(Author’s note: I have many interesting places to go this year and I thought I would add the following ‘search’ to my adventures. I’d be interested in your feedback of this episodic allegory – good, bad or indifferent. If you don’t like it, Suzanne will be back next week with something more normal I’m sure.)
by Bob Sparrow
I turned The Tape over in my hands several times; examining it like it was a rare gem – which, in fact, it might be. The title written on the plastic cassette case was ‘In Search of Xoon’. Xoon was my dog in Japan in 1968. Titles, I must tell you, were always non-sequiturs of sorts, never really pertaining to anything on the tapes – ‘Music to Slit Your Wrists Over’, ‘Zsa Zsa Sing Bob Dylan’ and ‘Garbage Soup’ to name a few.
I exchanged a number of cassette tapes with Don while he was living in the Middle East in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. We’d affect our DJ voices and ‘do a show’ for each other; I’d send him the latest hits from the US, he’d send me off-the-wall songs from his vast collection of eclectic music – we’d separate the music with talk about the news of the day as well as the personal issues going on in our lives – 90 minutes, commercial-free. It kept us close at a time when the Internet was not available to the common man, or even two uncommon men like ourselves. I think there were 39 tapes in all, plus the one I was holding, the one he sent toward the end of his stay there; the one in a strange language, a very strange language. When I first listened to it I thought it was going to confirm that ‘Paul was dead’. It was just gibberish, backwards or forward. I fast-forwarded it to see if the gibberish stopped and he started talking in English, it didn’t and he didn’t. B-side was the same, ninety minutes of gibberish, but it was commercial-free . . . I think. I concluded that he had spent too much time wandering in the desert sun or had been captured by a herd of Bedouin camels and was forced to confess something. I think it was he talking on the cassette, although it sounded a bit altered or perhaps addled. No, I’m sure it was his voice – now that I think about it, it was unmistakable – I could hear the humor in his voice even though I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. But after 50 years of companionship with this eccentric genius, I was used to not understanding a good deal of what he was saying.
He lived 13 years in Ta’if, which is in the Sarawat Mountains of Saudi Arabia, so he spoke some Arabic, but The Tape was not in any form of Arabic, it had a much more euphonious, even a melodic lilt to it. He had lived in Sicily in the shadow of Mt. Etna at Sigonella Navel Air Station and spoke Italian. He spent several years in Caracas, Venezuela at the foot of the Maritime Andes, so he knew several dialects of Spanish and Portuguese. The language on The Tape was none of these. It didn’t sound like he was reading from something, it sounded very improvisational. What the hell was he saying and why had he sent this to me? In subsequent tapes and years later in face-to-face conversations with him when he came back to the states, I’d ask him about The Tape.
I said, “OK, are you going to tell me what was on that crazy tape?”
“Did you destroy it?”
“So do you mean what is on the tape?”
“Yes! Were you drinking when you made it?”
“Don’t you have to be drinking to spend 13 years in Saudi Arabia?”
I got so frustrated with his answering a question with a question that I stopped asking him about it altogether – I’d show him! Who cares about this stupid, nonsensical tape anyway? I forgot all about it.
Every few years, particularly on a long, solitary drive, I’d put my cassette carrying case in my car and pop in tape after tape – it was always great to hear his voice. I did just that when I drove up to his funeral service following his death in February 2012. While driving up Interstate 5 and fumbling through the cassettes, I inevitably pulled out The Tape, laughed to myself, shook my head and put it back in the case. But this time, perhaps because he was now gone, I stopped before I put in another tape and starting thinking about The Tape, what it could possible say, what it could mean and why did he send it to me. So I ask him to help me solve the mysteries of The Tape.
He said, “Yes, but you do understand about my ‘condition’ don’t you?
“Yes, do you think I’m as sharp as I used to be now that I’ve been dead for several weeks?
For the next 90 minutes I listened to The Tape in its entirety. I asked him, “What language is that, I don’t understand any of it”
“Do you understand the song Nessun Dorma?” he said.
“Do you know it? Do you like it?
“Yes, I think it’s maybe the most beautiful song ever as Pavarotti sings it.”
“But you don’t understand it?”
I popped it in the car’s cassette player and spent the next 90 minutes listening to The Tape, more carefully this time, and I did hear it a bit differently; I heard more of the rhythm of the tape and . . . perhaps I picked up what might be some small clues as to where to begin my search for the translation and thus the meaning of The Tape.