A note from Sarah: We are a year into the Trump presidency and the only thing I can tell for sure is that hindsight, while it may or may not be 20/20, certainly feels better than the uncertainty of the present and future. My friend from around Washington, DC here, John Straub, engaged in this online chat with his old friend during the first months of the Trump administration. They reminisce about politics in the early 90s. And music. And Boston. And friendship. It’s a pleasure to share their story.
Editorial introduction from John: My friend Wrence and I met in Boston in 1989 or so. I had moved to Boston in 1984 to attend Boston College, where I became very active at the student radio station, WZBC.
Boston is blessed with a lot of college radio stations that can actually be heard in large areas of the city. MIT (WMBR), Harvard (WHRB), Emerson College (WERS), Tufts University (WFMO), and Boston College (WZBC) all devote significant airtime to punk, indie and avant-garde music. With so many “competing” alternatives on the dial, the different stations have organically differentiated their programming. There was plenty of overlap in the 80’s (everyone played Joy Division and Husker Dü). But WMBR tended to favor “less pretentious” punk and indie stuff. WERS devoted more time to reggae than the other stations did. WZBC, where Wilson and I were DJs, devoted more time to avant-garde music – with 40 hours of programming per week set aside for music with “No Commercial Potential.” Wilson and I both had No Commercial Potential (NCP) programs in the 80’s and early 90’s. Wilson’s was called The Widow’s Walk. Mine was called The Kraft-o-Matic Bed o’ Nails.
Wrence grew up in Boston and sang in a local punk band called 007 (later Dub 7). I graduated from college in 1988. In 1988/89 I shared an apartment with a fellow WZBC alum, who we will call Wilson. In 1989, Wrence and Wilson moved to a different apartment together, where I was a frequent guest. We spent a lot of time listening to each others’ records in those apartments.
In 1991 I moved to Berlin. I left all my records with Wrence and Wilson for safe keeping. They sent me mix tapes, which featured a combination of tracks from all of our collections – including my own! In 1995 I came back to the States for grad school. Wrence and Wilson happened to be moving abroad that year, so I took the combined record collections with me to grad school, and sent occasional mixes to them.
Wrence still lives abroad. Wilson has since moved back to the states and reclaimed his records. The 3 of us are still in touch, but not always regularly.
The following online chat (in several installments over 2 months) between Wrence and myself focuses on a mix that he sent to me in Berlin in January of 1993. I had not listened to the mix for many years. Wrence had not heard it since he made it 24 years ago.
JAN 28TH, 1:46PM
John: Hey Wrence, … look what I found in a DC record store yesterday:
Wrence: Wow! I’ll upload the Dub 7 pic to the 007 Facebook page
John: I’m currently listening to a cassette you sent me in early ‘93 when I was living in Berlin and all my records were back with you and Wilson! The mix is called PRESIDENT CLINTON. I’m burning it to CD-R.
Wrence: Cheers! I’m going to dig out old cassettes someday and get digitizing! That mix is from back when we still believed in Bubbah. Haha!
John: Clinton had just been inaugurated. The eventual “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” compromise had not yet been conceived. Clinton had said in some speech as President-elect that he planned to issue an executive order to keep his campaign promise about ending the ban on homosexuals in the US military. The Joint Chiefs and Congress were freaking out. George Stephanopoulos and Bill Clinton are quoted in the NPR piece saying they were going to consult the military about how to do it – but it was going to get done.
Wrence: Right, it’s all coming back now.
MAR 7TH, 5:59AM
Wrence: Did I paste Bubba’s face on the tape like that, or did you?
John: Writing on spine is definitely you.
Photo of Clinton is clipped from a newspaper by you. It was cut to exactly the size of a cassette cover. I took it out of the cassette case and turned it sideways to scan it for the cover of the CD-R I sent you, just so the face and the cassette spine would be oriented the same direction.
Wrence: Excellent. You saw my excessive attention to detail and raised me some. Haha!
MAR 8TH, 11:40AM
Wrence: PRESIDENT CLINTON mixtape posted to Mixcloud in 2 parts. Anyone can hear the mixes (side 1 and side 2) at these links:
- Samuel Barber (composer), String Quartet No 2, Op. 11: II. Adagio,
performed by I Musici, Album (Label, Year)
Peter Jefferies & Jono Lonie, Side 2 of At Swim 2 Birds (Flying Nun, 1987)
- Where the Flies Sleep
- The Standing Stone
- Short Was Fast
- Piano (two)
(Intermittent radio announcer: Central Artery Northbound clogged up, NPR, All Things Considered Headlines: Lifting Ban on Gays in the US Military, Fighting between Serbs and Croats, Weapons Inspectors in Iraq)
- Ann Peebles, I Can’t Stand the Rain, VA: The Hi Records Story
(song released in 1974)
- NPR – All Things Considered, Lifting the Ban on Homosexuals in the US Military
- Wire, Feeling Called Love, Pink Flag (Harvest, 1977)
- Undertones, You’ve Got My Number, Why Don’t You Use It?, 7” (Sire, 1979)
- John Lennon, Jealous Guy, Imagine (Apple, 1971)
- Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch, Out to Lunch (Blue Note, 1964)
- Can, Butterfly, Delay 1968 (Spoon, released 1981, recorded 1968)
- The Beatles, It’s All Too Much, Yellow Submarine
(Apple, 1969 – song recorded in ’67)
- Television Personalities, How I’ve Learned to Love the Bomb,
12” (Dreamworld, 1986)
- Television Personalities, Sad Mona Lisa, Privilege (Fire Records, 1990)
- Mekons, Slightly South of the Border, The Edge of the World (Sin, 1986)
- Mekons, Oblivion, The Edge of the World (Sin, 1986)
- Neil Young, Tell Me Why, After the Gold Rush (Reprise, 1970)
- Neil Young, Birds, After the Gold Rush (Reprise, 1970)
- Tina Harvey, Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadows,
Tina Harvey (UK Records, 1973)
- Tina Harvey, The Long Way ‘Round, Tina Harvey (UK Records, 1973)
- Galaxie 500, Cheese and Onions,
VA: Rutles Highway Revisited (Shimmy Disc, 1990)
- Intro to someone’s version of Pere Ubu’s Final Solution?
Finally – The Actual Chat: SAT MAR 25TH 10:56PM
Wrence: So, why this tape in particular?
John: Well, what’s interesting on Sarah’s blog are the connections between the people who exchanged the tapes. Often the tapes were part of courtship. And now they’re artifacts left over from personal relationships that may or may not still be intact. The music itself is fun to discuss, but especially in the context of the personal connections.
The stories around the tapes that you and I exchanged are not stories of courtship – at least not between you and me.
And the fact that you mixed in NPR stuff about then recently-elected President Bill Clinton – it struck me as quite a contrast to the recent election and inauguration that we just experienced here in 2016/2017.
Wrence: True, we weren’t courting in the romantic sense (maybe sort of a bromantic admiring of each other’s record collections, right?).
I won’t veer us off into national politics too much, but it is interesting that Trump just yesterday suffered his first major defeat from Capitol Hill with rejection of Trumpcare. In the news excerpts from 24 years ago, we hear the joint chiefs had to discuss gays in the military the very first week of Clinton’s presidency.
At the time, much of the left probably had hopes for the Clinton era. Now we’re all so fed up with that neoliberal, sell-out Dem crap.