Each day this week, Tools of Attraction will present a story from Cassettefrommyex.com, a celebration of lost loves and mixtapes from Jason Bitner, co-creator of Found Magazine. This month, Cassette From My Ex came out as a book — check it out here. Today’s entry comes from Claudia Gonson, the pianist/drummer/backing vocalist for The Magnetic Fields.
"John" Tape, Circa 1986
John was my boyfriend from age 15-19 or so, ie: my entire high school career. These of course are the years where music leaves a passionate, indelible mark on the core of your being. It’s hard for me to comment on these songs (or some of them, anyway) without wanting to shout “oh my god, this is the most amazing song EVER!!”
Which is why I am so grateful to John. I met John in the summer of 1983. I had just turned 15. A few days later, I introduced him to Stephin, my bandmate and best friend. They were both older than me, and musically precocious. I was a little doe-eyed kid who had only heard of the Beatles. The day they met, they immediately had an argument over which Lindsay Buckingham solo album was the best. I was scared they hated one another, but it turned out this is how some boys show how much they like one another.
The conversation then turned to Yoko Ono, and it went on, for months, years… Who got the latest single from Flying Nun, or Rough Trade, or Cherry Red? Who had the cool newest solo project from David Roback of the Rain Parade? (see the “Clay Allison” track below. They were then renamed Opal, and eventually morphed into Mazzy Star). We got fake IDs in Times Square, and went to see our favorite bands live, including the Bangles, Game Theory, the Chills, and The Three O’Clock.
It was clear to me that I needed lessons: “what’s the difference between the Rain Parade, The Raincoats, and Rainy Day”? These two men infused me with more information in a month than I could have gotten in years by myself. John would buy the first three Bee Gees albums and then make me a mix-tape of the best songs. All I think I discovered for him during our years together was the Smiths and REM.
Anyway, I am grateful beyond words for John and his mix tapes (and Stephin too of course). I am certain I would not be the person I am today had I not had this orthodox musical education. I’d probably be a banker or something.
John also showed me how to listen to production. He sat me down on the bed one day and put on the Archies “Sugar Sugar”. “Listen,” he said, “to the first verse. What instruments do you hear? Do you hear that tambourine coming in on the second verse? That tambourine on the second verse is the first rule of classic bubblegum production!”
Like many mix-tape artists, John worked hard to time out each song so that the tape wouldn’t have any remaining space at the end. He also began and ended the A-side of this particular tape with a song featuring the chimes of Big Ben (the Chills and Cheap Trick).
So many of these songs have stories and memories connected to them, I could write a story for each (in fact, John sent me a marvelous email in which he did just that). And, while I don’t want to sound like that person… but what the hell, I will- some of these songs are the BEST SONGS ON EARTH. EVER EVER EVER.
The Chills– Doledrums
The Byrds– Here Without You
Alice Cooper– Be My Lover
AC/DC– Sink the Pink
The Craig– I Must Be Mad
Human Sexual Response– Marone Moan
The Velvet Underground– Stephanie Says
Flipper – Get Away
Undertones– Family Entertainment
Algebra Suicide – Somewhat Bleeker Street.
Leonard Cohen– It Seems so Long Ago, Nancy
Clay Allison– Fell from the Sun
Bobbie Gentry – Mississppi
Everly Bros– Love Hurts
Cheap Trick– Clock Strikes Ten
Yoko Ono– Walking on Thin Ice
Aerosmith– Uncle Salty
Weekend– Sleepy Theory
The Three O’Clock– Hand in Hand
Steppenwolf – Tighten Up Your Wig
Dolly Parton– I Will Always Love You
the Zulus– Back to Sleep
Meat Puppets– Split Myself in Two
The Bee Gees– The Earnest of Being George
Gary Lewis – Me About You
the Died Pretty– Laughing Boy
The B-52’s– Dirty Back Road
Game Theory– Waltz the Halls
The Archies– Suddenly Susan