I can’t seem to get it straight, stay up late and sleep all day, listening to my Versus tape is still the same…
I came to America and got to hang out with bands.
Small Factory from my previous post has a song on the first CD that I bought by them and it’s called Versus Tape. It seems to be about the singer trying to get his life into some kind of shape, and listening to the Brooklyn band Versus clearly helps him a lot. I love it when singers of songs mention other singers or bands in their lyrics, and especially if the singer is a fan of the particular act in question.
(There are probably hundreds of examples of artist references in songs that I sure would appreciate y’all adding your own versions to in the comments. Right now I’m stuck on Versus Tape and something by The Who that mentions drinking himself blind to the sound of old T.Rex. Patrik Fitzgerald in another of my posts mentions listening to Bowie and riding with him out through the stars. That’s just breathtaking. I love that namedrop thing.)
I liked Versus Tape so much and the way he sang about them that I went and bought a Versus CD without ever hearing them. This was back in the day when you couldn’t just key up a song on any device you happened to have handy to see if you liked it or not. (Writing this post I tried to find songs by Small Factory and Versus on the net and they weren’t easy to track down either.)
As I’ve said on here I was living in a town that didn’t have much going for it and so I just had to take a chance on a band I’d never heard. I bought the first CD Versus released – which was fairly new at the time – because even though I didn’t know the singer in Small Factory personally I trusted him implicitly. The love of a good band can do that to you.
As I found out Versus are very good and didn’t sound a million miles away from Small Factory. On their debut album Versus also consisted of two guys and a girl, like Small Factory, except the girl in Versus plays the bass and she’s called Fontaine Toups; another excellent name to rival that of Small Factory drummer Phoebe Summersquash. The other two guys in Versus were that rare thing of being Filipino brothers in a rock band in America; singer and guitarist Richard Baluyut and his brother Ed on the drums.
I guess you’d call Versus ‘indie rock’ if you were looking for a safe house. I recall being pleased with my risk purchase for the way that they played their guitars being somewhat different and more melodic to grunge and hard rock which I didn’t particularly care for. Don’t get me wrong Versus can certainly belt it out with the best of them too.
Over the years I bought everything they released up to a point, and all on compact disc as records were hard to find in lower Alabama at that time. I would do this thing to liven up or personalize CD packaging by replacing the grey back plate that typically holds the disc in place with a clear plastic back plate, which I would then store stuff behind, such as reviews and bits of receipts and such. Anything to make it seem more mine as I found the compact disc format rather impersonal and clunky and I never really got to care for it.
I recall seeing Versus one time only at a venue called Howlin’ Wolf in the warehouse district of New Orleans. The venue is still going strong in its new location in the French Quarter of the city. I say this because I don’t recall much about the show that I saw or even what year it was but I do recall that my ex-wife and I got lost attempting to locate the venue in the warehouse district, ending up driving through a poor and run-down ghetto area of the city; with huge potholes in the road, street lights smashed out or broken, and large numbers of gathered people staring in at us as we drove past, and with a cop car following us with its lights on full beam to guide us both safely out.
At the venue I met two of the members of Versus and they signed their names on a compilation CD of theirs called Dead Leaves, a detail of which I include here alongside an image from their debut CD The Stars are Insane, complete with its adjusted back plate;
I spoke to Richard from the band as he signed the inside of the CD case, and was thrilled that he referred to me as The King of England. That’s a landmark memory right there. Also behind the back case of The Stars are Insane there’s a small torn corner from a newspaper upon which Richard wrote a note to me about bringing the band to perform in my then hometown of Mobile, Alabama, thus;
No way was I capable or connected enough to be able to bring Versus to perform a show in Mobile as I just didn’t know how to go about doing that sort of thing. It was different in the USA to how it was when the band I’d been in – at that time in my life nary five years ago – had been given lots of opportunities and varied venues to play in England. In America I could but dream and hope that a band I was interested in would one day play in my part of the world, which at that time was a rare thing.
Speaking of dreams, one of mine eventually came true when I came across Versus on vinyl at last, via the single featured here, at a record fair in my new home town of Winston Salem some years later. I paid $6.00 for the 7″ 45 on the Pop Narcotic label based out of Boston, MA, and was chuffed that it featured Bright Light, my favourite song on the Dead Leaves CD that Richard from the band had scrawled on back there.
“Amazing!”, says the handwriting on the small white sticker that was affixed to the front of the 7″ record sleeve. “Brooklynesque pop on Brack’s candy vinyl… I (heart) dese guys!”
I enjoyed the handwritten colloquial play on the word ‘these’ written there, even if I still have no idea what Brack’s candy actually is or even looks like. Let’s look at the actual record, shall we, and see if it reminds y’all of the candy brand and colour that my sticker refers to;
Chances are good that the white background of the scanner I use at work is not doing the vibrancy of the plastic featured here any justice at all. It really is a lovely thing; a wonder found purely through a chance meeting with another band on MTV 120 Minutes, who were singing about a cassette tape that featured another band who were so good they just had to write a song about the feeling it gave.
And now I wonder if any song on my many cassette mix-tapes had that same effect on those I sent them to.
When I first came to America I discovered so much new music so quickly that I just had to share it with my friends I’d left back home in England.
At first I couldn’t work here until I was legalized and so days would turn into months listening to music and compiling tapes at a large circular wooden table in the dining room in Mobile, Alabama. I would keep scrupulous notes of which mate got which song, notes I still have, so that I wouldn’t duplicate music that may even pass between the two. It was a light industry of creativity and entertainment and variety that I sorely miss in these digital days, when music doesn’t seem to even want to have a tangible form anymore.
At first my tapes were just songs played consecutively one after the other, until one day I decided to add a faux DJ element to the mix with a microphone I plugged into the cassette deck; my dreams of being a real radio DJ peering into the light. I even invented a name for my pretend radio station; Radio Cheezwiz, the subtle vocabulary difference allegedly separating me from the popular US cheese spread brand of a similar name.
I’d get a six-pack of beer, a full night stretching ahead of me (later with a day off from work the next day), and records and tapes stacked around as I began my journey. There was no template or plan other than the desire to belt a song over the imaginary tennis net to the receiver on the other side.
I had little or no specific response about songs from the many subscribers I had on my yellow legal pad lists, but just to do it was enough for me, and I loved it.
In return I’d get tapes from the same mates in Old Blighty, a selection of which I’ve photographed here alongside one or two of mine, to wrap this show up.
I’d make covers from magazine ads and such, double-stick taped to the label inner of the Maxell XLII 90, (Radio Cheezwiz cassette tape brand of choice. You can’t buy them in stores anymore.)
Often I would give the entire shebang a title – one pictured here that my mate Greg photographed for me from his own copy is named Search: Go To just because I liked the sound of the phrase.
Then off it would fly in the post, its destination varied, hopefully to invoke a similar reaction upon its receipt to the Frazier Chorus song String that I have previously written about on here. Same words, different feeling.
I am still dreaming and I keep listening, even if I’m not taping anymore. Some of the cassette tapes featured have specks of dust on them, and I like that.
You can’t get dust on a digital file. I’m fairly certain you can’t even own it, and at no point does it ever seem like it’s being used. My creased up card and worn down plastic buzzes and creaks like something mechanical, and I will always rejoice in that difference.