The first tape I got from my main homey Mike D. (a special individual) was called "Tunes from Clemmons," because that was where he lived, and he sent me the tape from home while we were all on summer break, after my freshman year in college. After the intense social interaction of college, which in itself was a revelation after the doldrums of high school, summertime was dull, lonely, filled mostly with a summer job that I hated and a commute to said job that I hated even more.
So Mike's tape, with the multi-page handwritten explanatory notes was an amazing break from that boredom. I suppose any letter from a friend would have been, but Mike's tapes, as I would continue to learn over the years, were themselves a blast from a richer and more complicated world than I had imagined in my pop-music listening.
I still have never been to Clemmons, but he insisted that it was near Winston-Salem. Singing lyrics by Woody Guthrie, Wilco insisted that everything in Winston-Salem is against the law, and given what I now know if it, I don't doubt that, but because of "Tunes from Clemmons," my first impression of the place was that while all I could get my hands on in my hometown was a tape of Velvet Underground rarities, or Peter Gabriel singing in German, or Brian Eno ambience, or some of David Byrne's music for stage plays, Clemmons seemed to hold Pere Ubu, and They Might Be Giants, Mary's Danish, Michelle Shocked, and Brave Combo.
Clemmons sounded pretty good to me.
Now I can't find those liner notes: I bet they are in my vast archive of letters, but that lives at my parents' house, so I am not going to lay my hands on it soon. But listening to that tape brings me back to that summer, and the moment where I realized that I had no idea how to find all the cool music in the world, unless I could keep Mike convinced that he should send me more tapes.
Lucky for me he did. Mike D. introduced me to Lyle Lovett, now a personal fave, on the only tape that could not be abbreviated TFC. I remember there was some joke that we got going about that abbreviation, and so from then on every compilation we sent each other had those initials.
Alas, Mike never listed the artists on his tape inserts, and none of his tapes have dates, so now it is almost impossible for me to reconstruct the exact sequence. But somewhere along the line he sent me "Tremendous Flying Carbuncles (Twenty-Four Canciones)," "Truly Funky Cows," "Trendy Feldspar Christmas" (which included Christmas tunes the likes of which I had not previously heard), "Truly Fine Covers" (including the Kronos Quartet doing "Lonely Woman" and Big Joe Williams' version of "Baby Please Don't Go," not to mention a bevy of songs whose originality or coverage I could not assess then or now), and "Talk, Funk, and one more Cover" (Mike speaks!).
Along the way in college, Mike and I each got radio shows, and the highlight in my book was when we did the New Orleans Mardi Gras theme show together, which featured music from and about New Orleans, not to mention Mike's linguistic factoids about creoles and such.
And because Mike studied abroad in Mexico, I got a distinctively Mexi-flavored compilation, and then, when he and his wife moved to Nijmegen, "The Netherlands: The Friendly Country," with some very fine El General, Soul Coughing, Spearhead and Zap Mama, Xavier Cugat, and Peter Tosh.
Mike is one of those people who I have not seen in years, but each time I have seen him (and his immensely cool and beautiful wife Laura), I have remembered why he was one of my very favorite college friends. I wrote to him recently to tell him that I would be visiting his fair city and that I wanted to see him and Laura and their 2 kids (who I've never met, but for the birth of the first one I sent them "Tunes for Children"). "Holy dookey!" Mike wrote back, and now the plans are laid. I can hardly wait.