Thanks for the Memories

As the crisis I’m documenting here unfolds, I find myself turning more and more to the past, savoring good memories, tormenting myself with the bad, and generally wallowing in nostalgia. Let’s face it, the past, my past – good and bad – was at the heart of the solo show. And just why did I think anyone else would care that much about it? But since I make my living writing about the past, maybe it’s not too surprising I’ve taken this tack in my personal life.

Remember these? How quaint.

Remember these? How quaint

This urge to record events for posterity has deep roots. As kids, my sister and I loved documenting our inane outbursts on a cassette recorder. I think the first one was fairly large and green and cheap, an early model produced just a few years after “compact cassettes” became widely available in the mid 60s.

Then, as a teen, I splurged on what was then a top-of-the line Pioneer deck with three heads, so I could one day record and overdub live music. High aspirations, as always. I did use it to tape my friends’ first band, with bass, drums, and guitar wailing away in my parents’ living room. The repertoire included “Honey Don’t,” a Doors-influenced raga jam, and “Tenement Funster.” Nothing if not eclectic. We only had one mic, and that was for the singer, so I had to use my Koss headphones as a microphone. True high fidelity.

You mean you're supposed to listen through them?

You mean you listen through these?

I actually found one of the tapes of those early recordings a few years ago and played it for the guitarist. Was that a chuckle! Unfortunately, I can’t find that tape now, or some of the other gems of recorded history I once had. Consider this:

November 1977 – Hunter S. Thompson speaks at NYU. I’m still in high school but two friends have graduated early and are at college in the city. I drive down with a few other friends and sneak in a tape recorder only barely smaller than the green machine of my youth. HST is snide, profound, wasted – in other words, in top form. He also takes bets on that night’s Monday Night Football game. Just a few minutes into the evening, we’re stunned to see John Belushi walk on stage. He does his Joe Cocker, then remains with the good doctor for the rest of the evening. I don’t remember exactly what everyone said, but that’s ok, because I have it all on tape!

Only, now, I can’t find it.

I have ripped apart my collection of aging cassettes over and over, desperate to recover that moment from my past. Could I have loaned it to someone? Could I have – shudder – taped over it? Did the tape malfunction – snap, melt in the sun, simply fade away – and I can’t recall? Don’t know. I only know it’s gone.

So is the tape I made in 1983 of Jaco Pastorius. We were at a nightclub in Copenhagen, my friend Wax and me, and ended up with two attractive Danish girls for the evening. Jaco was in amazing, as was Mike Stern, and I got it all on the Sony recorder, a Walkman prototype, that I had bought before the trip. But unlike the Walkmans, it had external stereo mics, so the sound was actually pretty good. We listened to the tape for the rest of the trip, a more-enduring memento from our time in Denmark than the experience with the girls, which led to naught. And I listened it to it for years afterward. But now – gone.

I do have proof of my last memorable recording. In August 1999, I went to Kutshers in the Catskills to get information on the annual charity basketball game held there in honor of Maurice Stokes. I was hoping to write a book about him and his teammate Jack Twyman, who had helped Stokes after he suffered a debilitating accident. What made the story special was that Stokes was black and Twyman was white, and it unfolded just a few years after basketball’s color line was broken. At Kutshers the owner told me he wanted me to meet someone. He took me out back, and sitting on the cement stoop was Wilt Chamberlain. I was tongued-tied! Wilt had been one of my heroes during his days with the Lakers. He graciously gave me 40 minutes of his time. Then, within three months, he was dead. I think this might be the last interview he ever did. It might not have great historical significance, but it means a lot to me. (But dummy that I am, I did not have a camera! And I didn’t get an autograph! Why? Why? Why?…)

Here some of the words of Wilt

Hear some of the words of Wilt

I bemoan the loss of the other tapes, I think, because I know memory is so mercurial. Some things seem so present still in our heads, but at times we get a flicker of doubt: Did it really happen that way? Did someone just tell me about it and I internalized it? Did I dream it, or make it up, because that’s how I want to think my life unfolded? And my god, what about all the things we lived through and have forgotten. I hate it when someone says, “Remember when…” and they describe something I know I witnessed or said or did. But I don’t remember when.

I know the blog is another way to record history. To help me remember what I did and felt at a particular time. I also know this documentation will not last forever. Technology will change, or I’ll give up on it and the words will dissolve, in whatever way digital words do. It will be another lost tape. And no one will miss it the way I miss hearing “Tenement Funster” recorded through Koss headphones.


~ by mburgan on October 7, 2008.

6 Responses to “Thanks for the Memories”

  1. It’s all slipping away…..

  2. M,
    re: WC – Great excerpt… it wasn’t the last interview he ever did, but something that you should cherish. FYI, I was Wilt’s partner in Hundred Point Films and was working on his bio-pic when he passed. Hopefully, I can keep his spirit alive and true in the film that I make. (And not some Hollywood version.)

  3. Ian,

    Thanks for the comment and for setting me straight. Let me know if you’d like to hear more. Good luck with the project.


  4. I was at that NYU appearance of HST with Belushi showing up to ‘moderate’. And it was in ’76.

    The two lines I do recall were HST mumbling that his hat was “made of unborn wolf” and Belushi, responding to a heckler in the balcony, imploring said heckler to “go eat a bowl of fuck”.

    Good times. Oh my my my good times.

    • Definitely not 76, as the two friends who were students in NYC did not graduate until 77 and it was after they got to the city. But thanks for the comment!

  5. I was there. I got to ask HST a question.

    Q: “What are the best drugs for creative writing? Acid? Peyote?”
    A: “Booze and speed.”

    If you ever find the tape….

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