Tapers Never Die

You kids have absolutely no idea how easy you've got it.

When I was a lad hungry for live Grateful Dead tapes, gluttons like myself were often forced to interact with total strangers via snail mail, sending blank cassettes and return postage in order to score sketchy dupes of dupes of analog dupes. And we loved it. There was something wonderfully intimate and folk arty about contacting some random freak foolhardy enough to post an offer to hook a brother up in the classified section of Relix magazine, back when it was a vaguely creepy Grateful Dead fanzine rather than the far slicker and more eclectic periodical into which it has evolved.

When we tapped into the tapers world, we worked for it – as I was reminded when I read a couple of nice articles recently about the art of documenting the ephemeral in the digital age, when millions of shows are just a couple of clicks away. (Has ease of access devalued music as a result? Discuss amongst yourselves.)

"A taper might invest over $10,000 in equipment," writes Steven Hoffer in "Audiophile: The Live Concert-Taping Subculture" in McGill University's student paper. A set of high-end Schoeps or Neumann brand microphones cost about $5,000 alone. Factor in preamplifiers running as much as $6,000, digital recorders for up to $2,000, digital to analogue converters, power supplies, cases, cables, and clamps, and most tapers have gear valued around the price of a well-running used car. Some, like California-based taper Ian Stone, have gone as far as running their own private server."

Ian Stone happens to be HeadCount's own personal tapehead. He runs the page of fabulous downloads anyone can access simply by registering here. (I'm digging the Benevento-Russo Duo and Mike Gordon play "Cars Trucks Buses" as I type.)
"There is no profit in it - there is no fame in it," says Stone, who Taped a 2008 Phil Lesh/Bob Weir/Mickey Hart benefit concert more than 100,000 people downloaded. "So regardless of whether 100 people download it or 1,000 people download it, those tapers will still be there doing their thing."

And last month my pal Jesse Jarnow wrote a fine piece for the Village Voice about a couple of prominent New York City "audio hoarders," Dan Lynch and Dave Nolan. I've known both of these guys for decades. In fact, I used to stay up all night in the mid-'80s, snoozing and flipping tapes intermittently during Nolan's Deadcentric "Morning Dew" radio show on WBAI. We'd spoken on the phone once or twice back then but I don't recall meeting him in person until a few weeks ago on the sidewalk following a Brooklyn benefit for ailing Fugs co-founder Tuli Kupferberg, which of course Nolan had taped. He seemed like a great guy, and I looked forward to running into him at future shows.

Sadly, Dave Nolan suffered a massive heart attack and died last Thursday, leaving a wife, an eight-year-old daughter, and a priceless audio archive behind.

"There's a term in the archival community: LOCKSS," Nolan told Jarnow. " 'Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.' The music is going to be fine. It's the stuff in between that's really important. In 50 or 100 years, that will almost be more valuable as historical documents." For tapers like Stone and Nolan, it's all about legacy – preserving the fleeting fragments of music played for real people in real time. As the ancient Romans used to say: Ars longa, vita brevis. We'll miss you, Dave.