Hi-Identity: Girls Collecting Music -
3. Girls & Mixed Tapes
Do you buy more or less than your female friends? Your male friends? What kind of music do you share with friends?
Nerdia (LA): My girl friends didn’t buy records. They listened to the radio but that never translated into any passionate record buying. This made me feel kind of freakish. Late in high school and during college I found a new group of friends who did like music, primarily rockabilly, alternative and new wave. We watched MTV into the wee hours of the morning: Duran Duran, Howard Jones, Culture Club, The Thompson Twins, Simple Minds, U2, all which lead to more alternative things like The Cure, The Smiths and The Psychedelic Furs. I made my own mixes of their tapes but did not collect this music passionately except on a song-by-song basis. It was, however, the soundtrack of my teens and it reminds me of my high school friends and good times.
I considered my brothers my only male music peers. I didn’t notice much what my friends who were boys were collecting. Maybe this is why they were always trying to tell me what they were collecting. Sometimes now at work, I swap CDs with my bosses and people rifle through my Harry Potter CD carrier. I talk a lot of music chat with my friend Christopher, probably because he keeps an overflowing box of tapes in his car and has many theories about pop divas, including Madonna, Cher and Kylie Minogue. He understands and encourages my Cher obsession. But besides my brothers, my male friends are not big collectors at all.
Jo (Chicago): You know, I was sure I could recall having a lot of different, customized cassettes. Turns out I did -- but they weren't received from friends. They were mostly ones I'd made. Early on, this was a low-tech, high-glitch geek process involving an external mic shoved up to a speaker. You begged everyone in the house not to make any noise while you were trying to record (it never worked -- my first recording of "Jesus Christ, Superstar" from its premiere radio broadcast here, in its entirety, with commentary, contained such unwanted additional fx as my dog squeaking, my mom talking to me, my dad tromping up the stairs, and me frantically hissing, "SSSSSSHHHHHH!!! I'm TAPING!!!!").
Nerdia (LA): That’s hilarious! I did that too. I even made a sign for my bedroom door, "Recording in Progress." My friend Krissy had the first all-in-one stereo I ever saw and she had a hard time convincing me we could talk during the taping of a record. That was cutting edge technology as far as my eight-year old self was concerned. I tried to imagine all the music traveling safe inside thin little wires.
Jo (Chicago): Once I got a deck and could actually do half-way decent tapes, I made samplers of specific artists. I still get a huge kick out of doing this, although now I use a CD burner. I also have a minidisc deck that I love using -- you can fit an amazing amount of music on one of those little discs.
I loaned some of the early tapes I made to my then-closest pal and next-door neighbor, Pooch Mott. I had no way to simply make him copies. We may have hooked up our respective recorders, but that would have resulted in cheesy subsequent-generation sound reproduction. Pooch made me at least one mix tape. He had some 45s I liked (I remember "Wipe Out" -- definitely a guilty pleasure -- and "Classical Gas").
I have to say Pooch didn't judge my tastes or try to alter them. We were too young for that sort of possessiveness, anti-emotional grandstanding, or macho one-upmanship. We were just sharing. Kids in my neighborhood commonly shared tunes by playing records at each others' houses. Eventually we all had our transistor radios. Mine was a really cool little one that fit in my palm. I used to take it with me everywhere, especially in the car with my folks, where I could press it against my ear and listen to MY stuff.
Nerdia (LA): I make mixes for myself, too. I usually make a yearly mix of my favorites, mixes by theme and by artist. I will make a mix for anyone who would take one. I've made my friend Christopher three Cher tapes (torch songs, Dylan songs, & my favorites narrowed down), and a Cyndi Lauper/John Waite tape. I was thrilled with myself over that one because I was able to juxtapose each side change with comparative songs: John Waite's version of "I Drove All Nite" ending side A, followed by Cyndi's version starting off Side B, then Cher's version of "Back on My Feet Again, ending side B, next to The Babys’ original starting off side A, all to create a kind of looping cover song effect. Good times. I've done bereavement tapes, Guilty Pleasures tapes, Be-Empowered tapes, many many Xmas tapes, my own ad hoc Greatest Hits tapes when I simply couldn't wait for artists to release their own (consequently I'll never need a Bob Seger or Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits CD). The 9/11 tape I made was actually a budding compilation of gospel music I’d been collecting.
Jo (Chicago): Nerdia, the tape you sent me after 9/11 was one of the most personally meaningful mixes I'd listened to in a long time. Some years ago I got a mix from a fellow Janis Ian fan (a guy) of then-rare Ian cuts I really enjoyed.
