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On Moving a Musical Life to a New Home [Part I]

14 June 2006

Another photo for the “Farewell to Eldridge and the East Village” piece in the new Issue 58: Yours Truly in Eldridge’s bedroom, before the flyers and posters came down, 1984. Ah youth, in the crazy, former Manhattan artist colony bohemia now lost in gentrification! (photo: JILL MANDLER)

Well it had to happen to me someday. I’ve helped a lot of my friends move houses over these last 25 years—many of them roommates of mine at 249 Eldridge Street, shuffling on to greener (bigger!) pastures. Now it’s my turn, after 25 years in one place in the once artistically thriving, now expensive and comparably vapid East Village of Manhattan. I devoted my editorial in the current BT Issue 58 to this apartment and this neighborhood, and as I’d predicted in that piece, I did indeed spend my 25th anniversary day in the place, June 5, by packing boxes. No surprise there, that’s all I’ve done every day for several weeks. So here’s an update on that editorial of sorts, what is happening now, and my thoughts on that for ye readers.

I watched a Seinfeld episode a few nights ago, which, of course, just happened to be about moving. “All you care about when you’re moving is boxes, your whole life becomes boxes,” JERRY SEINFELD jokes, or something to that effect, in his opening monologue, implying you might have to kill for them. And it’s true. Every day I’ve walked the streets like an eagle looking for rabbits to poke their furry noses out of holes, hoping to spy a stray bit of cardboard peeking out behind a steel trash can here or there. At $3.50 a pop, boxes can get deceptively expensive when you’re doing a major move. (I figure I’ve saved a good $400 or so thus far by snatching them outside of drug stores, supermarkets, and other such rich targets, neatly stacked out by the curb.) So far I’ve been winning the battle. One guy came out of a hardware store as I was making off with his tied bundles, and for some reason I thought he was going to yell at me (reflex), even though that made no sense. And sure enough, he asked me if I needed more, the brought another bundle out from the back. Thanks guy! You single-handedly provided the transport materials for my tape collection!

Which brings me to the point of this piece for Big Takeover readers beyond that old saw of “general interest.” I am betting that a ton of our readers are similarly peculiar in this aspect of moving. We have compiled a truly unusual amount of musical detritus as the years have passed. I mean, let’s just think a second about that word “cassettes.” I mean, how many cassettes do I play in a year these days? A few dozen? Well, it took some 14 large boxes to get all of the ones I have ready for their maiden voyage to Brooklyn. I mean, really, I think I all but forgot I had any cassettes, let alone this many! Bootlegs of THE WIPERS at Maxwell’s and at some joint in Providence, RI, off the soundboard… Did I make those? I don’t even remember! But I remember the gigs…

I was never a “tape trader” per se. I just seemed to have accumulated these things, from friends, readers, and through my own devices. There’s a wealth of wonderful stuff here: I spy, for example, WHO outtakes bootlegs from the ‘80s before all that stuff came out on CD as bonus tracks Tapes of albums I ended up buying years later. ‘70s Peel Sessions from the days when those were almost never officially released. So many concert tapes of so many great bands ranging from brilliant to unlistenable; So many mix tapes I made in so many eras, spotlighting many different moods. (One was marked “a Jackpop Summer 1984.” What exactly was that, now? I think I will “pop” that in right now while I’m boxing, and intentionally not look at the track listing. Should be some nice surprises!) I’ve resisted the temptation that falls many a new mover: taking trips down memory lane with my books and papers and photos. There just isn’t time and this is a big enough project as it is without getting bogged down in sentimentalism. But hey, music is different. Yesterday’s music is today’s rediscovered current favorite.

And you get the point. In the same way that CDs had one huge advantage over vinyl for urban dwellers pressed for space (and, I guess, for those who’ve moved far, far more frequently than non-transient me!)—i.e. they’re so much smaller and so much lighter—I wonder if the iPod and iTunes revolution won’t save future generations from the sheer weight and space-guzzling requirements of a well-loved decent music collection, albeit they are bound to lose the love of artwork that is so ingested in the albums and singles I am moving right now.

I didn’t want to count the boxes of vinyl LPs and 12” singles, as that hefty task was such a usual badge of love and honor for just about every friend I had this last quarter century—plucked off of bulging, sagging shelves, in that record-lovers universe where BADFINGER to BUZZCOCKS takes a box or two, instead of a box or two being your whole collection like ‘normal’ people—and no one wants to help you carry them all down the stairs to the van. Ditto so many boxes of 7” singles. Hmm, who remembers some of these bands if I barely do? Yeah it’s fun looking at the first CURE single and remembering they were just another interesting new band then, to be sampled for $1.99 and tax for two songs (just like today on iTunes!). But just who were the SUEDE CROCODILES, and why do I have their single? Hmm, guess I’ll have to pop that on as well when this tape is finished airing.

And the CDs boxes? That must be the easy part, right? Well it would be if they didn’t seem to take up more space than I would have thought. OK, unlike my vinyl collection, I got a lot of these buggers for free, the result of both publishing a mag that got me on the major label promo lists at long last after 10 years of flying under their radar in the ‘80s (And not liking what they put out then, anyway!), and the explosion of labels releasing so-called “indie” music; whereas there were 100 times fewer in the vinyl days. But here’re another few dozen boxes. Guess I better hit up that hardware store guy again. “Hey, guy, what day do you string up your empties?” It’s like I should make an appointment!

[Part II to follow]