Thursday, November 12, 2015
Webcor, webcor. Houston Steve’s vintage reel-to-reel tape deck, times two.
A few days ago I stopped by to visit Houston Steve, who had just returned from several days in the Northeast.
Unlike Yours Truly, whose audio library is scattered throughout the house in the form of caches of LP’s, CD’s, and digital files, Steve seems to have his musical things fairly well organized. At the very least, he has managed to concentrate them in a single location - a closet adjacent to his wet bar. It’s jam-packed with various discs, both vinyl and shinyl, and also contains a treasure trove of semi-antique equipment.
There’s a reel-to-reel tape deck in there - not the cassette kind with which many of us oldsters were familiar, but the kind that used reels of quarter-inch magnetic tape, a product that I understand is no longer manufactured. Back in the ancient days of analog sound reproduction, audiophiles loved their reel-to-reel tape decks, devices capable of delivering the highest quality stereo sound.
Steve’s tape deck always makes me think of Don Van Vliet, the gentleman you might know as the Captain Beefheart of blessèd memory. And why would that be? It’s because of the song (really more of a poem with musical backing) entitled “Golden Birdies” with which Beefheart concluded Clear Spot, possibly his most accessible album. Here are the lyrics (video here):
Those little golden birdies - look at them
And the mystic Egypt tassel dangling down
Old sleeper-man - shhh, don’t wake him
Up wand hand broom star was an obi-man
Revered throughout the bone-knob land
His magic black purse slit creeped open,
Let go flocks of them
Shhh, sookie singabus
Snored like a red merry-go-round horse
And an acid gold bar swirled up and down
Up and down, in back of the singabus
And the panataloon duck white goose neck quacked
Webcor, indeed. Don Van Vliet is, alas, gone these past five years, leaving behind his artwork (he was an inveterate painter) and his strange, yet fascinating music. Gone, too, are the devices on which he recorded that music - consigned to the dustbin of history with other products of obsolescent technology. Ave atque vale!