Tag Archives: renaissance

8 Track Tapes Make Me Laugh

8 track tapes make me laugh. Anything involving 8 track tape references makes me laugh.

Whoever invented the format thought it would be OK to fade songs in and out so they fit the impossibly short lengths of the tape loop.

The player moves the heads between track pairs, ensuring that you’ll never approach any kind of playback fidelity, but gives you a re-assuring thunk as a flam between the fade-in and fade-out in the middle of Renaissance’s Ashes are Burning or Yes’ Close to the Edge.

The format isn’t convenient for anything. If you were ever in a Cadillac (or dare I say, a customized van with a bubble window) with 8-tracks swimming all over the backseat, you know that they didn’t fit anywhere.

By the late 1970s you could find 8 track tapes in the cut out bins at your local record store, and invariably the artists were either those too obscure to sell cassettes or those with songs too long to sell to the mainstream. Or both. My proclivity for listening to Renaissance and Yes frequently intersected 8 track bin searches when I had to kill an hour at Sam Goody’s.

My parents owned an 8-track tape player system that was relegated to the basement as soon as a proper turntable and amp were purchased. It was the size of a small microwave. The amp might have been tube powered. One of the five 8-track tapes we owned was the Mantovani Orchestra, and it’s a wonder I’m not scarred for life as a result.

So anything with an 8-track tape reference cracks me up. My all-time favorite was a Ready.gov parody that interpreted the boom box image as “If your 8-track of Pieces of Eight does not play correctly, you may have experience an electromagnetic pulse”. That pretty much set the bar until I discovererd John Scalzi’s missive this morning about his new term of President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Quoting from his list of ex-officio benefits:

Use of the company car, a 1973 AMC Gremlin, complete with Levi’s jean interior and state of the art 8-track sound system (note: 8-track cassette of ELP’s Tarkus album permanently stuck in player; have been advised by SFWA’s mechanic that removing it will cause car to explode)

What a great start to the second half of the year.

Renaissance On Tour (Again)

There are a few groups that I grew up listening to but never had the chance to see live; with reunion tours and better medicine, I’ve been able to catch Yes, Genesis, Rush, and others live. But I have always longed to hear Renaissance, with Annie Haslam, in a small venue, with high-end sound.

Today Renaissance 2009 announced a tour starting in Pennsylvania (near Haslam’s Bucks County home) in October. I already have tickets; eagerly awaiting news on the lineup. Will Jon Camp will rejoin with his Squire-esque Rickenbacker sound? Rave Tesar (recently toured with Haslam) or John Tout on keyboards? Doesn’t matter to me; it’s a 30-year old wish granted.

Bottom Of The Band

I have always wanted to play the bass guitar. Gene Simmons from Kiss, Geddy Lee from Rush, John Camp of Renaissance, and of course Chris Squire of Yes (the latter two with their Rickenbacker axes; the former with his axe posing as bass) were my musical heroes. Twenty-seven years ago, I first attempted to learn to play, buying a very low-end Fender jazz bass look-alike with horrible action, uneven frets, and a warped neck (or at least those were my excuses for my lack of ability coupled with fret buzz). It was the week after midterms, the somewhat misplaced “fall break” during my freshman year at Princeton — this exact upcoming week on the calendar. It wasn’t the first time I’d come back to campus with more junk in tow than when I’d left.

My excuse for an amplifier was a “portable” cassette deck with the bass run into the line in, and an 1/8″ plug to RCA plug cable going from line out into my stereo amplifier. Unintentional distortion, a little pre-amp control and a touch of Mr. Microphone all at the same time. A year later, partial differential equations and DeMorgan’s theorem conspired to consume my practice hours, and I sold the bass to another unsuspecting (and unsuccessful) friend from the radio station. During my entire 4-string career, I learned the bass line to “I’m Free” by the Who and some of Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll.”

Last year, when I was making up my list of projects in progress for the incoming CTOs of software, I put “learn to play bass” in near the end, just to see if they’d read that far. Brewin asked me a few weeks ago if I ever learned to play, and I couldn’t think of a good reason why I hadn’t. I can find the time to practice; I have a place to practice and access to reasonable sound reinforcement. So after a few weeks of trolling around on eBay I managed to win one Steinberger-style, Hohner headless bass guitar, suitable for travel, practice in tight quarters, and aging heavy metal wannabes with fat fingers.

It arrived today, and I’m itching to get on the redeye so I can get down and get funky in NJ. Next stop: YYZ.

Renaissance Live At Carnegie Hall

I had a long drive from Westchester county back to New Jersey tonight, involving holiday shopping traffic around two major malls, a Hudson River crossing and a lot of toll booths. All made significantly easier with the re-issued Renaissance Live At Carnegie Hall.

I’m firmly convinced that Renaissance was primarily an East Coast, Philly to Boston, late baby boomer phenomenon. The best description I’ve heard of their music is “electric folk,” but sparse adjectives don’t do justice to Jon Camp’s amazing bass lines, or Annie Haslam’s vocals, or composition that draws on Russian literature and Persian folklore. Nearly 30 years after its release, I still get shivers when I hear Annie Haslam hit the final notes of “Scheherazade” or “Ashes are Burning.” Annie Haslam has an unheard-of five octave range. All the more amazing to me since I have about two octaves and one of them is consistently out of whatever key we’re in.

What happens when you take all-time favorite vocalist (Annie Haslam) and mix with all-time favorite guitar player (Steve Howe) on top-five all-time favorite Yes composition (Turn of the Century)? You can find out on Tales from Yesterday, a CD of Yes covers. It’s magic.