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Not Sure Where To Begin?

The intro posts are always a good start, followed logically by
my thoughts on Music & Being, which guide my writing.
You could also try my current favorite show on the blog,
plus there's good reading under the trading community label.
Or, take a walk on a
Listening Trail.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Swimming In A Sea Of The Dead

I have been contemplating a blog like this for some time. Ever since an old tape trading buddy's wife interviewed me two years ago for a graduate thesis in a class called "Collecting & Social Groups" - she picked her husband's Dead taper social group to study - I've been thinking about the demise of what so many of us participated in and cherished so deeply. Things are not how they used to be.

If you've only known tape collecting as a high-speed Internet, downloading experience, and have never rushed home from work to open up the mailbox NOT to find the trade package you swore would have to show up today, or found the mailbox crammed with more than one bubble envelope, you've missed much.

Don't feel bad. At the end of the day one would be hard pressed not to appreciate the "kid in a candy store" aspect of having all this music so easily accessed on line. I personally appreciate it too. But even just that aspect of checking the mailbox (something all old tapers can agree was a wonderful part of trading) is for the most part gone.

Doing a ten tape trade and letting the other guy put whatever he thought you might like on the last tape - gone.

Mulling over three lists, each with thousands of tapes listed, and carefully crafting three different multi-tape trades so that you get the very best from each list - gone.

Making and sending your tapes in a timely fashion; agreeing on exactly what levels your trading partner wanted his tapes recorded at; balancing 90 and 100 minute tapes so that each of you got an even trade; cleaning and demagnetizing your deck heads - gone.

Vic Theater, ChicagoI don't go out to shows that much - okay hardly ever. But, I was invited to see DSO on Feb 2nd and caught their 1500th show at the Vic Theater from the front row of the balcony, center. They played an incredible show. At one point in Drums, these young guys behind me and my friend were trying to tell each other what songs had just been played. One guy mistakenly thought Viola Lee Blues was Dupree's. I turned around to correct him and we had a pleasant conversation about the mythical-like Dead show we were seeing (Women Smarter>Shakedown>Easy Wind>Jam>Viola Lee>Drums - I mean, wow!).

It was there that I began to worry a bit about the challenges and risks presented by an ocean of Dead shows into which those who can't swim might wade up to their eyeballs. What if someone downloads a show from 1966, makes a CD with no label, hands it to a buddy and that buddy starts calling "Viola Lee" "Dupree's" and burns twenty copies for his friends at school saying, "You gotta hear this incredible Durpree's jam!" Okay, it's kind of farfetched, I know. But you get the picture.

There was something to learning about tapes from the deadheads kind enough to trade with you. These sorts of human things fade away as technology plays its pied piper tune into waiting ears.

I'm never going to have the time to trade tapes again. I'm never going to have time to copy tapes, or burn piles of CDs. But I will try to share my swimming skills with anyone interested.


  1. it used to be so thrilling to get tapes in the mail.

  2. I can definitely relate to the bubble mailer in the mailbox days of old. Some people still do old fashioned trades but in this new age... with CDR. Same bubble mailers. Same deal we had with going to the post office to send a package on its way and coming home to see if there's treasure delivered by the mail carrier that we so took for granted for putting such goodies into our hands. Oh, to have a small little pile of never-heard-before shows, new bounty rubberbanded in twos with the backs of the sticker labels filled out with the setlists.

    Similarly, I used to do B&P for many, many people. My mailbox was also often filled with packages of stuff to fill for folks who appreciated my kindness so very much. I didn't do it for any ego boost, I just wanted to share with others. Some of my shows I was fortunate to get straight from a DAT trader so to have a DSBD-1 and hook folks up with DSBD-2's... pretty sweet feeling knowing a lot of kids out there would be gettin' primo quality to shake their bones to!

    Nowadays with internet availability, a lot of people will never experience what us tape traders did.

    I also used to pour over tape lists. So so many that I printed out and marked what I wanted. And then to compare lists, see who has the best copy of this, if anyone has a lower generation of that, oh, but this guy has some super rare Weir-Wasserman or Garcia-Kahn or something. Ahhhh, yeah, those days are totally history.

    Good memories and ya know, no matter how it gets in the ears, the music's still the same!

    Great post, my friend!

