dispatches from the pop scene...minus the corn syrup.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Throwback: Mix Tapes, CD Singles And Being Boring—Tales Of A Lonely Teenage Nobody

I spent the past nine days back in Western Pennsylvania, where I grew up. Prior to the trip, my mom had been telling me how all she listens to anymore is the Pittsburgh public radio station WYEP FM (listen on iTunes via that link). It was a recent discovery for her, but I felt the need to kindly remind her of the days when she had a teenage son who, after growing tired of doing laps around the local shopping mall by age 15, was content to just spend wintry Friday nights taping 'YEP's weekly college radio show. If memory serves, it started at 8 pm and finished around midnight.

Pittsburgh had an alternative radio station from 1986 to 1988 (100.7 WXXP), which both my mom and I listened to (I was in junior high). But after the station's demise, a kid in search of programming a bit deeper than Jody Watley, Poison or George Michael living in the area had two options: MTV's 120 Minutes (and its weekly splinter show Post Modern MTV) and local college radio. Some of the songs I'd heard for the first time while listening to 'YEP: Morrissey's "Last Of The Famous International Playboys" and "Ouija Board, Ouija Board," the Sundays' "Here's Where The Story Ends," Electronic's "Getting Away With It," Candy Flip's "Strawberry Fields Forever," the Stone Roses' "She Bangs The Drum" and Pixies' "Velouria."

So last Saturday, the first order of business upon arriving at my parents' house was to head into the attic and dig out the box of mix tapes I'd made from WYEP shows between January 1989 and summer 1990.


When you were a scrawny 15-year-old American teen who didn't play high school sports but who alternated between getting your hair cut like Morrissey one month and Bernard Sumner the next—not to mention, even knew who Moz and the New Order frontman were—you didn't exactly score big in popularity contests. That's not say I didn't have friends. In fact, a couple pals shared a similar predilection for "good" Britpop in my PA suburb. Dubbed cassettes flew back and forth between the small group of us frequently, and it was in this period that I not only developed my long-lasting persona as an Anglophile, but also mastered the art of crafting a pretty effing awesome mix tape.

April 2, 1990 WYEP mix (click to view larger image)

Most of all, I think I was just bored. And lonely. I had to believe there was something bigger out there, and I felt the pull to be a part of it. I wanted to be busy, really busy, all around Sloane Square. I spent time walking through graveyards. I haunted the 12" bins at Disc Jockey. I spent six bucks on month-old imported issues of NME and Melody Maker. I read Oscar Wilde. I knew how it felt when your world meant nothing at all, and yearned to be the Resurrection and the Life. I desired to have a desperate "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" relationship followed quickly by a desolate "Touched By The Hand Of God" breakup. I wanted to get loaded.

And I prayed for someone to psychologically save me by squeezing me into an empty page of their diary.

D'luv, broody teen in Pittsburgh (1991)


I went on a date in April 1990 with this girl from a neighboring high school. We spent an afternoon at the mall, and she brought three of her friends along. I don't know why girls always insisted on dragging other broads along when they went out with me back then. Maybe I had The Rape in my eyes?

The important thing I remember about that day: I bought the just-released CD single for Electronic's "Getting Away With It." I'd heard the song on WYEP the Friday night before. Bernard Sumner, Neil Tennant and Johnny Marr all on one record? Sold. My mall companion and I stayed friends and later pen pals when she moved out of state a few months after this.

Later I read an interview with Morrissey where he was asked what he thought about his former Smiths bandmate (Marr) making Italo disco records, to which he replied something like: "I just don't understand why he would want to."

To that I say: Fuck you, Morrissey. That Electronic single alone is better than every album you made post-Viva Hate.



Not much has changed since those days. I still like the alone time. The discovery of a perfect song is always life-changing. And I still brood.

Along with that box of 20-year-old mix tapes from the radio I found a stack of old CD singles. In among them was "Getting Away With It," which I threw in my bag when I drove my mom's car to meet Moogaboo in Cranberry on Friday.

We sat in a Starbucks cafe inside the local Barnes & Noble and lost track of the day while babbling on about everything and nothing at the same time. Four hours later, our cars were buried under a thick blanket of snow. We contemplated driving into the city for one last hurrah before I headed back to L.A., but ultimately decided the roads were too bad, and we went our separate ways.

