top of page
The Untitled Gary Hilborn Project - A Blog


Cassette Tape Art

We sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor in Brandy's bedroom. She lived two doors down from me on the street where we grew up - a loop of blacktop with three homes situated in the center of the circle and one on the perimeter. That house on the outside was our house - my mom's, my dad's, my brother's, and mine. Brandy's family lived in the middle of the block with the Scroggs' and the Hammetts' homes on either side. All our fathers were in the military together, and our street was situated on a base known as Camp Beauregard.

On this particular Sunday afternoon, Brandy and I were singing along to a taped recording of the love theme from the movie Mannequin (starring Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall). The song, "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," sung by the group Starship was a tremendous hit that year and could be heard hourly on nearly every Top 40 station throughout the country. 93QID was no exception. But that constant hourly rotation was not nearly constant enough for us. So we did what all enterprising young people did before iTunes; we waited anxiously next to our boom boxes with a blank Maxell cassette in the deck ready to simultaneously press the "Play" and "Record" buttons as soon as we heard the first notes of whichever song we wanted to save for ourselves. It was a good day when you could get the entire track without the DJ talking over the music. The goal was full studio quality.

Starship's power ballad opened with a distinctive succession of drum hits, "Din-Din-Din-Din-Din, Dun-Dun-Dun, Bum-Bum-Bum," followed by a synthesized melody that made our hearts soar. Brandy had caught the complete intro and song the day before, so we were now holed up in her bedroom playing it over and over and over and singing along together with the band's vocalists - she with Grace Slick and I with Mickey Thomas.

There was one part I couldn't quite get, though. Right after the bridge, Thomas ad-libs a "Hey," and I was determined to nail it. But I always came in too late. "Rewind it," I insisted. And so Brandy would halt the playback with a clunk of the button marked "Stop" which caused the "Play" key to release. She'd then press the "Rewind" arrows for a second or two and start the tape again.

"...All that I ever neeee-eed," Grace and Brandy would croon.

"And all...that I dooooo," trilled Mickey and me.

Then all four of us would come together on, "Is hold you forever. Ever and ever...."

The music would build and then,"Hey!" from Mickey...followed by me...about a half a beat too late.

Discouraged, I asked Brandy to rewind again. And again, I'd miss it. And again. And again. She dutifully complied, but before pressing down the "Play" button for the fourth time, she offered a piece of advice: "Just come in a little earlier than you think you should this time."

Brandy rewound the tape further so I could have more runway before takeoff. And then she pressed "Play." I felt this anticipation welling up inside me as the bridge began. I knew it was coming, and I was ready to heed Brandy's advice. She was a year older than I, which put her an entire school year ahead. I was placing my trust in her and her wisdom. I heard the familiar build of the music, and then I just went for it. It was like stepping off a ledge. I blurted out the,"Hey!" a little earlier than my head told me I should, and it PERFECTLY SYNCED UP WITH MICKEY'S VOCALS!

The look of satisfaction on my face must have matched the feeling in my heart. She and I both let out a triumphant cheer. Her note taught me about timing. I learned that sometimes we have to jump before it feels exactly right. And sometimes you are richly rewarded for doing so.

I was in the gym the other day, and this memory came flooding back to me in the middle of my workout. Music really is a form of time travel. It's amazing how eleven electronic drum hits instantly transported me thirty years and a thousand miles when they unexpectedly came blasting through my Bose earbuds. Suddenly, I was no longer standing in the center of Harlem in sweaty workout clothes. I was back in my childhood friend's bedroom surrounded by posters on wood-paneled walls, stuffed animals stacked neatly on a daybed, and sticker books full of sparkly unicorns. It was 1987, and I was just a few months away from turning twelve. My passion and purpose were about to take hold of my heart in life-altering ways, and Brandy Mays was teaching me about leaps of faith.

These past few months have been a deep dive of nostalgia and trips down memory lane for me. I've been thinking about my family. I've been thinking about my youth. I've been thinking about the moments and the experiences that have brought me to where I am today. And where I am today is an incredibly happy place. I'm living an examined life. I'm living my dreams. And I'm living in gratitude. My emotions are very close to the surface lately, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I've made some jumps even when I wasn't entirely sure I was ready. And those jumps have come with these rewards. And on Tuesday of last week, when Mickey hit that "Hey!" I was right there with him. Timing is everything.

Recent Posts



No tags yet.
bottom of page