Vol. 2, Issue #5 March 30th - April 12th, 2007

Tiger Beat From Hell
By: Wilhelm Murg

Selective Nostalgia & Confused Hypocrisy

I hated analogue even back when that was all that was available. Vinyl records sounded like crap; usually there was surface noise, even on the first play, that got progressively worse as time went on. Cassette tapes had a horrible hiss in them; noise reduction was available in some machines, but it also clipped off the high end of the music spectrum. 8-Tracks were a joke to begin with, as the commercial tapes actually faded out in the middle of the songs before they changed tracks, and then faded back up afterward.

On the video side, film is one of the most delicate and expensive mediums, and often brakes or becomes scratched and filled with dirt and hair with each showing. VHS tape had so little information on it that I’m sure all that blurriness wasn’t good for our eyes, and it wore out faster than anyone wanted to admit.

When I first discovered laserdiscs (the precursor of DVDs) and CDs I felt like we were finally solving all those problems, but now I find myself around a lot of film and vinyl record fans and collectors who argue for the scratches and dirt as a part of the aesthetic in these days of perfect sound.

What I find bizarre is we have all of these arguments in favor of these two imperfect mediums, but there is only a small cult devoted to 8-Tracks. The last time I heard anyone talking about putting out a cassette release was a couple of junkies I know who used to have a band; production was halted when they realized they didn’t even have a decent duel deck cassette recorder.

Here in Tulsa we have The Circle Cinema, a refurbished little theater built in the late 1920s where they show midnight movies once a month. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing “Night of The Living Dead,” “Kansas City Bomber,” “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and “Blue Velvet” from pristine 35 mm prints. They don’t even go through the studios to get these films, as the studios are not maintaining new prints of old films; they have to negotiate with private collectors. And never mind that “Kansas City Bomber” is the only one of the list that is not in my personal DVD collection, this is something of a treat, like going to see an original Picasso in a museum, rather than looking at a copy in an art book.

But the strangest thing happened this last weekend. We went to see “Brazil” at the midnight movie and it was played from a DVD. While it was a perfect, and at times overwhelming, presentation of the “Director’s Cut” - which I don’t think was ever readily available on 35 mm - I somehow felt cheated. I could rent the damn disc anytime I want to, I found that I almost missed the scratches, hair, real change marks, and radical shifts of color from the different reels.

But let’s stop and think about that for a moment. I have the DVD of Frank Zappa’s “Does Humor Belong in Music?” which was made for home video in the late 1980s. I don’t want that on VHS, even though it was designed for the medium. The same is true for old punk cassette-only albums; I don’t want the original tapes, I want them on CD.

Film is a dying medium, so why do we have this nostalgia with 35 mm. I suppose it’s the size of the image, which is still a little bigger than most big screen TVs, for time being, and the idea of watching these films with an audience, though the audiences are mostly made up of people who have seen these films so many times that they are jaded. It’s not like anyone was terrified by “Night of The Living Dead” at The Circle screening. It actually felt more like a ritual.

I also hang out a lot at Rob’s Records, Tulsa’s leading vinyl record shop where I seem to be the odd man out, as I always show up looking for CDs and DVDs while everyone else is scrounging around for records from the 1960s. I understand the concept of film as a medium – that Ed Wood designed his films to play in the 35 mm format, but there are only a handful of records that really played with the medium of vinyl. For example, “Another Monty Python Record” ends with a sketch about the Piranha Brothers, a crime underworld duo. A gangster comes in and tells the narrator that the sketch has gone on too long. When the narrator attempts to explain himself there are scratching sounds on the record followed by the gangster saying “Aw! Sorry, squire, I scratched the record,” followed by a record click, then it’s repeated over and over, making you wonder if your record actually is scratched.

While that’s an example of playing with the medium, most music was created as music, not as something to be placed on a medium (and certainly not in the case of Bach or Beethoven). I’m convinced that if you had asked the Beatles in 1967 “Would you rather be on vinyl, or a noiseless medium” they would have gone for the CD.

I do understand the record as a cultural icon. Rob was actually robbed recently and there wasn’t much of a selection left. I was about to tell him to put my trade on credit, but then, out of the corner of my eye I saw nice copies of The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Love Me Do” on 45s with their original picture sleeves. I took them, but not to play, rather to “collect” as an investment (if you can get them out of my cold blue hand).

Ten years from now are there going to be CD and DVD collectors who are convinced these are the perfect formats, as oppose to the credit cards we’ll have our music and videos stored on? You can bet on it! I keep thinking of the old Carly Simon line from “Anticipation,” no one ever realizes that “these are the good ol’ days.”

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