Sunday, June 1, 2008

Barbara Manning - Mark E. Smith & Brix

Barbara Manning - "Mark E. Smith & Brix"

The first message board I ever belonged to was the Stereolab Correspondence discussion forum, which finally went offline sometime in 2002 or 2003. To get a quick idea of what it looked like, its closest cousin is the still-kicking Pavement Message Board, running on the same turn-of-the century template that SC used. It was a casual board -- the Internet wasn't Serious Business yet -- that didn't require registration, hadn't enabled image posting, and predated the rise of filesharing by a few years, so everyone had to come up with other ways to make it a fun experience. Thus, between 1999 and 2000, the Stereolab Correspondence tape-trading circle was born.

My mixes? Total garbage. And the shipping was a major pain given how my place in the circle placed me just behind someone in Australia. But once a month or so I'd get the coolest, weirdest tapes in the mail, full of songs that I'd never have heard otherwise, even today with the entire history of music seemingly at my fingertips. Sadly, though not surprisingly, the circle broke down within less than a year's time, though before the rise of Napster and other p2p programs. But no, it wasn't new technology that brought down our time-tested tradition. Just laziness.

I came into possession of 2 or 3 of the tapes by the end, which I continued to listen to for a few years' time before either losing them during a move or throwing them out during some furious cleaning session. Oh, how I wish I could find them again! I'm forever lost, trying to find some of the songs that I heard on those, and without anything more than a few fragments of melody in my mind to go on. It's a really terrible situation to be in, trying so hard to recall what was written on the back of one cassette in particular, remembering about half of the tracks, which included:

A Tribe Called Quest - Electric Relaxation
The Fall - Kurious Oranj
Barbara Manning - Mark E. Smith & Brix
Flowchart - New Radiolab Rip-off
McCarthy - Should The Bible Be Banned
Stereolab - Heavy Denim
Flin Flon - Upper Ferry

Towards the end of side two, there was a real dreamy, mellow track that was primarily instrumental, aside from some voices fading in and out of the mix, cooing and humming like some kind of male Cocteau Twins or something. There were keyboards and a nice beat; altogether, it sounded like Tarwater or Seefeel or some other Rough Trade-ish group, but despite all my research into this and other possibilities (To Roccoco Rot? Moonshake?) I still haven't been able to track it down. I remember enjoying it immensely during all the times I would play the tape in my room, in the car, and on the stereo in the bathroom while I'd shower, but either the tape was labeled incorrectly or it just never occurred to me to clearly look it over to see who the artist or artists behind this fantastic track were. Even if I had figured it out, the Internet was still years away from making this information very useful. Downloading music was still a huge pain and if there were lots of helpful mailorder sites out there, I wasn't able to find them.

At one point, I know there was a page (under construction?) designed to catalog and list all the songs on everyone's mixes. That was surely lost to time at least 5 or 6 years ago, if it was ever finshed at all. It's not linked to or mentioned in the archived pages of the forum, though my earliest attempts at boarding are faithfully preserved in all their incomprehensible and painful glory. The art at the top of this post shows off the misspelling that ran on all the board's banners for the first year or so before it was corrected. Whether or not this was an intentional pun is something I've always wondered but will now never know.

Anyway, I've tried my best to retrace my steps, to get in contact with members of that board who may remember the tape, should it have passed through their hands on the way to mine. I forget that most people out there, even the ones on music message boards, eventually find themselves with real lives and probably won't remember the tracklisting of a mixtape they may have heard in passing more than 8 years before. At least I remembered, or at least I strongly suspected, the screenname of the person who made the tape. She was the moderator of the discussion board, and after some creative cyber-sleuthing on my part, I was able to track her down.

She died more than two years ago. Looks like she was also part of a Belle and Sebastian mailing list/forum that's also long since passed. Hard to believe there was a time when fans actually made websites for the bands they like. Almost all of these have gone offline or been abandoned in recent years, replaced by cookie-cutter Myspace pages populated by manically-friending camerawhore kids. Yes, I understand that the spirit of an age is something to which one cannot return, but I can't help but mourn the past when I look at the state that we're in now. And I can't help but wonder if feelings like this are a good sign that I'm reaching the end of my Internet existence as I know it. As I try to keep up with the changing face of things, I feel a kind of cultural fatigue setting in and start to wonder if my ideals in the shadow world of the Internet are really worth pursuing any longer.

The Barbara Manning song that was on her tape is really good, and worth sharing here even though I have nothing to say about it. Now if only I could find the rest of the songs in the mix! Oh, if only I could whistle or hum the melody that's in my head, maybe then some helpful soul out there could point me in the right direction. The problem is, there are two or three melodies in this song going on at once, and faithfully reproducing just one of them is almost too much of a challenge in itself. Should I grow more desperate, I may attempt this, despite the promise that I'd look like an utter fool in doing so. This seems to be a quest that's going to take a lifetime for me to complete. I'm far from giving up my search, but how long can I keep on?

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