A song I’ve dubbed ‘I’m a Trapeze,’ tape-recorded through the walls of my old apartment, the woman next door (chunky amber beads, electric-white hair) playing two chords on a guitar. Sometimes I think the plaster was obscuring her lyrics, other times I think she was singing nonsense. One of those songs that benefits from bad acoustics, barriers, poor recording equipment.
Field recordings from recess over at the kindergarten. They were sitting on wax paper and sliding down the slide.
A snippet from madrigals rehearsal, just the altos stumbling over a Latin phrase (‘pax hominibus’) while the others make small talk. ‘I mean look at how thick her socks are,’ clearly audible at 0:55.
‘Man o’ Wiser,’ by Richard Boscia, accompanying himself on a finger piano, recorded at a friend’s birthday party. I was nervous beforehand because the only person I’d know there would be my friend, who would know everyone else and be the guest of honor and have other responsibilities. I drank half a carton of orange juice, then filled it with grocery-store vodka, shook it up, and sipped from the carton as I drove to the party. I figured the cops wouldn’t complain about a man drinking some orange juice straight from the container as he rocketed down the road. Which was, if memory serves, encased in ice and double-knotted.
My mother playing a song on the piano in the living room. I don’t know the name but you’d recognize it. She bought a music box featuring the same song and gave it to my stepfather for his birthday, and after that she stopped playing it on the piano. But anyway about Richard Boscia, he always wore a suit and this never failed to impress the ladies, acting as a counterbalance against his penchant for drum circles and hacky-sack. Some shill said, ‘Say I hear Dickie plays a mean finger piano,’ and Richard Boscia acted all shy and like ‘oh no no no, I couldn’t,’ until somehow we found ourselves begging him to play it, how the hell did that ever seem like a good idea, and I’m even like breaking out my tape recorder and saying let’s get this down for posterior, the room hot and close and unsteady and me and my screwdriver’d gut wanting to kiss everyone on the cheek. Totally depressing, then, when I listened to the tape the next afternoon and the song was the perfect thing. Something that should probably wrap up the mix tape, but I’d rather stick it in the fourth slot so the dead girl won’t get distracted by it, distracted by him.
The dishwasher running in the middle of the night. It does this thing halfway through, this huge clank that always sends a jolt through the house, and you think it’s going to break but it never does.
‘Happy Slap,’ by The Denny Taplin Band, taped off the car radio as I drove home from the dead girl’s house. You can hear me ordering chicken tenders through the drive-thru intercom at 2:38.
A quick burst of ‘The Ocean’ by Led Zeppelin, which was on the cassette before I taped over it to make this new mix.
Twelve minutes of what I happen to know is snow falling in the winter of 1994. Amateur ears might mistake it for static and someone breathing too close to the microphone. She said she distrusted inclement weather that didn’t make any noise. She was unhappy, not in the mood for talking, her cheeks rubbed raw with the cold. She made that scarf herself.
Me singing ‘Whip It,’ backed by a karaoke machine. I have no memory of this performance. The cassette appeared in my P.O. box one day, no return address. It looked like it had traveled across the entire world, passing through innumerable hands.
Me playing something on mom’s piano. The tape recorder was inside the piano and got knocked over by one of the hammers halfway through. I’ll invent a name for the song now. I’ll pick up a book at random and open to any page: ‘An Avalanche of Unmated Shoes.’ Meh.
Bob trying to program his drum machine, sort of a mambo beat interrupted now and then by swears. Finally he settles on something and plays harmonica along with it. ‘Beat up and / beat down and / closed up and / closed down’ go the words, sung super slow. Words that he wrote, so he says, during a bout of lucid dreaming. ‘It was right after I heard about what happened to [name deleted]. I said, hey you know what, I think I’d rather be asleep right now, I’d just as soon not be awake. So I hunker down for a serious nap, and I’m out like a light, but it’s like I know that I’m dreaming, like the dream isn’t even close to tricking me into thinking it’s real. So I sit down on this dream couch and write these dream words in like a dream legal pad and at the time, I tell you, I seemed like the biggest genius of the whole world.’
‘Evil Gringo,’ from my oft-copied bootleg of that show by The Ralphs where they all swapped instruments and broke out the overhead projectors and the Theremin. It sounds like every reverb amp in the world being dropped from heaven onto a nation of shrieking harpies, coiled cables cutting through pink nipples and black feathers.
Me and her talking about soft drinks. This was recorded without her knowledge. I’m asking if she’s ever had the celery soda. She talks about her friend who one time gave her a bottle of Coke right after they changed the formula and then changed it back. The bottle was neither New Coke nor Classic Coke, but just old-school Coke, and she thought maybe it’d be a collector’s item someday. She vowed never to open it until she kissed [name deleted]. I can hardly stand to listen to my fake laugh.
Guy on the street playing ‘Masai Mara’ on the accordion. He manages to work in ‘thank you’ or ‘god bless’ into the lyrics—totally keeping the rhythm—every time someone drops a coin in his overturned hat.
A piece of music that no one will ever hear except the dead girl. I hooked the Casio straight into the tape recorder. I put earplugs in my ears, wrapped a bandana around my eyes, and played for four minutes. I don’t know what I played, but it’s nice to know that it’s out there and that she’s the only one who’ll ever be allowed to listen to it. Maybe it’s really good, who knows.
Me and her in her room, lying on the floor, our heads touching and bodies stretching in opposite directions. We were like that for about twenty minutes when she asked me to get out my recorder and tape it. It’s mostly her ceiling fan and general room tone. At 7:31 you can hear me murmur something, I can’t make out what, and she laughs and starts to respond when the tape cuts off.