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Heavy metal memories preserved on mixtapes

Scott Thomson's heavy metal mixtapes conjure up cherished

Scott Thomson's heavy metal mixtapes conjure up cherished memories. Credit: Cheryl Thomson

Every time I open my clothes closet, I see it up on the left side of a high shelf. The same question always crosses my mind, “Why don’t I just toss it in the trash, because I’m never going to use it again?”

I am speaking of a black leather case containing cassette mixtapes I made as a teenager.

I grew up during the 1980s, known by some as the “Decade of Decadence,” and a popular genre then was heavy metal — known for crashing drums, screeching guitar solos, high-pitched vocals, spandex outfits, and, of course, huge hair. My music was always played at volume 10 in the bedroom of my house in Ronkonkoma — with my parents shouting for me to turn it down.

Acquiring music today is such a bland experience. I hear a song I like, download it for a buck, and it’s on my iPod. But back in the 1980s, nothing compared with the anticipation of an album release date, going to a record store, holding an album in my hands as I perused every detail of the artwork, and finally placing the vinyl record on a turntable and dropping the needle.

It didn’t take long for my collection to grow to hundreds of albums, thanks to the Columbia House record and tape club. Some favorite groups were Metallica, Iron Maiden, Van Halen and Judas Priest. I made mixtapes for each year — 16 in all, from the late 1970s to the early ’90s.

To make one, I’d play an album and record one song per band per tape. I was a perfectionist and the tapes took me hours to complete. They were labeled “METAL/ROCK,” with Roman numerals to note their succession.

Over the years, I eventually bought songs on CDs and then via iTunes on the internet. These made the mixtapes obsolete. But the fact that they may never be used again doesn’t matter. With a glimpse, my mind floods with memories of some of the most exciting moments of the formative period of my life.

I was just 12 when I stayed up until midnight on Friday, July 31, 1981, to watch the very first video played on a new cable channel called MTV. My friends and I rode our bikes more than four miles to our favorite music store, the Record Stop on Portion Road in Ronkonkoma, when new albums came out. One was the Scorpions’ “Love at First Sting” in 1984. I went to house parties every weekend where my tapes were the requested entertainment.

Later, that high-volume music shook people’s windows as I cruised the neighborhood in my black 1987 Camaro. And I’ll never forget marveling at the transformation of my future wife, Cheryl Valentine. During the school week, she was a bookworm, but on Friday and Saturday nights, she used high heels, a leather outfit and an entire can of hairspray to turn herself into a metal goddess.

These mixtapes may never be played again. Heck, I don’t even own a cassette player anymore. But to me, they are priceless because they help me conjure up cherished memories. No, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Perhaps I’ll show them to my grandchildren someday to show how we listened to music in the olden days.

Reader Scott Thomson lives in Bohemia.