Road Trip Music; or, The Things we Lose to Time


The passage of time is cruel to cassette tapes.

This is, oddly, where my brain went about six hours after hearing of the death of Oliver Dragojević, Croatian recording legend. In the intervening quarter of a day, I tried to dig through the dustier corridors of my memory, wondering why oh why my favorite song of his simply did not appear to exist in any internet search I could formulate. Was I dreaming? Was I simply mistaken? But no, I could sing an entire song from memory that I could not find where/when it had been recorded. Such knowledge had to come from somewhere . . .

And I was pretty certain I knew where.

In the 80s and 90s, a family road trip necessarily consisted of ‘stuff to do in the car’ (hand-held water arcade games, anyone?), snacks, rest stops at awesome places (“Where the heck is Wall Drug?”), and . . . cassette tapes.

Each family, I am sure, has their own mix of analog magnetic magic and the attached memories. My memories are punctuated with soaring John Denver, intricate tamburitza, uplifting Peruvian pan flute, and the aforementioned, soul-piercing, plaintive vocals of Oliver. To this day, I get a knee-jerk reaction on certain songs. Last song on this side? My hand is ready to hit the FF button so as to hasten Side B. Song I don’t much care for? I twitch, thinking of the days I could just flip the tape with a button (super lazy) rather than risk forwarding through the start of the song I liked that came next. (To this end, I still also know what songs are exact opposite one another on certain cassettes.)

When I bought my first car that had no tape deck, I felt the loss. My current car? Well, the man at the dealership thought my attachment to my old car’s 5-CD player quite odd considering I could just bring with ‘every song I own’ on a tiny little USB drive.

But with such gains we have loss: Crystal clear sound lacking the warmth and warp of tapes that play the love they’ve received; The complete and utter surprise of not knowing what song may come next in the playlist . . . Just last week, I found myself skipping through a dozen songs before moodily turning off my radio and just opening the window to birdsong. There’s a danger to having it all, all at once. My shiny little USB drive is the short airplane ride when, some days, I’d rather have the drive.

But, I digress. As usual.

For, six hours into my puzzled dive into my memory banks, I concluded that my question may well be unanswerable. After all, we had just received clear evidence that things wear down, time being the great silencer of all. This road-trip-memory of mine may well have met the dust bin years ago.

I called my mom. We chatted a bit and I oh-so-casually dropped to her my puzzling hunt for answers. (read: I totally was direct but she was cool about the idea of my asking-without-asking that she dive into old boxes in search to tapes she might or might not have any more in search of music we might or might not be able to play on an old deck that might or might not eat said fantastic treasures without so much as a how-d-ya-do)

20 minutes later:

IMG_3553

An array of the ‘most likely’ collection of leads. (Pic cropped to avoid the orchid that photobombed in the back.)

Ah-hah! The two tapes on the right? Never came up in my (al)most careful discography searches. I had a lead. And said lead led me to a fascinating drive down memory lane. 8 ‘potpourri’ mixes of Oliver songs. Re-released in various combinations over the years . . . and available for easy instant purchased on iTunes!! And, look, one of said mixes has my elusive ‘Ljubav Je Bol’ in its midst! Eureka! Victory!

. . .

So. Either my memory is faulty, or I did not find what I sought. Phooey. However I did find something else. These songs? Oh how the memories came flooding back. (‘Split ’89 in the above photo? I already had purchased the digital of that a few months ago. Said memories that these trigger? Yep. One and the same. So . . . victory, still.)

This post has become rather long. My apologies. But I also cannot sign off of this idea without somehow attempting, in vain, to convey–

The precious heart-treasure of sitting in the back of a sedan, practically melting in the glare of the hot sun coming through the window at midday. Wadding up my pillow in 20 different ways to try to make sleeping against the slope of the seatbelt comfortable (When you’re 10? There are ways, I assure you.) Leaving an intricately made silly-putty sculpture on my infinitely-useful clip-board while we stop for lunch . . . and coming back to discover it has pulled a snowman-in-April trick on me under the unforgiving death-stare of that same aforementioned hot sun. The sight of the Rocky Mountains really really far in the distance and watching them – unblinking, I swear – for at least an hour before determining it’ll take a lot longer than that for them to get better and then discovering, after a very short nap, that they’ve inexplicably grown up around the car. Stretching back-seat cramped legs in a gas station parking lot and taking a long look at the massive wall map at a designated rest area, pretending like it really matters I know what it is I am looking at and marveling how big the world is.     . . . And taking every single one of those memories with me through my life and waiting for the day the tape deck in my own head winds down.

R.I.P. Oliver.

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