Icebreakers

Blank tapes, beers and The Boss

My father is a technophobe. While he can turn on a computer, he’s stumped thereafter.

He calls his radio a wireless. I’ve tried many times to explain how simple modern technology can be, but he’s unbending. I have to go along with it rather than fight it.

At my first daughter’s christening, back in 2011, we stood together and made the usual small talk: weather, river levels, his veggie garden. Minimal eye contact. Emptying beer into our mouths to fill the gaps. But this time music came up. It was uncharted territory for us, unless him yelling at my teenage self to “turn that shit down” counts.

His Eagles-heavy record collection contains the odd gem – although there’s no Exile, Ziggy, Dark Side or Led Zep IV – but nothing post-1980. That’s 30 years without new music: something I cannot fathom.

Though I do feel somewhat responsible. In the early 1990s he’d walk past my sisters and I watching Rage and hear songs about Barbie girls and being too sexy for one’s shirt. “That shit is No.1? Where are The Eagles?”

So I was surprised when he expressed a liking for Bruce Springsteen. And not just Born to Run or Born in the USA, but the Boss’s stripped-back, return-to-form stuff of the past decade. Encouraged, I bought him Devils & Dust. Then I remembered he didn’t use his CD player, and his car didn’t take discs, either. I wasn’t sure blank tapes still existed, but eventually, nestled among the writable DVDs and AC adapters at the Reject Shop, I found a stack of 90-minute jobs.

I wanted to fill those conversation lags with something other than beer.

Later I underwent the wonderfully manual process of recording from CD to cassette. Remember it? Awaiting the three-second loop delay so to not miss the first track’s vital opening strains? Using a pen to write down the song names – and playing time – on the cover? Cribbing your handwriting to fit artist and album title on the sticker label?

Devils & Dust runs just over 50 minutes, so I filled the remaining space with Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. It wasn’t that Moon accompanied Dust‘s acoustics perfectly, nor that I wanted to get the most out of my two bucks. I just wanted to fill those conversation lags with something other than Melbourne Bitter.

I found him in his shed, surrounded by fishing gear, and I grabbed a beer. Then I handed over the tape. He held my eye for a moment, said thanks with a slight shudder, then placed it on top of his old stereo. He sat back down on his workbench and rolled a cigarette. Without asking I put the tape on.

We opened more beers and the afternoon got away from us. Music, in its simplest form, was our icebreaker. He talked about his youth, about his grapples with fatherhood when I came along 33 years before.

I sat and listened, thinking that while I hoped to forge a closer bond with my daughter, I loved the bloke as he was. And maybe, before it’s too late, I’d tell him so.

A version of this article was previously published in The Weekend Australian in 2011. 




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