Jack parked his rig in front of one of the larger units of a huge storage facility. He eased outside with Mr. Figgs bounding behind him. He punched in a code lock and threw open the bay door.
Inside was something straight out of the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark when a government lackey rolls the crated ark into a huge warehouse stuffed full of other wooden crates.
Shelves covered the walls from the floor to the top of the 12 foot ceiling. On the floor, palettes were precisely arranged in rows that barely allowed passage. Filling the space on all the shelves and palettes were cassettes, hundreds and hundreds, possibly thousands of cassettes—all of them containing music recorded by Jack Blake. I quickly and roughly estimated the room at 1500 sq. feet but couldn’t begin to do the math needed to calculate the total number of tapes.
“I’m almost out of room, but I’m not sure I can afford anything bigger,” Jack said.
“How many?” I asked as I walked slowly into the archive for closer inspection.
“I don’t know.”
“Are they arranged in any particular order?
“No, but I started on the walls first and then down to the floor, so they might be chronological.”
I veered left and moved in. I picked out a tape at random and glanced at artwork, session notes, song titles and then read the cassette’s title aloud: Sniffing Dope While Making War Planes.
“I think that’s from two years ago,” Jack said and he went on to explain that during WW II, planes constructed from Sitka Spruce trees cut and milled on the Oregon Coast were glued together with a mind altering epoxy the workers called “dope.” Jack loved this anecdote and wrote nine folk rock tunes that narrated this little known story through the voice of an “dope” addicted worker.
I walked a few feet away and picked out another tape: French Radicals and German Police Spies. Jack told me it was a feedback drenched rock assault on the ravages of capitalism using only the text from the Communist Manifesto as lyrics. I thought about stealing it.
“Is there a master list of all the tapes and all the tracks?” I asked.
“Do you make all the copies yourself?”
“What do you mean?” Jack responded.
“The copies of the albums you make,” I said.
“There are no copies. These are all originals. I never give away or sell anything but the master tapes.”
I stood quiet for a moment trying to consider what Jack just told me.
“Yeah, I keep a lot, as you can see, but most of the tapes I give away to people I meet or donate them to the thrift stores. Not a lot folks have cassette players, but oh well. I just love tape.”
The thought occurred to me that after this encounter with Jack I needed to drive the entire Pacific Northwest Coast and check every thrift store for Jack’s tapes.
“Now that I think of it,” said Jack “there are other copies but not in cassette form.”
Now it was my turn. “What do you mean?”
And just when I thought Jack’s story had no chance of becoming more fantastic and unprecedented, he explained:
“My brother-in-law has taken a special interest in my music. Every month or so he drives down here from Portland, pulls out 15-20 tapes and then returns home to work in his basement studio. He digitizes the music and has created a web site where all the music is available for 99 cents an album. You can only purchase it by the album. These are albums, not singles.”
I was a little stunned and hesitated. “A web site?”
Jack explained that “The Music of Jack Blake” had been live for about a year and was selling a bit here or there but he hadn’t done any promotion outside of mentioning it when he was busking. He didn’t know how to promote nor did he really care.
I cared. I whipped out my phone and found the site while Jack rummaged around the unit. There were hundreds of albums available and Jack’s brother-in-law had also included scans of the cassette’s artwork and session notes. I bought “Rain Isn’t About the Weather,” an entire album of nothing but songs about the rain, recorded during a rainstorm that battered the rig.
As I started listening through an ear bud, it began raining.
Jack spent about an hour changing out gear and sorting cassettes in the unit. When he finished, he came over to me and I took out my ear bud and stashed the phone.
“Jack, you know this might explode once the word gets out, don’t you?” I said.
“If it happens I guess we’ll be ready. I want more people to hear my stuff.”
“You know I’m going to write about this if you say its okay and maybe if you don’t.”
“You can write about it. It’s not going to change the way I make or distribute my music.”
I suddenly flashed on the last pathetic image of Brian Jones, floating dead in his pool loaded on armies of pills. “Death by misadventure,” according to the coroner’s report.
“Jack, if this thing hits, your days of controlling your music and its distribution are over. No one stays small once you hit the charts. Look at Beck. From street singer and sleeping on the floor to video director, super models and bolo ties at awards shows.”
“That’ll never happen to me. Besides, I don’t see think Beck sold out. I saw him at the Salem Armory and he had pierced, tattooed teenagers listening to a white guy playing folk blues. I can dig that.”
Jack paused for a moment. “You assume people are going to listen to, much less buy my music. There’s no market for my message or musical style. That’s why I’m here.”
“Jack,” I said almost desperately, “if you took your music, put a kick ass band behind it, took it on the road and polished up a single, it might change the face of popular music.”
“Ask yourself this,” Jack said. “What would Buddy Holly do? That’s the only direction I need.”