music

today on the blue line

from Jackson to Division, a young woman listening to Van Morrison’s ASTRAL WEEKS, on a cassette tape, on an old-fashioned Walkman. This was magical because Jessica has been working on trying to make a dance show on and around that music, but also because cassettes are always magical.

Just the way she reverently slipped the cassette into the player made me think about junior high school. So much ritual. They’re so delicate, square and dainty, and the ribbon the music’s actually printed on is right there, under your fingers. So fragile. You have to be careful not to hurt them.

I wonder if maybe that’s the way she first bought the album, and refused to upgrade it to a more contemporary format. Maybe she carries around that Walkman just for the purpose of listening to ASTRAL WEEKS.

I love cassettes because they were the first medium I bought music on – my first two albums were (and this dates me both by decade and location) Green Day’s DOOKIE and Alanis’s JAGGED LITTLE PILL. Sometimes, like the other kids at Portola, I would carry the cassettes to school with me just to look at them. I didn’t have a Walkman, but I didn’t want to be parted from the boys who were singing “She” and all the rest of it. I had to have the tape with me.

But my first cassette experience came before that. One day when I was about ten, coming home from a walk, I saw a cassette without a case sitting in one half of our half-moon driveway, by the street. I picked it up.

It was WEST SIDE STORY.

I’ll never know how it got there, but there couldn’t be a more enchanted way to be given that music – a naked cassette in the California sun. And it played perfectly, despite a few scratches on the plastic, the color of tea with milk in it. Beige, gray – there’s no word for that plastic. I wonder if someone threw it out of a car window, or it fell from a garbage truck. Either way, it was a gift. I spent my pre-teenage years choreographing elaborate dance sequences to “Somewhere” and “Something’s Coming.” When I finally saw the production for the first time, it fell so far short of what I had in my head, I had to close my eyes and just listen.

It’d be nice to have a cassette tape player now.

I just realized that maybe that experience, of the music and words without the visuals, is one of my ideal versions of a musical. It kills me that 13 WAYS is dead every way you look at it, but having it as a sound file makes it remarkably similar to that WSS cassette. What if I had found it in the street when I was ten years old? I would ask nothing more of it than what I ask now – just the sounds.

Can I tell this blog a secret that is not such a secret?

I think I should have gone into music instead of theater. Or maybe there’s no “should” about it, but maybe that’s what I’m going to do with the life I have left, in addition to (in support of, in pursuit of, in devotion to, in cahoots with) the words.

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