Music has changed, but the song remains the same

Music has changed, but the song remains the same

WHEN I was quite a lot younger, I was a little bit of a groupie for a number of bands, more often than not English, for some reason, and almost always first-rate musicians, even if set in a rock music context. Even then, I think, I was developing an eye for quality. That’s kind of why punk rock passed me by, why the new wave of the 1980s seemed a bit trite and why I always considered the 1990s something of an abomination, music-wise.

‘To this day music remains an indispensable part of driving, and a road trip is impossible without a carefully curated soundtrack.’

There were the odd bands that popped up and caught my attention, but pop in particular seemed disposable even then and it’s only become more so now. Some of the music my goddaughter and her friends listen to is fine, but I can’t tell one artist from the other - not that it matters, because someone else will be in line for their 15 minutes of fame in about, well, 15 minutes.

I say “groupie”, but being a teenager living on the other side of the planet meant I had to do my groupie-ing from a distance. When the bands I liked toured (an extremely rare event - my favourites seemed never to be the kind of acts that made it Down Under, and some to this day still haven’t) I was often deemed too young to attend the concert on my own, and I was usually unable to talk an adult into going with me.

As I got older, concert-going became easier, but it was still a rare event for the bands I liked to actually come here. The closest I got was seeing them every now and then on Rage on the ABC on a Saturday or Sunday morning. It seemed like Australia was simply too far away and the fan base too sparse to convince them to travel. Which is fair enough.

In later life, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel to where the bands are, instead of waiting for them to come to me. I’m also lucky that we live in an age where some of the bands that were knocking around back in my youth are still playing and performing. I suppose that’s one of the upsides of being in the wealthiest generation in human history - we can afford to sustain nostalgia like no generation before us.

Every so often, though, something happened that made the whole fandom thing worthwhile and made being a teenager on the far side of the world bearable. Not long after I got my full driver’s licence I was extended an open invitation to borrow the car of a friend of the family, and to take it for a good long drive. It was a Honda NSX-T - the one with the targa roof. The NSX is a car I loved then, and I adore the latest one.

In those days, unlike today where you can dump thousands of songs on to a USB stick or log in to a streaming service and drive for a year and never hear a song repeated, we used cassettes to listen to music in cars, and getting the right mix of songs took some planning. This was before compact discs replaced cassette tapes, before mp3s replaced CDs, and before streaming replaced mp3s. It was the days when a carefully constructed mixtape took ages (it had to be created in real-time, of course) and was a work of art.

Knowing this drive was a possibility, I wrote a letter (this story also pre-dates the widespread use of email or messaging services) to the fan club of my then-favourite band. I’m going to spare myself the embarrassment of saying who it was, but I let them know I had this opportunity to spend time in a great car on the open road and asked the band to tell me what tracks of theirs they’d include on a mixtape if they had the same opportunity.

I didn’t expect much to happen, if I’m honest, so I was absolutely stunned when, about six weeks later, a parcel arrived in the mail, postmarked in the UK. Inside was a letter, on which each band member had handwritten the six tracks he’d put on a mixtape, for a total of 24 tracks (they’d also each written a short note wishing me a fun drive). There were some tracks I knew and already had on tape (or on vinyl, so I could get them on to tape), but there were also some I hadn’t heard of, and didn’t immediately know where to find. But my concern was short-lived because inside the envelope there was also a cassette tape - and on the tape the band (or more likely the band’s “people”) had recorded every one of the 24 tracks for me. All I had to do was pop it in the tape player and we were set.

It was one of the finest weeks of my life, to that point. A friend and I borrowed the Honda, put the single cassette into the player and listened to the thing on auto-reverse for the entire time we were away.

That week on the road cemented my love of driving with music and confirmed to me that the guys in my favourite band were the greatest guys in the world. It also introduced me to the NSX and to the concept of mid-engined cars, a joy and appreciation that has only grown over the years.

To this day music remains an indispensable part of driving, and a road trip is impossible without a carefully curated soundtrack. When one of those 24 tracks comes on one of my latest playlists, I am magically transported back to that time and place. And having given this issue some thought over the past couple of days, I’m now going to see if I can lay eyes (and hands) on the latest NSX. Stay tuned.