#80 burning memory

For the past year I’ve been divesting myself of objects that once seemed important. It began with a rack. My pal TJ had begun playing bass in a New York punk rock band. He needed equipment. I had equipment. Old equipment sitting around doing nobody any good. I had a rack mount on wheels, containing a patch bay, two digital reverbs, a digital sweetner intended to preserve high frequencies in analog (tape) mixes, and two multitimbral synthesizers whose sounds I had programmed on a DOS computer with a monochrome monitor that has probably been sitting in a landfill for twelve years. The rack was part of a studio I’d built that no longer existed. I had dragged the rack from closet to closet. It was meant to make music, not support a can of moth balls. Why was I holding onto it? I gave the rack to TJ. That was the beginning.

A month before the wedding, I rid myself of a defunct Akai twelve-track recorder and mixer on which I had produced several albums worth of music. It was a great machine in its day; it had everything. Unfortunately it used a proprietary tape format that immediately became obsolete. In order to keep my music business going, I had bought up every available carton of that uniquely formatted tape. When the last blank tape was filled, I began erasing my own work to make way for new mixes. Then the Play mechanism broke. The machine was obsolete; who in the world could fix it? Where in the world would I find a replacement part?

My music production business ended by 1990, yet I held onto that broken twelve-track for another thirteen years. I guess I vaguely thought that one day somehow I’d be able to fix it and remix the many hours of music I’d created. A month before the wedding I realized that the busted behemoth was merely eating closet space. Out it went.

Futilely, I held onto the 12-track master tapes for another few months, as one holds onto thin reeds of denial after hearing but refusing to accept bad news. Last weekend, without ceremony, I got rid of them all.

Along with those tapes I dumped hundreds of videos in VHS and Betamax formats. I still have a Betamax, and last time I checked, it still worked fine. But it’s been sitting in a credenza for three years. Goodbye to that – along with the videotapes, including copies of commercials I’d made that are no longer of professional use to me.

On Thursday I threw out a four-drawer filing cabinet’s worth of print magazines that either contained articles about me, articles about my projects, interviews with me, or articles I wrote. It had once seemed important to keep copies of those things, especially considering that most of them did not archive their content on the web, and some of them no longer exist.

On Thursday it was more important to have an empty filing cabinet.

This morning a man named Gene bought all my LP records – three decades worth. I wasn’t playing them; somebody else might. Last year or maybe the year before a friend generously gave me a turntable at Christmas. Yet I never hooked it up. There was no place to hook it up. And maybe I had no heart to find a place. Because maybe those old records were part of an old life. So the records, about five feet of them, just sat on the top shelf of a hall closet, filled with music nobody was listening to.

I kept three: two rare, pre-major-label, self-published pressings of Steve Vai’s Flexable and Flexable Leftovers, because my brother Pete plays drums on those discs, and the first Wasp label pressing of The Insect Surfers, a D.C. post-punk techno-surf band I’d played with in 1980. The rest, including rarities and osbsurities and classic discs in perfect playing condition but whose covers bore the claw marks of cats I once owned ... the rest I sold to Gene at about the same price per pound as chopped meat.

As I helped him take away my past in vinyl form, I saw glimpses of Sarah Vaughn, of Elvis Costello and Uncle Meat, of a classical album my mother bought me when I was nineteen and living on my own. Here was an EP by Monsoon I used to play at half-speed as part of a dub mix I made. Sugar Minott, Good Thing Going, which I used to play for my first wife. MX-80 Sound Big Hits EP. There was In The Court of the Crimson King, which I used to listen to with headphones after coming home from my first job. Pure Pop for Now People. Axis: Bold as Love. Mingus Mingus Mingus. For some reason, three copies of Remain in Light. All of Kraftwerk. Most of Miles, Eno, and Bowie. Dance hall and dub poets. Patti Smith. Flora Purim. Disraeli Gears, the first record I ever bought, and an efficacious gateway drug. U2 and UB40. James Brown, Prince, and Curtis Flow. Roy Orbison, For the Lonely. Sinatra. Jobim. Big Science. The covers flashed as we filled Gene’s bursting cardboard boxes.

As we loaded his truck in the rain, I caught my last glimpse of great but obscure bands like the Screaming Gypsy Bandits of Bloomington, Indiana, and Dodge D’art of Charlottesville, Virginia, who in one of their songs sang this:

It’s just burning, burning in a memory
All of the things that make fools of you and me
Burning, burning in a memory
Just a burning memory

1 September 2003

previously: #79 opening for an unpopular novel