  3. Thanks for this blog and for sharing your insights. My perspective on the oldish days (bus embarked 1979) is a little different; a lot of us heads never did get into the whole tape-trading scene. I mean, we had tapes, kinda collected them even, but it was a face-to-face'd get copies of tapes from friends, from friends of friends, friend's brothers, friend's brother's cousin's roommates, etc. Also taping off the radio...A lot more haphazard--we'd pretty much take whatever we could get, but there were both big scores of famous tapes and unanticipated gems to enjoy. Were they auds, fms, boards? It wasn't always clear, and personally I didn't give a shit...I had a lot of music to catch up on!
    Anyway. Thanks again. I'll be checking in often for your kind recommendations.

  4. ((But I will try to share my swimming skills with anyone interested.))

    Thank you for that :)

  5. & there's also the aesthetics of tapes to consider--the distortion and compression, the flanging boombox remasters, all the extra indefinite colors of noise, the way an unlistenable tape becomes listenable a few minutes in. Can it be that my 15 year old XLII's, played back on my 20 year old car tape deck (never cleaned), sound better than the flac files I listen to on my Grados?

  6. Carl, You might be on to something. I miss that certain sound of Dead bootleg tapes on a boombox.

  7. I'm delighted to stumble upon your blog and find so many forgotten memories revived again - not the music, of course, which has continued playing in the background as the years have gone on - but the experience of trading, lists, postal deliveries, networking, discovery, all that experiential involvement that's become more and more irrelevant with the evolution of the web. Moments like digging through a friend's wall of tapes to pull out a horrendous AUD of 7/4/81, hearing that second set and deciding to take on a quest to find a more listenable version of that monster - or coming across 11/1/79 scarlet-fire tacked on as filler on a trade and spending the better part of a year trying to figure out where that was from! Wow. Anyway, I really thank you for taking on this project and putting the time into digging to the core of this musical experience. Look forward to reading more, keep up the good work!

  8. Tim, Welcome. It's good to have you here.

    Ah... the process of identifying filler. That could be an entire post unto itself, eh? No one does filler any more. I remember making sure it timed out to the last turn of the cassette spool. Good times.

  9. Oh man, oh man, oh man! God bless the recent NYT article that sent me digging into my drawer to see if the May '77 tape that I hadn't listened to was the ostensibly greatest show ever (Cornell 5/8) or another show from that run. That search into the drawer and a bit of GOOGLE work landed me at your blog and God bless you. I been feverishly downloading stuff for days now, and plowing through it on BART rides and at every other opportunity. While I too appreciate the taper/trader aspect of history, the ability to get this much stuff I didn't have before, to get better versions of stuff I already had, and to save myself the effort of getting my tapes migrated into my Ipod -- well, let's just say it was the Miracle I need ever day. I am massively indebted to and dare I say Grateful for your blog and the links to shows. Here's how good it gets: this morning (wife away for the weekend) my 9 year old son walked in to the home office where I was working and listening to a blistering Shakedown from a '79 show I didn't have. He just couldn't help himself - his body was just grooving to that funky Shakedown vibe.

    Keep up the good work!

  10. Robert, I'm very glad you've found your way here. It never ceases to amaze me how despite having the Internet universe at out fingertips, it can still be somewhat difficult to find what you need.

    The NYT article was nice. Someone actually linked to the Guide in comments, but it sounds like you found your way here after leaving those pages and doing some of your own Googling. No matter, just another example of how the Internet puts everything within reach, yet sometimes still in darkness.

    I'm glad to have you here. Have a continued great weekend blast the Dead and twirling with your son. :-)

  11. Dude, your comments about the impersonalization of the current state of collecting rings so true with me. Not only do I miss the adrenaline rush of opening those mailers, but also, the personalized labeling & decoration of cassette covers. Now I have volumes and volumes and volumes of softbooks filled with CD-Rs, labeled in the middle clear plastic ring with gold marker - band/ artist initials, date, source, set #. No creatively written set-lists. My favorite part of collecting was creating unique packages for friends. I came up with my own logos for GD & Phish where the tag was also legible upside down.
    Ah well. Now people ask me if I want to trade, and it's almost a hassle - I have to figure out which book, what page, squint to read the label, power up the PC, etc. And as far as calibrating a tape deck, I don't think mine's been plugged in since 1998. I will never part with my old cassettes, even some that I've got on CD since. Yes the online trading & archives provide instant gratification, but I do sometimes miss the days of the "listening party."


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