Friday, July 23, 2010

Side A

This is all I have left.
It's a shame, really, considering the amount of room my collection of cassettes took up at one point. At it's peak in around 1998, the grand total was around five hundred full lengths, EPs and singles from the golden era. Most were from my weekly excursions to any record store I could get to, whether by bus, car or walking. This was before Best Buys or Circuit Citys had invaded New Hampshire, so I was stuck with the pricejackers elite, such as Strawberries, Record Town, Tape World and a few others that would get away with charging somewhere in the neighborhood of $11.49 - $12.99 per title. Cassette singles were a priority, seeing as most of them were around $1.99 and contained the b-side of the 12" version. I was never really in need of the instrumentals, so two songs (maybe three if there was a remix) for two to three bucks sounded good to me. Granted, when a slab of wax was able to be afforded, that was first on the list. But with not a lot to work with, you had to spend your money in the most conservative way you could find.
The saving grace in my pursuit of finding every possible release in existence was the infamous Newington, New Hampshire flea market, a sunday ritual that I almost never missed out on. A friend and his father went early, much earlier than I should have ever forced myself to get out of bed on a weekend for, knowing I had less than twenty four hours until I had to be forced back into a classroom.
The Newington flea market was where the buried treasures were found, where almost every other visit I'd somehow walk out with four or five new gems to put on the shelf. I was a record hunter before I knew what record hunting was....I was a tape hunter. The odds of finding a 12" there were slim to none, but the cassettes flowed endlessly. In 1992, when I finally got a cd player of my own, the bounties were even more amazing for two reasons: first, CDs would be sold second hand there for anywhere from two to five bucks, and second, once CDs emerged, no one cared about cassettes. No one cared about cassettes except those of us that were smart, and would be able to go through boxes and boxes. It wasn't unusual at that point to come home with ten tapes of gold and to have only spent, at the most, six or seven dollars. Yes, cassettes were the backbone of music loving tightwads in training.
The process went something like this:
Alarm set for 6:30 AM, every day of the sabbath (I seriously don't know what I was thinking....). Alarm would be hit for the next twenty minutes until I realized I'd have to be ready by seven or they would leave without me. I'd crawl out of bed and throw on clothes, looking out the window, knowing that ninety nine times out of a hundred, they'd be in the driveway at exactly seven in the morning.
The drive was about twenty minutes from Dover and would be spent discussing the previous night's basketball, baseball, football or hockey scores, depending on the season we were in. The flea market was year round, such as sports, so the drive was never void of conversation, no matter how tired I was. We'd enter the parking lot and, without fail, my excitement would rise to a boiling point. You have to understand.....Dover, New Hampshire wasn't that exciting to a teenager. There was a movie theater, a Store 24, a YMCA for pick-up basketball games, a sports card shop and.....well, not much else. This being said, a flea market out of town was a sort of utopia, filled to the brim with bizarre characters. It was everything I enjoyed all wrapped up into one large indoor building.
As soon as I would walk in, I'd be bombarded with endless tables of forty year old men selling sports cards, which was the only hobby/love of mine that competed with hip-hop at the time. I would usually have a box full of cards with me in hopes of trading in to random dealers for more packs of whatever new released series were available. This is what I considered my "first round". There was never a hurry. My friend's father could spend hours in there, chatting with anyone and everyone, giving each table a good once-over before moving on and finally making a decision what he wanted at the end of the day.
So, my "first round" would last anywhere from an hour to two or three. As soon as I had nothing I walked into the building with and had exchanged for a mish-mash of new cards, there would be a sort of halftime. My friend and I would go over to the food counter and, being a fat kid, would gorge ourselves. Depending on the day and my hunger level, it'd be either an egg, cheese and bacon sandwich (smothered in grease....I should have had a heart-attack by seventeen) or a maple round.....or sometimes both. For those of you that aren't familiar with maple rounds, it consists of a large, round donut stuffed with the most sugary creme you can imagine and then the donut is topped with a thick layer of maple flavored frosting. The pastry would be usually three to four inches from side to side and about two inches tall. It was, without a doubt, the most sickeningly beautiful "breakfast" treat to ever exist. It's even funnier to think about my diet at those flea markets, considering my present day self eats an almost all vegan diet (except for peanut butter cups.....Reese's owns me for life.). So my friend and I would sit and discuss our scores for the day so far and recharge for the next endeavor.
Immediately after "breakfast", there was a large room adjacent to the food counter and tables, consisting of nothing but VHS tapes. Thousands upon thousands of them. They were usually four for ten dollars, so I would spend about a half an hour hunting down every horror movie I could find and then searching out a few WWF events, considering I'd also argue that the golden age of WWF paralleled the golden age of hip-hop. Wrestlemania, Summerslam, Survivor Series and Royal Rumble VHS tapes also filled my shelves.
Sports cards? Check. WWF and horror films? Check.
And now was the final sweep.
A mental note was taken during my "first round". Every table with a box of cassettes or CDs would be revisited and combed over. I'd take my time, not wanting to miss anything. Some weeks I struck out, but those days were few and far between. More often than not, there would be at least five or six young adults or twentysomethings that would bring their unwanteds in and rent a table for the day. Most of them had a garage sale compacted onto an eight foot table and most of them had grown out of music in one form or another. This is where I'd swoop in and score. Another man's junk was absolutely my treasure.
These tables are where I'd finish my RUN-DMC collection, where I found Paid in Full for a dollar. It was where I could buy soundtracks for films that had at least an unreleased song or two from some of the best artists of the time.....soundtracks for films such as Mi Vida Loca (tracks from Funkdoobiest, A Tribe Called Quest, and Boss), or Trespass (tracks from Gang Starr, Public Enemy, the DITC family....everyone), Who's the Man? (again.....everyone)......the list goes on and on, not even including the soundtracks for movies that were made almost specifically for the hip-hop community (New Jersey Drive, Juice, New Jack City, Menace II Society, Boyz n the Hood, Clockers, The Show, Fresh, One Million Strong (which wasn't a film)....even the House Party films. I know I'm forgetting a ton, but they'll all be talked about in time....I sure as hell listened to them all enough.
There were gems upon gems on a weekly basis. From the flea market itself, I'd go home with a few hours of new music to listen to and a box of cards to look at and organize while the beats and rhymes took me away. Maybe an hour or two of classic WWF as well.

