Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Mix Tape that Changed My Life

Almost 20 years ago as of this writing, I started college. That freshman year was a high water mark in many ways; I'm still friends with a lot of the people I met then; I got my first taste of independence and self-reliance; and I started discovering really interesting music I'd never heard on the radio - which, in effect, meant that I became a music listener when I'd never really seen any reason to be one before.

One of the musical artists I discovered that autumn is Robyn Hitchcock - a songwriter from England who has had a lot of labels stuck on him over the years, such as "quirky", "eccentric", "cult figure" and even "God." He's been called the Monty Python, Douglas Adams, and Rod Serling of pop. The venerable Trouser Press record guide called his "entire body of work of the great undiscovered treasures of modern pop music." And it was Creem magazine that proclaimed "God walks among us." I wonder if his obscure status makes people like him more; I always get a warm feeling from discovering something unique and special that it seems almost no one else knows about. Not that I don't try and spread the word - you're reading this, right?

My introduction to Mr Hitchcock's oeuvre was a common one for the time - a "mix tape" cassette that a friend of a friend had compiled from vinyl records, and passed on to an interested party (my new school friend, Dan) in order to spread the gospel. Dan was a great source of new music in those days - he had an immense collection of store bought cassettes as well, and was generous about lending them out. He gave me the Hitchcock mix tape outright and I was instantly hooked. It was cued up to side B when I first played it, in the room of one of the girls on our floor. "In St. Petersburg... In the night... Where the light shines down on the snow..." The voice, slightly nasal, almost self-mocking, full of character, crooned about an object of desire who was - in typical fashion for that time in that musical career - beautiful, mysterious, and no longer alive: brought back to memory by a dark vision of death, with dark music accompaniment to match.

Since that day, I've met still more friends online through the Hitchcock listserv, and I'm working on a third tribute songs collection. In honor of 20 years of music fandom, and in honor of Dan's birthday today, I enshrine here a scan of the mix tape that changed my life.

Happy birthday, Dan!

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