Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bro's Love Inc. Zot

The "zot" came from a little lightning bolt that my older brother drew on the label of the first mix tape I ever owned. It came at a time when owning both a record player and a tape deck was a relatively new thing. To be clear, this was a turntable, and it was an integrated part of a stereo system. When these components were wired together, they could preform magical feats, such as playing music at impossible volumes through speakers or headphones to quell that urge to recreate that concert hall experience in your own bedroom. Or, you could funnel that music through those carefully inserted cables to reproduce albums, or parts of albums, on little plastic cartridges that could easily be carried from place to place, instead of lugging all those big platters of vinyl around.
Or maybe you could use this same setup to share your music. With your younger brother. This was how I heard "Bohemian Rhapsody" for the first time. Okay, to be fair, I had heard Queen's magnum opus pouring out of the room at the bottom of the stairs for some time, and even once or twice on the radio. But to be given the opportunity to play that same wildly operatic tune on demand? Priceless.
This is what my brother did for me. The second song on the playlist was Maynard Ferguson's version of "MacArthur Park," and over time and hundreds of repeated plays, I began to connect Queen with Maynard in my head. The logic of the tape's playlist began to supersede that of the original albums from which the songs had come. There were other songs on that first side, but aided by the rewind button, I listened to those two songs in a seemingly endless loop.
Side two was comprised primarily of Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells." This became the soundtrack for much of the reading I did that summer, including Thomas Tryon's creepfest, "The Other." It would be several more years before I saw "The Exorcist" and was able to connect "Tubular Bells" with Linda Blair's possession by the devil, but I will always associate those sounds with that scary twin brother and a very nasty scene involving a cask of wine.
But mostly, I will be grateful to my older brother for opening the door through which music could be shared. I eventually got my own stereo system, and learned the ways of recording and cuing up the next selection. And segues. Knowing what songs naturally fit together with which other songs, and making clever connections between a series of seemingly unrelated tunes. It was an art. One that I continue to practice from time to time with much more efficiency in the digital realm of compact discs. Still, nothing beats those ninety minute assemblages. They were the ones that informed my youth and showed me the way to the future. And for that, I am grateful.

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