April 4th, 2004

Side B

Kim is planting our patch of grass -- literally -- for the tortoises and anyone who chooses to play around Skylar's slide. It's always interesting to hear what music she selects to garden by. It comes from the tiny blue Emerson CD player that we got to play in Skylar's room when she was afraid of the dark -- a dark period in our family life, incidentally -- but almost sounds better because it doesn't sound so good, like when you hear a song you love over AM radio.

When I heard the first notes of Bob Mould's "Sunspots" this morning, I decided to work in the kitchen, where I could hear the music in the background. Workbook is one of my favorite records. More than that, though, it marks a special time in my life: I purchased it right before I met Kim. Priscilla and I saw him open for the Pixies at the Warfield on a Saturday -- with Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" for an encore -- then had a rather intense time together into Sunday. You'd be surprised what lines of imperfectly crushed No-Doz and Mickey's 40 ouncers will do to your frame of mind! After a late lunch at Saul's in North Berkeley, Priscilla finally headed home. Monday was uneventful. And then came Tuesday, already amply documented "after the LJ cut" in a previous entry.

Ever since those insane days -- the post-Loma Prieta Earthquake energy made interpersonal relations glow with possibility -- I've been able to find my way back to a little of the intensity of those days by putting Workbook on.

For Kim, though, the record signifies differently. When I went out on the patio, I saw two CD cases stacked up. The second one, Bettie Serveert's Palomine will forever be associated in our minds with Workbook because it's Side B of one of our favorite roadtrip cassette tapes.

Lovers of vinyl -- or even shellac -- like to talk about the loss of the Side A-Side B experience in the CD and subsequent electronic formats. But not many people mourn the cassette. Maybe they should, though, because the musical diptychs that 90-minute cassettes used to result in are an interesting way station on the path from artist or label control of content to consumer control of content.

The easiest way to make cassettes of albums is -- I'm avoiding the past tense here, though it would probably be more truthful -- to have the same artist on both sides. I have a bunch of tapes that follow that logic. When you're going on a roadtrip, though, you want to have a wide range of music at your disposal. And you don't usually want to listen to the same artist for 90 minutes. With an auto-reverse deck, the best approach is to have the transition from Side A to Side B be interesting without being too jarring: the mood should be enhanced, not broken. Figuring which artists to pair on a cassette is like a bigger-scaled version of the dilemma that DJs face when they move from song to song.

When the passage from Side A to Side B -- or the other way around, if you ejected the cassette last time before it auto-reversed -- really works, you get something sublime, the memory of the first album shining light into the dark places of the second. My pairing of Workbook and Palomine does that.

The other day I posted a picture of Kim standing on a bridge in Seattle -- I had mistaken it for Portland, initially -- that reminds me now of the time, on an earlier visit to the Emerald City, that we went from breakfast in Capitol Hill to the nearby botanical gardens, then got back in the car in order to cross one of the bridges to the north. It was a drawbridge and it was up, probably to let some gorgeous yacht through. We sat for awhile in the light rain, soaking in Palomine. I'll always associate my cassette with our long roadtrips. It brings me joy, even when it's being virtually recreated on a $30 CD player.
  • Current Music
    Bettie Serveert's Palomine from the patio