Reunited, and it feels so good
Seven months ago, on the thirtieth day of November, 2006, my former band The Black Spoons played its last San Francisco show at The Make Out Room. It was not a proper Black Spoons show, insofar as I was unaccompanied by my close friend and former bandmate Ruben Mercado, but it was still something I wanted to remember. As is my custom, I recorded the show on my Sony Minidisc recorder, my own personal FDR that keeps track of all my takeoffs, landings, departures, arrivals, and crashes. I used it extensively in China starting in 2001, when I was in Beijing conducting a research project overseen by Orville Schell of Berkeley. I captured the voices and opinions of American foreign correspondents stationed in China (Melinda Liu, John Pomfret, Odilon Couzins, and many others) as well as Chinese reporters covering the United States. I still remember writing the report, about media bias, and getting ready to present at the World Economic Forum in Shanghai at the close of the year. Then came September 11th.
The minidisc accompanied me everywhere, all over the world. In late 2001, early 2002, on a four-country tour of Europe, I took “readings” of Berlin, Paris, Prague, and Amsterdam. Some of my favorites include the Berlin subway station, in which an accordionist held my ex and me under his spell, the Berlin new year (the year of the Euro), a Parisian nightclub, Amsterdamian conversations… The recorder returned with me to China during my dissertation research, and never failed me once. I entrusted my blue brain with unfamiliar Chinese phrases – Chinese transliterations of non-Han ethnic communities who, officially, no longer exist – with the faith that I would decrypt them months later in the Hungarian Pastry Shop on Amsterdam and 111th.
On November 30, 2006, the unthinkable happened: I lost my blue mind. I lost it. My thoughts immediately traveled to theft. There was no other explanation. Worse still: it was carrying hours and hours of sound. It contained the rehearsal from the night before, the show itself, and then an untold number of other tracks. Gone.
I dealt with this well and swiftly. I immediately purchased another recorder – the newer Hi-MD Walman MZ-RH1. It is a beautiful machine, packed with many new features and some annoying setbacks (end search, for instance, is far more difficult to use). But I picked up where I left off, and continued to record, record, record.
Today, as I moved my coats to storage, I frisked the pockets. I expected to find notes, perhaps, on napkins. Perhaps a receipt that would incite memory. My leather coat – a Canadian made “Grease Lightning” jacket that I no longer have the guts to don – was especially heavy, the inner pockets pregnant with something like a think porcelain tile. My blue recorder. Holy crap. I immediately plugged in my headphones and pressed play, and there it was: November 30th in all its cacophonous… well… cacophony. Unable to bear to sound of it, I fast forwarded through the tape. First, a mix-tape of songs I had recorded for myself in 2001 in Japan using my good friend’s collection of CDs, a little boom box, and a eighth-inch cord. That’s where I first purchased it, in Japan. The Pixies, Tom Petty, Tori Amos, … I remember listening to that tape until the batteries ran out.
A little further, something else: a recording of my Brother, my Sister-in-law, my nephew, my niece, my Mother, my Father, and me, just talking… all in Annapolis in what sounds like Thanksgiving some five years ago at least. I remember the situation precisely and exactly.
Out of honor and respect, I am dedicating a few days to celebrating my blue mind’s return. As soon as the celebration is over, however, I want to get back to business. The two questions which lie at the heart of Project Absentia are this: how did my blue mind get lost and where was it when it was gone? That is, I wish to reconstruct the process of disappearance from the show onward, and then to try and remember where, in my mind, my blue recorder was all those 200-plus days. I hope this makes sense, but at such an early stage of the project, you’ll have to forgive me if it doesn’t. I’m trying to understand how things disappear, and my cases include (a) those things which we actively wish not to lose, (b) those things we see, hear, taste, smell, touch, use so much that we cannot fathom the possibility of their disappearance.
Have you ever lost and found something? If you have stories or ideas, please share them with me here in a comment.
Thomas S. Mullaney
Modern Chinese History