Nerdia (LA): I have received some good tapes, as well. My ex boyfriend in college and I used to make those sappy ˜I Love You’ tapes for each other. I remember we had been dating maybe a month and neither of us mentioned this tape giving ritual of romance; we were both just secretly working on tapes to surprise each other with. One day, we both showed up with our tapes. "You made ME one? Gee, I made YOU one!" He gave me a nice Led Zepplin of love tape. I don’t know anyone else who could have pulled that off. He also gave me a great Motown Xmas remix he made. Coolia is prolific with mix-tape making. I really like the California mix she sent me recently when I moved to LA. And the 80s hair band mix. She’s also made some good survey mixes of KISS, Jimmy Buffet, Tom Jones and Elvis for my edification.
Jo (Chicago): I was really impressed with the number of audio cassettes Julie had amassed over the years. She had her favorites, but was very open to a wide variety of artists and styles: Roxette, Prince, The Oakridge Boys, Taylor Dane, Culture Club, Depeche Mode, Stevie Winwood, Culture Club, Kenny G, The Police (not one of my faves -- I can't stand Sting!), Tina Turner, Pet Shop Boys -- on and on. We both loved Eurythmics, so I was delighted to make her tapes. We discovered Enya at the same time. One thing I find wonderful about Julie is that she's absolutely open-minded about any kind of music (except rap -- a bias I share). We can both go from Etheridge to Rachmaninoff without missing a beat. It's liberating to know someone who's unabashed about her guilty pleasures (Kenny G and Yanni). And it's great fun to discover new music -- as we did last year at a free concert by a band named Pointy Teeth (trance-dance electronica). Their "sound texture" genius has another band, Karma Sutra, whose style is a heady techno-Eastern blend. Check out www.divanation.com.
4. Girls in Record Stores
Where do you buy the bulk of your music? Do you ever buy used music? Have male record aficionados ever tried to make you feel inferior when buying music?
Jo (Chicago): For new music, we shop around for the best deal. We do buy a lot of used music. We regularly go to a little shop called Record Surplus for high-quality used CDs at reasonable prices. They also sell LPs, and I've gotten some gems for my Cher collection there. We used to love our annual ALS Foundation Music Mart charity sale. It was HUGE -- two circus big-top tents' worth of audio trash/treasures at flea market prices. Sadly, last year was the final year of the sale -- event organizers felt the interest in LPs had finally died and decided to raise funds in other ways.
Nerdia (LA): Because I was stubbornly following my own path and knew Cher was a land mine for criticism, I never paid attention to whether record store clerks behaved differently towards me when I came up to the counter with my Cher Sings The Hits LP. I never noticed how many other girls were in the stores, either. I wasn’t raised to think it made any difference anyway, that there were girl artists and boy artists, girl movies and boy movies. I shopped at Streetside Records and the Record Exchange on Hampton Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri, where I found all my 70s LPs and old 45s, my Aretha Franklin, Judy Garland, Marvin Gaye records, Willie Wonka and Hair soundtracks, and the bulk of my Cher LPs and 45s. I also went to the St. Louis record convention regularly, where I was bad at haggling but then never bought anything the vendors cared to part with cheap. Again, I was so me-centric to be embarrassed about digging through Kate Bush & Beatles collectibles for old Cher magazines and 45s.
When I moved to NY, I expanded my imports collection at Tower Records on Broadway and 4th Street. These days I’m enthralled with Amoeba Music in LA. I still can’t tell you how many women I see shopping in the store, but I see more and more women working behind the counter every day. Which reminds me, my first job was working at Camelot Music in the mall. I was the only girl working there in a sea of music geeks. Mall music stores are a weird breed; they’re not cool enough, by virtue of being a mall chain, to attract the hard core record collectors to work there as clerks. So you get the even-too-nerdy-to-be-accepted-by-music-geeks geek. And gay men, two who worked with me at Camelot Music. The experience was disappointingly excruciating. I spent way too much time organizing the sheet music racks. And I hated the insufferably arrogant Elton John fanatic who I worked with. It took me a few years to be able to truly appreciate The Yellow Brick Road album again.
I don't care about record store clerks. Where I feel the chafe is during dating relationships. I see many girls giving up their beloved records to start collecting what their boyfriends buy. I had a friend who once told me how she used to love Hall & Oates until she married her husband. He taught her what real music was. Although I do believe her horizons broadened significantly when she hooked up with him, I am appalled that he could say something so disparaging about her musical identity and she would so quickly abandon it. Maybe left to her own devices she would have wandered from Hall & Oates to Philly Soul and from there to Muscle Shoals. We will never know. And if her husband doesn’t wander far past Neil Young, let me tell you, neither will she. Some girls just drop music altogether when they hook up. I don’t know what they use to fill up the space their inner explorer left behind.
I tried following someone else’s tastes once. In the 80s, Rolling Stone magazine came out with an issue listing the best 100 albums. My brother and I had a contest to see who had the most albums on the list. We tied! For self-education, I started collecting the remaining recommendations, which is why I have a Van Morrison LP I never listen to and a Velvet Underground tape I taped over. It’s a false path; it really is.
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