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More Than 20 Years After Their Death, Eight-Tracks Are Resurrected In Dallas.

"I have no nostalgia for the format or anything," Brown says, emphatically. "And it's not about novelty for me, either. I do it for the sound quality. It's the way music sounds best. First of all, you're forced to listen to the entire performance. [There's no fast-forward or rewind, just random shuffling about the tracks.] But, beyond that, it's about the actual technology at play. CDs and mp3s are digital renderings of performances. I believe that the energy the band puts out in a recording can be best found on an eight-track tape. It's an actual, physical echo of their performance."

A recent transplant from Little Rock, Brown himself is a musician who performs around the region under the moniker of Browningham, which might explain his stance on the authenticity of the format's sound—he's not just another listener. And he really is doing his part to push the format: On February 5, at Fort Worth venue The Grotto, his company, which he's run since 2006, celebrated its first local eight-track release, a tape from area outfit Secret Ghost Champion. Unlike Burnett's Cloud 8 label, which uses KTS Productions to produce its tapes, Brown manufactures all his releases on his own, in his home.

On Monday, February 14, Bucks Burnett will open the world's first eight-track museum. And yes, he knows how weird of an idea that is.
Allison V. Smith
On Monday, February 14, Bucks Burnett will open the world's first eight-track museum. And yes, he knows how weird of an idea that is.
Eight-tracks started falling out of favor with the major labels in 1982 and were last mass-produced in 1988.
But Burnett and a handful of other locals are hoping to reignite interest in the dead format.
Allison V. Smith
Eight-tracks started falling out of favor with the major labels in 1982 and were last mass-produced in 1988. But Burnett and a handful of other locals are hoping to reignite interest in the dead format.

He's quite committed to it, too. In the coming months, he'll be releasing more tapes—from acts such as the Me-Thinks and area favorite RTB2—all of which will feature unique recordings that Brown himself will handle, and which won't be able to be found on any other format. Interestingly, Brown says, selling these bands on the appeal of eight-track releases isn't much of a concern. Younger people aren't opposed to eight-tracks, he says. They just don't know—and are too young to remember—why the long-forgotten eight-track format can still be a successful one. His job, as he sees it, is to explain it to them.

"It's a technology thing," he says. "And an educational thing."

He wants the world to see eight-tracks the way he does. And his stance is admirable, though a little bizarre. After all, even if he is able to convince artists to join him on his mission, how will their music be heard? It's not like eight-track players—or, at least, ones of the quality that Brown wants his tapes played upon—are easily found these days.

Not surprisingly, Brown has a plan on that front, too.

"I would love to manufacture an eight-track player," he says. "Can't you envision it? A new player that you can buy at Walmart, that comes with a bundle of 20 classic rock tapes? It would be cheap, too."

Hey, if someone's going to do that, it might as well be him. And it might as well happen here.

"I have not found anywhere else in the whole world doing as much for eight-tracks right now as is happening in the metroplex," Brown says. "Just by dumb luck or whatever, it's all happening here."

Perhaps it's just a matter of Dallas-Fort Worth being ahead of the curve. Nostalgia, after all, is big these days. And eight-tracks are as nostalgia-inducing as it gets.

"Eight-tracks are one of those things that just carry such powerful associations," says Robert Thompson, the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "If you're of a certain age, you had to get one of those players in your car—and right away. It's kind of locked in amber, the idea of eight-tracks. As soon as you hear someone say 'eight-track,' it immediately brings you back. A lot of nostalgia doesn't."

But, Thompson argues, eight-track preservation should be about more than nostalgia-mongering.

"Listen: Some of this stuff does matter," he says. "I find it highly disturbing how formats are being allowed to disappear the way they are."

Burnett may jokingly refer to himself as a "formatician," but Thompson sees it as no laughing matter. "Format archaeology," as he calls it, is something not to be taken lightly. Given the hold that eight-tracks once held over the market, he too argues staunchly for the format's importance. They're an entity that people need to remember.

"Especially if you're the Library of Congress," Thompson adds.

And yet, that's not quite what the Library of Congress thinks.

"There are preferred formats for copyright, which is largely how we determine our collection," says Bryan Cornell, a reference librarian at the Library of Congress. "And we always prefer LPs over eight-tracks."

According to Cornell, the Library of Congress has roughly 500,000 vinyl records in its collection and "some 5,000 eight-tracks or so, and maybe significantly less." He laughs a little when asked why the collection isn't any larger.

"It's fair to say that we actively try not to get eight-tracks," he says.

And yet, despite this position, the Library of Congress' collection is vastly more significant than the collections boasted in other national museums. Representatives for the National Archives say that there are no eight-tracks in their museum's collection. The Smithsonian Institution, meanwhile, boasts "a couple dozen, maybe," according to Hal Wallace, curator for the Institution's electricity collection.

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  • Hardly Coffin 02/10/2011 2:49:00 PM

    I've still got an 8-track of Burl Ive's "Jimmy Crack Corn ... and I don't care". Wonder what it's worth?

  • 02/10/2011 1:16:00 PM

    Everyone always waxes nostalgic over the 8 track tape. No one seems to remember the front runner to it, the 4 track tape. Was introduced a year or two sooner. Same technology but monaural. Both sucked. No way to search...listening to your favorite song meant listening to an entire track...and then, when you least needed it...the tape would start the dreaded squeaking, the harbinger of death!!

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