Jerry’s brother had a piranha. He was a senior in high school and had moved down into the basement, into what probably had been a storage closet. There was room for a bed, the fish tank, and his stereo. No windows, no closet.
One afternoon when his brother was at football practice, Jerry and I went downstairs and raided his record collection. We dubbed the good songs onto cassette, my first mixtape. I remember a bunch of the songs that were on it, and I can still picture Jerry’s loopy handwritten track list on the j-card. “Tom Sawyer” by Rush, “Dream Police” by Cheap Trick, “T.N.T.” by AC/DC, “Destroyer” by the Kinks. Late 1981, maybe early 82.
I’ve been searching for this tape for years. Decades even. I am a bit of a hoarder so I can’t imagine that I just threw it away. I recently remembered a place I hadn’t looked. There was a small duffel bag of my old crap from my mom’s house that had been thrown in a bin and moved from one storage space to another over the years. Inside the bag, along with a bunch of old journals and my high school diploma, I found an unmarked cassette.
Jackpot? Unfortunately, no.
Listening to what was on that tape allowed me to go back and see part of what I was really like as an early adolescent. Not how I remember being, but how I really was. Ryan H. Walsh wrote in “It Still Floors Me” on Hallelujah the Hills’ 2019 masterpiece I’m You: “Time travel is real but there’s a price you pay.” I was about to find out how true that really is.
I dug out a cassette player and hit “play.” It starts with the pubescent voice of a friend doing a silly routine as an Englishman who picks his nose. You can hear me and Jerry giggling in the background. Almost forty years later, I could still remember the whole bit word for word. I must’ve listened to it hundreds of times back in the day. It’s funny.
After that, it’s a compilation of songs from albums I had borrowed from the library combined with songs I taped off the radio. “Billie Jean” into Midnight Star’s “Freak-a-Zoid.” (I can clearly remember being excited to check the No Parking on the Dance Floor LP out from the library and then being disappointed that “Freak-a-Zoid” was the only good song.) Next up is Def Leppard’s “Photograph.” Then some flipping through stations and landing on “Torture” by the Jacksons, which leads into an awesome station identification (“98 Rock FM. Power!”) and into Cyndi Lauper’s classic “She Bop.”
So far, a fairly accurate snapshot of what I remember being into at the time.
But then here’s where I started to freak out.
In a voice I didn’t recognize someone says, “This tape was made on August 23, 1984.” It’s me. On my thirteenth birthday.
The voice isn’t adult. But it isn’t a child’s voice either. It’s the voice of someone who had just turned into a teenager that very day. And I was alone in my bedroom making making a tape? Is that sad? I’m not sure. But there I am. Talking into a tape recorder. And here I am now. Hearing it. It doesn’t sound like me. But it is. It’s like looking into a mirror and seeing somebody else staring back at you. Who is that kid? I’m you.
The final song on that side is “Leave It” by Yes.
No phone can take your place
You know what I mean.
The tape runs out before the song ends. Ah…leave it.
The next side is strange. It has “Somebody’s Watching Me” and “Obscene Phone Caller” by Rockwell followed by three songs from a Breakdance compilation: “Tour de France” (a Kraftwerk cover by 10 Speed), “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” and “Pop Goes My Love” by Freeez. I have no recollection of ever listening to anything on this tape other than the nose picker bit. But I know around this time I was trying to learn to breakdance.
After the final song ends, it becomes clear that I had taped over an earlier recording. It’s a Detroit Tigers game. But there are also barely audible ambient noises, like the tape recorder had been set next to the tv. Thanks to baseball nerds who are even more obsessive than us music nerds, I can definitively state that the game I taped over was played on Saturday, July 16, 1983. After the top of the eighth inning, it’s tied 0-0, and we hear a Löwenbräu ad, during which someone away from the tv clearly enters the room and says “Hey!” (i.e., “hello”). Who was that? There’s a conversation, indecipherable under the ad, probably in the kitchen, then the tape cuts off. It was a night game in Seattle, which means it didn’t even start here until after 10:30pm. So the part I caught on tape must’ve happened close to one o’clock in the morning. Which means I would’ve had to have pressed “record” after midnight. I was still only 11 years old. And I’ve never cared about baseball. What was going on? Why was somebody stopping by my house at 1 am? What was I trying to capture?
I’ll never know. There’s no one to ask. It’ll remain a mystery. A weird, mildly disturbing mystery.
This strange, forgotten tape allowed me to go back in time for sixty minutes. And it ended up creeping me out. I mean, it’s not that weird. It’s not like I uncovered evidence of some unsolved crime or something. It’s just an odd snippet of a past life recorded over the top of a late-night baseball game. But the whole experience has rattled me. Like I don’t really know who I am. Like there were things going on in my house that I didn’t know about.
That’s the price you pay for time travel, I guess.
In case you’re wondering, the Tigers lost in the bottom of the ninth.
Video: Yes – “Leave It”
Directed by Godley & Creme. From 90125 (Atco, 1983). Dig the “making of” documentary.
2 thoughts on “Time Travel Is Real”
I just had a bit of an epiphany: I bet I was trying to tape the audio of Saturday Night Live but it was preempted by the game. I need to figure out if MLB was on NBC that season… And who was on SNL that night…