if needed.
The VCR isn’t the only piece of outdated tech I own, of course. I have an eight-track player (stored in the garage), a cassette player (connected to the stereo, very rarely used), an 8mm camcorder (retained for the library of home videos of my daughter when she was little), and a mini disc deck and a few portable MD players (the portables plopped in a desk drawer, but the deck an integral part of my stereo, and in frequent use for prepping tracks for the radio show until the pandemic changed all of that). I guess the CD and DVD players are now considered antiquated (as the turntable was considered passé for a very long time); it’s true that I’m now more likely to play CDs on my computer (via an external drive) and DVDs in my blu-ray player, but CDs and DVDs (and blu-ray) are themselves still current tech to me.
It’s funny that I seem to have a slightly more nostalgic attachment to VCRs than I have to cassettes, even though cassettes played a much, much larger role in my life. But I have no specific current interest in the act of listening to cassettes. In contrast, I had a random notion about a month ago of pulling out some old VHS tapes, just to see if the Proscan could still play them.
That said, I didn’t pursue the notion until my wife did some housecleaning and uncovered some old tapes made at her preschool job in the late ’80s, when she was a new teacher there. She was curious to see the tapes.
My intrepid Proscan to the rescue!
I discovered that I’d discarded the VCR’s remote control somewhere along the way. We operated the player manually for that night’s viewing, and I bought a new universal remote the next day.
Now, finally set to follow through with my original whim to watch some old VHS tapes, I pulled out a couple of homemade rock video compilations I slapped together…well, a very long time ago. These tapes consist of individual videos I recorded off cable, primarily from MTV, and then dubbed onto a fresh tape. Video quality? Not my primary concern. I just wanted to preserve some stuff for my viewing, minus the extraneous distractions of other videos that didn’t interest me.
So far, I’ve watched two of these tapes, neither in its entirety, just fast-forwarding (thanks to my new remote) and checking out the contents. The tapes include a home video of me lip-syncing and guitar-miming to my karaoke performance of “Johnny B. Goode,” the Monkees explaining the rules for tabulating results of voting on The American Music Awards, and various artifacts from MTV, Late Night With David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, Nashville Now, and The Pat Sajak Show.
Who’s on these tapes? Well! We have the Ramones, Ben E. King, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Axl Rose, Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers (an American Music Awards clip that includes an audience shot of a visibly bored and/or annoyed Whitney Houston), the Long Ryders, the Moody Blues, the Buddy System (great, forgotten MTV Basement Tapes winner “Go Back To Hollywood”), Iggy Pop, Dumptruck, the Easybeats, Marshall Crenshaw, the Turtles, John Lennon, the Beatles, Deep Purple, Chubby Checker, Felix Cavaliere (frolicking with the cast of St. Elsewhere while lip-syncing his hit recording [with the Young Rascals] of “Good Lovin'”), Bruce Springsteen, Dave Edmunds, Don Dixon, Too Much Joy, Soul Asylum, the Bangles, Johnny Rivers, the Cynics, Syd Straw, the Way Moves, Dion, Hindu Love Gods, the Smithereens, Indigo Girls, Roachford, Living Colour, R.E.M., Toni Basil, Lou Reed and John Cale, XTC, Lilac Time, the Darling Buds, the Georgia Satellites, Graham Parker, Lords of the New Church, Midnight Oil, and Tommy James and the Shondells, among others.
Oh, and one of the tapes opens with the Monkees’ “Christmas Medley” from 1986, reuniting Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork with their erstwhile prime mate Michael Nesmith.
Yeah, I could have probably found most or all of this stuff on YouTube, sure. But it was a more satisfying experience in the moment to dive into these videos I slapped together for myself those decades ago. I think I’ll watch a few more of these. I may even delve deeper into my VHS archives, and investigate further. All thanks to my intrepid Proscan. Time to rewind. You rock, dear old Proscan. You rock.
(And, back in ’88, I rocked, too. I have video to prove it.)
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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.
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