Cassette Liner Nostalgia, Macro Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
The first cassettes I remember popping into a tape deck as a child were Paula Abdul’s Forever Your Girl and Madonna’s True Blue. My mom mostly listened to Arabic music from her youth, so I still don’t know why we had those two cassettes lying around in the rack with this thing:
I loved that tape deck. It had auto-reverse. Back then that was “living in the future”. In 5th grade, I started dubbing music from the radio. Funky Cold Medina and the Great White version of Once Bitten Twice Shy will date me if that stereo hasn’t already.
In middle school, I bought my first cassettes with my own money. Appetite For Destruction and GnR Lies. Latch-key living meant I could naughtily count all 13 F-bombs on Appetite while staring, terrified, at Robert William’s robot rape painting that censors relegated to the liner notes, leaving the iconic crucifix with Axl’s skeleton emblazoned on the center as the album cover. All before my mom got home of course.
If my mood is sentimental enough, I can still smell the record store I lived around the corner from. I remember all the scary heavy metal t-shirts. I remember the iron-on images of Twisted Sister and Iron Maiden displayed on the walls. Only when I grew up did I come to realize that the horror imagery was used by both saccharine and actual metal bands alike.
In high school, my tastes turned away from the arena rock tapes I frugally churned from Columbia House and BMG memberships. Now I was using any cash I could scrounge for CDs to feed my new Aiwa boombox and for Alice In Chains tees to signal my brooding angst captured by the dreary album, Dirt. (My half-cousin, 4 years older than me, who is a musician and author was a formative character in my growing love for music. He was full of theories and one that always stuck with me is how you can see each song on Dirt as a different way to die. It might have been astrology when he called Down In A Hole “death by sex” but it’s hard to listen to that album without his metaphors stuck in my head. It’s especially bleak since Layne and Starr both died young in the throes of addiction.)
Today, my taste in music is much more varied than my younger days when I would dump on any music without a sick lead guitarist as “talentless”. I miss the magic of ripping the plastic off a new jewel case, toggling repeat on the stereo, and burying my nose in the lyrics. It was not just novel. It felt dangerous. That’s not because of the music though. Now I know it was because it was freedom. The Walkman or the closed bedroom door didn’t require permission. Even better it was encouraged so I didn’t torture the rest of the house with all that noise.
I suspect the unavoidable chains of childhood led me to music which remains nothing short of wondrous to me. From a stripped-down beat to a symphony, the power to evoke is in my opinion one of life’s greatest gifts. That I can even receive that makes me grateful to be human.
Music discovery is different today. I don’t need to agonize over what album to buy with the limited cash I have. I don’t need to fret (pun very much intended) over wasting my money on a CD that was only going to have like 2 good songs. But without the risk, the reward can also be smaller. Music becomes just another thing we multi-task, not an activity of its own.
I try to resist that. I don’t watch TV shows or movies that much. I prefer music videos. I can be methodical about how I approach a new artist. Sure sometimes I just listen to the most popular songs listed on the artist’s Spotify but if you really want to peel the onion here are some approaches:
chronologically through albums (see how they evolve)
setlists (what they want to emphasize)
critic write-ups (curation method)
flowcharts (custom experience based on sounds you like)
I remember listening to an interview with Jack White (my thread on it), one of my favorite artists, about the state of music. He mentioned that the lack of gatekeepers has lowered the average quality of published music but also increased the quantity of what’s great. This is exactly what you would expect when the cost of creating and distributing music falls. On a technical note (the puns keep coming), studio time in the analog era was so expensive that the minimum bar for a musician was quite high, but this is counterbalanced today by the sheer volume of artists that you would never have accessed in that era.
I’ll leave you with a fun listicle by the prolific jazz artist and music writer Ted Gioia:
12 Predictions for the Future of Music (Link)
The always terrific Rick Beato did a reaction video addressing each of the 12 points bringing his immense knowledge of the music biz to bear on the predictions. (YouTube)
More Moontower music stuff:
Music Appreciation Channels (Link)
Moontower Public Playlists of Music And Videos (Link)
Posts about specific artists (Link)
The Middle 8 (YouTube Channel)
The best thing I read last year was @jesse_livermore paper Upside Down Markets. I read it 3x. It’s 40,000 words and heavily footnoted and researched. It’s basically a book.
I took extensive notes on it. I re-factored them twice. If I sound crazy, it’s because it was the most educational economics piece I’ve ever read. Preemptive caveat, but that doesn’t say much. I did the bare minimum to get an economics degree. I have very weak opinions on macro because it’s so over my head it basically feels like voodoo.
I also know I want to gag myself whenever I hear others talk about macro. You would too if you read this paper and then had to listen to any sentence that includes the word “inflation”. Macro is the ultimate tourist attraction. Snapping pictures of shiny explanations to show your friends at home. “Look at how much of the world I’ve seen and understand.”
It makes my eyes roll out of my head. Look, we don’t need tourists to pretend they’re experts. It’s ok for them to go to Times Square. To observe and take it in without feeling pressure to be cool or smart about knowing the real landscape. It’s ok to just not understand.
But if you care to understand and not just pretend, you need to stay awhile. This paper is a tour guide but not the hop-on, hop-off red bus kind. This guide has you crash on the futon before heading to the bodega on Avenue C as you prepare for another 10-mile spelunk of city alleys.
Jesse’s map will open your eyes. Built-up from basic accounting identities, it’s an example of the rigor you must take to actually make sense of an economy from 30,000 feet. The accounting framework alone is worth the journey. Jesse doesn’t call the sensitivities Greeks, but he could have. What are the dependencies? How do second-order effects work? How does the economy tie back to valuation? What does inflation actually do and how? It’s all here.
Last December I started recording an audio explainer of the paper, but I lost steam. I really encourage you to read the original work but in the spirit of a parent who encourages abstinence but still hands their kid a condom, I’m going to hand over my notes. I spruced them up a bit to make up for their length. You can only reduce things so much. Enjoy:
Moontower Summary Of Jesse Livermore’s “Upside Down Markets” (Link)
If you’d like to hear Jesse’s interviews check:
Jesse with Jim O'Shaughnessy on the Infinite Loops podcast (Listen)
Short notes and interview about the paper (PodcastNotes)
Here’s the playlist I listened to 8 years ago (I’m not crying, you’re crying) when Zak was a baby.