With the massive shift toward digital music files over the past decade or so, little niche movements have been popping up that embrace the superior sound quality of your parents' analog recordings. Translation: Sales of vinyl LPs have been steadily increasing, including 14 percent growth in 2010. It seems counterintuitive, but that growth can be attributed to the fact that music just sounds better on vinyl than it does in a digital file. There are a lot of reasons for that, and all of them are verifiable science-type things that I totally encourage you to look up, because I definitely am not going to do it. I'm trying to work here.
But now, another seemingly obsolete medium is trying to make a comeback, and for the life of me, I can't understand why anyone would ever let it happen. For some reason, people are trying to bring back the cassette.
What They Aren't Thinking About
Sure, from a portability standpoint, the cassette was great. And I have no doubts that for the artist, producing a batch of cassettes is a lot cheaper than manufacturing the same number of vinyl LPs or CDs. But that is absolutely where the benefits of the cassette end.
If you were lucky enough to not grow up during the heyday of the cassette and are perhaps considering buying yourself a pair of lensless Buddy Holly glasses and joining up with your local Silverlake-based cassette tape cooperative, let me give you a brief rundown of the magic that cassettes had to offer.
For one thing, you never knew when listening to your favorite album was going to turn into a "this message will self-destruct" type of event. That's because, seemingly with no rhyme or reason, cassette tapes and decks would just fail, and that failure wasn't minor.
You see that shit? It happened a lot with cassettes. You have to use a pen to fix it. A pen and Scotch tape if there's a break. And even then, the audio is going to sound wobbly and stupid once you've "fixed" the issue. Like you're listening to Prince underwater.
Also, here's a question: Do people still even use the phrase "fast forward" anymore as it relates to listening to music? When was the last time you had to do that? No, we skip songs. People did that with cassettes, too, the only difference was you just had to push the fast forward button and hope you stopped it at the precise moment where one song fades into the next. You never did. Ever.
And don't even get me started on how difficult cassettes were to steal compared to MP3s. It's not even a contest.
You normally hear this in relation to places like the Loop in Chicago or Times Square in New York. "Back when the city was the city" is one popular way to put it. Basically, it's a yearning for the days when the city was real. When things were "gritty" and "raw" and not so sanitary. It was dangerous. These were the days before Mayor Giuliani/Bloomberg/Daley came in and cleaned the area up and turned it into some sort of Disney World tourist trap. Before that, the area had personality, they say. It was a real place with real people. It was life, man.
Eventually, the hookers and drug dealers and strong armed robbery-ers are forced to flee the area. The streets are cleaned up and made safe for visiting tourists. For some reason, the locals take great offense to this.
What They Aren't Thinking About
Think about what these people are saying. Basically, they're waxing nostalgic for the days when walking alone after dark was an invitation to be knifed in the liver and relieved of your wallet. Who in the holy fuck misses that? I get that nothing says "my town has culture" like having 15 strip clubs in a two-city-block radius all staffed with people who want to hurt you standing out front, but doesn't putting a library or museum in that spot do the same thing? Maybe a coffee shop with a selection of blends from around the world? Is there a particular reason that your city's personality needs to come from a schizophrenic homeless person waving a broken beer bottle in the air? I guess I would argue that there is not.
But I think I'm in the minority there. If you need proof, check the TripAdvisor review of Times Square posted by this crotchety old goat:
Notice how he points out the word "safe" as if a dearth of people willing to rob you on a subway platform is one of the current problems plaguing New York City? That's not a unique thing. In pretty much any city that features an area of town that a crackdown on crime has rendered infinitely less terrifying, you'll find a pocket of the population that actually views this change as a bad thing.
If you ever encounter one of these people, hold a knife to his throat and request his wallet to make him feel at home. Apparently he'll appreciate it.