And as I drove, navigating the snowy path home, a rebellious thought came to mind. I've slid up and down these Pennsylvania avenues before. And no doubt will again. And we probably could have made it to Pittsburgh, knocked back a few drinks and dominated the jukebox at our favorite haunt, as per usual, despite the weather conditions.

The bold, romantic teenager in me knows nothing bad would have happened to us. 'Cause I've been getting away with it all my life.

* These Are Days You'll Remember
* Pet Shop Boys' 'Very' At 15: How Can I Even Try To Explain?
* Coffee, Drugs, Death And Ace Of Base
* Return To Innocence
* Threesomes, Term Papers, Erasure And The Book-End of Gen X
* Someone Who Won't Leave Me Feeling...
* You Can Depend On Me

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  • At 12:22 AM, Anonymous Lady Stardust said…

    I really enjoyed reading your story! And, I still have every mixed tape you ever made for me...all still in mint condition too : )

  • At 5:21 AM, Anonymous Pranav said…

    "Getting away with it" is one of my favorite songs. I have lost track of the number of times I played it on repeat the first time I heard it. Bernard Sumner sounds like a lost soul and I guess that's what adds a punch to the vocals (and yes, Neil Tennant's contribution is just icing on the cake!).

  • At 7:00 AM, Blogger A1 said…

    woah! i read this and feel my own personal life story ressonate in a VERY similar way, hence i'm touched by the words you write....i even commented on your VERY post from 2008!
    thanks for sparking those fond memories for myself as well!

  • At 10:21 AM, Anonymous shaun said…

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- pieces like this are the heart of Chartrigger. The little touches are perfection -- e.g., calling out Disc Jockey, a fixture in my native rural Virginia as well. Reading this reminded me of a certain lonely teenager trying to find his way while playing Mazzy Star and trying to construct the most awesome Greek mythology family tree ever (and, ummmm, it wasn't for school).

  • At 10:46 AM, Blogger Paul said…

    i adore posts like this - it was brilliant anyway, but then you would do the amazing line "maybe i had The Rape in my eyes"!!!!!!!!!!

  • At 3:36 PM, Blogger Todd said…

    A Chartrigger Instant Classic.

  • At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Mike Everleth said…

    Great, great article man. Sounds like you were a little more into the alterna-Brit scene than I was, but I definitely went through that same period -- and miss it!

    However, I was more into the girl-led groups like Curve and Lush. I saw Lush live and I miss them and am still sad that one of them killed himself years ago.

    Then, I wandered into the angry industrial scene and that was it for me.

  • At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Fantastic. I think anyone who's ever 'made a tape' will wipe a little tear of recognition from their eye before topping up the cranberry with a touch more vodka.

    And spot on re Moz' post-Viva Hate output. Spot on.

  • At 6:26 PM, Anonymous Pranav said…

    Music and events in our lives are more intertwined than we are willing to admit. D'Luv celebrates that inextricable link in the most beautiful way. It is THE distinguishing factor of this blog. Thank you for that photo of the cassette with the tracklist. It just brought back ten years of memories back simultaneously.

  • At 7:31 PM, Anonymous Fritz said…

    I recently threw out all of my old mixtapes when I moved here to Phoenix. I had about eight of those Case Logic plastic trays full of them. I used to make custom labels for them and some were very eloborate.

    I also love that Electronic song. I have the brown cover version:


    And the album:


    BTW, put on your 3D glasses and watch Marr perform with The Cribs.


  • At 10:52 PM, Blogger Mike said…

    Great stuff, doll. I was never into Britpop (Nicki French was about as cutting edge as I got) but I deeply identify with this post on so many levels.

  • At 10:58 PM, Blogger Moogaboo said…

    Great post, babe! LOVE the pics of the mix-tapes. They are such art, as are the tunes inside them. What a great time for music. And our afternoon @ B&N was fab. Next time you're in town, we owe ourselves (another) night at the jukebox...

  • At 3:37 PM, Blogger davis said…

    what a wonderful post. i so miss the days of going to the mall and buying singles at national record mart. back in the day the mall in erie had four record stores at one time. I recall walking around the mall in my trenchcoat listening to the smiths or breathe or johnny hates jazz on my walkman...

  • At 10:36 PM, Blogger Yuяi said…

    I love love love these posts! I really thought it was clever to weave in those great songs. "Getting Away with It" has always been a fave; same with the Sundays' track. Best post ending line ever!

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    It is the distinguishing factor of this blog. Thank you for that photo of the cassette with the track list.

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