Depending on the week at hand, one of two things would happen at the final conquer of the flea market. We'd either get back in the truck and drive to Dover, or every couple weeks my friend and I would walk down the street to go see a movie. That would be followed by a trip to the mall, where it would be time to flip through all the cassettes and records at any one of the price-gouging holes in the wall. I had no choice other than this. I had no license, hence, no freedom to travel anywhere outside the small provided circle. This was still good enough, though. I had my checklist ready every week, taking down notes on new artists from the once very reliable The Source magazine in the unsigned hype and reviews sections. (This magazine was THE bible at that time for supplied me with quite a bit of reference to track down new artists, etc. If anyone who may stumble on this blog has any back issues from the years 1990-1994, please get in touch and we'll talk deals. I'll have a very full "want list" up on here soon.)
After stumbling around the mall for a few hours (which usually included me having some sort of Burger King feast that was super-super-sized, complete with a shake and whatever the hell else was on the menu.....jesus, I was a pig), I'd make my final decisions. I'd usually keep myself to somewhere around $25 a week, paper route money, and would end up with two full lengths and a cassingle or two. We'd sit outside on the bench until my mom or dad would come pick us up and bring us home. Every Sunday night when I got back to my room, I'd know I had enough new music to tide me over for another week until the next flea market day arrived.
I remember some of the releases I was so happy to finally get on those mall runs, reading about them on a Monday and having to wait a whole week to hear. I remember tearing the plastic off of Kurious' A Constipated Monkey before I was even given a receipt. I remember special ordering Gang Starr's Daily Operation and De La Soul is Dead and having them show up on the same day. Finding Mecca and the Soul Brother on vinyl on the same day as DAS-EFX's Dead Serious came out and being able to buy them both......going to three different stores to find EPMD's "Head Banger" single because them remix was INSANE. I remember all of it and, slowly, more and more keeps creeping back. Pennywise the clown scared the shit out of all of those kids from Derry, Maine and then they tried to forget. In one quick moment it all started to rush back into their minds...all the memories. Hip-hop is my Pennywise, but the only difference is I'm not scared to let all of those memories sink back into me.
It went on like this for years. Once I finally had a license, I took it a step further, hunted down even more flea markets, and made an entire day out of bargain hunting, always eyeball-fucking every table and leaving no stone unturned. I did this up until 2005 when I was around twenty eight years old. My goals shifted as time went on, but any time I saw a pile of cassettes or CDs, you can bet your ass I made a sprint to them. I'm looking forward to fifteen years down the line, where I will revisit my days as a fat kid by turning into a fat older man, still tape hunting. I may start collecting sports cards and rewatching WWF matches just to immerse myself even further into nostalgia.....and maybe I'll find all those Source mags again and finally hold onto them.


  1. Do you have that Thurston Moore/"Mix Tape" book?

  2. Unfortunately not. I've thumbed through it a few times, but never got around to finally picking it up.