The Saturday before last, September 7, was International Cassette Store Day. It’s when record labels in major cities around the world get together with local music stores and display their collection of old, rare tapes. Like vinyl collectors, there’s also a large bunch of people that collect tapes. While some people are wildly enthusiastic about it, others fear that this regressive trend might end us up back in the Stone Age.
Me… I don’t really much care about the difference in album art quality between tape and vinyl, or the plastic-y feel of cassettes versus the tusk-like smoothness of the vinyl. I’m just a regular person with an iPod that has a 60-hour battery life, which enables him to listen to decent-quality music for a large number of hours. That, right there, makes me happy. There should be a day for that too. Well, there is… they call it ‘every day.’
So, these music stores, back in the day they were everywhere. There was a small one on the ground floor of my apartment building. Most of my collection, the maestros of the era – Boyzone and Michael Learns To Rock – has been acquired from there.
This store, Music Mania, did good business through the 90s, until CDs got affordable and CD players replaced cassette decks. With time, everyone we knew had one… except the owner of Music Mania. He turned out to be a cassette geek and refused to throw tapes out and get CDs. Within a couple of years the store went under and the owner shut shop.
On its last day of operation I went there to have a last browse. They were packing up and putting stuff in boxes. I walked over to the rack that held all my favourite music. The owner came and stood next to me, saying, “Take all the tapes you want. Won’t be needing these anymore.”
I have never left a music store with 48 cassettes. Without having paid for the plastic bag even. The tapes all stuffed into it, I scampered out of there for fear that the guy would change his mind. Luckily he didn’t, but a lot of passers-by sure did give me weird looks.
I went back home, grabbed an old Walkman and threw on one tape after another. My now modest collection sat right by my dad’s, on the cabinet above the TV, perfectly in view for any guest that came in, just as my dad liked it.
That evening, totally unexpectedly, the love of my life sauntered into my living room like a fairy at a half past ten.
This girl, my next-door neighbour, had been my love interest for 5 years running. How exactly I fell in love with her I know not, for it happened sometime during the other 5 years of my life. For a 10 year old, I was precocious in matters of love. And I would prove it to her tonight.
It was her birthday and she had had to spend the entire day at her grandparents’. We’ve all been 10, and a 10-year-old needs a house party with cake and school friends to wind down from a hard day. But she hadn’t got one. It was time to swoop in. I asked her to meet me on the terrace in 10 minutes.
I gathered all my tapes and ran upstairs with my Walkman. She came 30 minutes later, saying her mum had forced her to eat dinner. Then I took her to the edge of the parapet, and we sat down, watching the city skyline in silence. I handed her one end of the earphone and put the other in my ear, and pressed the play button.
“We got a little world of our own, I tell you things that no one else knows,
I let you be where no one else goes, what am I doing without you.”
It was her favourite song of the time, ‘World Of Our Own’ by Westlife. The song ended, and for a moment she didn’t know how to react. Then, smiling – and surprising both herself and me – she leaned forward and gave me a hug. Honestly, I was both ecstatic and crushed. I’d hoped it would be a kiss. But what the hell.
I reached into my bag and put all my cassettes in front of her. I told her about my recent acquisition and that she could have half of it as a gift from me… any 24 she liked. Over the next 10 minutes we sifted through the tapes, and she chose just the ones I liked best.
I wished her a happy birthday and we called it a night. I came back home a happy boy… well, man.
It was the 7th of September, known today as International Cassette Store Day.
And if I were ever to miss tapes, this would be the reason why.