The common knowledge says that as you grow older you get the increasing amount of flashbacks from the earlier years, the flashbacks that come almost involuntarily, without a warning. And indeed, I am noticing this more and more in myself – and this tells me that I am transitioning to a different age group. Today, while riding on a bus, I was listening to one of my playlists that I compiled to recreate an old cassette of mine, with the exact order of songs that were just randomly copied from various albums. And then I thought – why is it so important? What do I get from playing these tracks in the specific order?
My teenage and early adulthood years fell on early 1990s, the tumultuous time of changes, great hopes, and new beginnings, the experience shared by many people of my generation in Russia. Hungrily, imploringly we looked at everything that came from places that suddenly ceased to be stuff of legends and became more and more real. These were books, clothes, bubble-gum, movies, photos, first vague impressions of people that were able to go abroad and come back; and of course music. While it was still impossible to get legit studio records, they widely circulated among people, through the tapes that would be dubbed and re-dubbed to the moment when the speed of music would increase and voices would sound more high-pitched. I cannot even describe how happy I was when we got our first two-cassette recorder as well as the first Walkman that allowed me to take my favorite music wherever I went.
Almost all of the records that I had as a teen were copied from somebody else’s cassettes – at that time, getting real studio tapes was close to impossible. And since my love for music became one of the primary driving forces of my life, in the early 90s I was constantly on a quest of finding new and unknown records, exchanging cassettes with my peers, always keeping a blank tape near (just in case), and searching for new stuff at music stores. And oh the joy of buying a book of Beatles lyrics that gave you the REAL words of those songs, because before that I would try my best to decipher them by playing the tracks over and over again; at that point, my English skills were virtually nonexistent.
The introduction of a two-cassette recorder into our everyday life coincided with the emergence of independent radio stations that started springing up everywhere. For the young people of my age, the role of radio was huge; Russian TV channels were for most part still boring and repetitive – while radio stations played rock music that was still not available to the public. I can still remember some programs very vividly: the one that played the outtakes from Beatles’ “Let It Be” sessions; I remember hearing almost complete Wings’ album (only later I realized that it was “Band on the Run”). But what really stuck with me for more than 20 years was a program dedicated to John Lennon and his home records, the songs that I loved and treasured, always remembering their sequence and the bits of commentary that I recorded on my cassette along with songs.
John’s home records mostly date to the second half of 1970s, when he and Yoko had already moved to the U.S. Some of them never made it to any official albums, and were published only posthumously; some were re-worked and received completely different lyrics. One of the things that I have discovered from that program was “My Life,” an early take of “Starting Over,” a well-known track from “Double Fantasy” album. And while I love the final version of this beautiful song, I think “My Life” is, in a way, more personal, vulnerable, and emotional.
Two years ago, while putting together a playlist dedicated to John’s memory, I was extremely glad to discover all these versions online – and in way, to rediscover them again, to understand their meaning, now being the same age – and even older – as John was when he wrote these songs. Many things become clearer and therefore more painful; but at the same time, the emotion remains the same. For me, these songs are filled with light and serenity, they are devoid of the anger and passion of his earlier years. Strangely, this thought gives me hope.
Funny that though now you can get anything you want from Spotify or YouTube, I still love the unpredictability of radio programs, when you do not know which song will come up next. Whenever I hear something that I love I always remember my old machine with a blank cassette loaded and ready; and a sense of overwhelming triumph – when you could record one of your heroes. This period lasted for five or six years – later, our stores started selling studio tapes and then CDs, and everything was changing and transforming… But this is a different story.
Katya Neklyudova 2017 / 2019