I heard the tape had originally had some KISS songs on it, believe it or not. I don’t know if that’s true, so I probably shouldn’t be spreading rumors but I also figured that since nobody remembers or knows who the original owner of the tape was, I won’t be hurting anyone. No foul, no harm, right?
What I do know is that when Helen gave me the tape, I was initially just that she wanted to give me anything, let alone The Tape. I knew immediately what it was, of course. Everybody knew The Tape. It had been doing the rounds for ages, delivered from person to person, “off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush” as Danny DeVito’s character in “L.A. Confidential” would have put it.
In fact, Helen made a major faux pas by simply walking up to me outside the school cafeteria, and handing it to me out in the open like that. The way I heard it usually happened was that the Tape just appeared somewhere, maybe in your bag, your locker, or, I don’t know, in your shoe after gym class.
Maybe she just figured that the best disguise is hiding in plain sight, and to be fair, I don’t think anyone saw Helen give it to me. I have to hand it to her, she was very smooth as she walked by me – with two friends! – and put the tape in my hand.
She didn’t say a word, she just brushed her arm against mine and pressed the tape in my hand. Then she kept on walking with her friends, laughing, never looking back.
My heart was racing, and I felt all human emotions go through my body in a few fractions of a second. I went from being nervous (of seeing Helen and her friends walk towards me) to being excited (for the exact same thing). Then there was hope, (maybe she’d talk to me), but that turned to disappointment (she didn’t), which turned to surprise (when I felt the Tape land in my hand). Finally, there was happiness. I had the Tape.
And last, but not least, Helen had touched me.
But, let me get back to the tape. This first thing I noticed about it was the cover. It only said “The Tape” on it, but when I opened the plastic case, I found a small handwritten note inside. It said: “You are now the guardian of The Tape. There are only two rules: 1. Never talk about The Tape. 2. Send it forward with at least one new song.”
No song list, no graphics, nothing. The handwriting was crude, probably not Helen’s, so the note must have been there for a while.
My hands were trembling as I put the tape in my walkman. I rewound the tape to the beginning and adjusted the foam headphones better on my ears.
In hindsight, it’s almost a little cute how nervous and excited I was but you have to understand that while Rule 1 prohibited talking about The Tape, I had heard stories about it, or something like it, for a long time. I had spent many a day at my friend Tim’s small room, putting together lists of songs we were going to put on it – if that was what you were supposed to do. We were 95 percent certain of it, though, since Tim’s brother Tom claimed to have had The Tape the year before.
“It’s all punk, it’s the weirdest, punkest of punk,” Tim told me.
If that was true, it probably meant that Tom had gotten The Tape from somebody in Stertbury, or maybe South Cadworth. I mean, it’s not like the Pawbury rockabilly kids on the south side of town, with their greasy hair and rolled-up jeans, would have made a tape full of punk. Just the thought of it made me laugh. Knowing Tim, I was also sure that what had been on The tape was probably the exact opposite of “the weirdest” punk. More like the disco tunes the kids in West Belwick were into, or maybe American rock we in Oxenstoke listened to.
Tom hadn’t given The Tape to Tim. I mean, T would’ve told me, for sure. At the very least, he would have given it to me next.
My walkman made a clicking sound. The tape had been rewound. As I ran out, I was almost hyperventilating, and had to lean against the wall for a few minutes. Then I stopped breathing completely. All my senses were heightened as I pressed “play”. I heard nothing at first, then some static and the sound of a needle landing on the record.
It was overwhelming. The whole thing may have started as a record company marketing ploy – that was one theory – but it had become so much more and right then and there, I had The Tape.
I was the Chosen One.
But, I’ve already told you too much.
Near a tree by a river
There’s a hole in the ground
Where an old man of Aran
Goes around and around
Nik Kershaw – The Riddle (1984)
This is a part of an ongoing series of stories, mostly flash fiction, inspired by 80s pop songs. You can find them all here.