Words by Jason Kotarski | Intro by David C. Obenour
Jason Kotarski owns and operates the little giant that is Green Couch Games. Specializing in cramming as much fun as possible into a small box and generally into a shorter game, they’ve put out such titles as Best Treehouse Ever, Avalanche on Yeti Mountain, Rocky Road a la Mode, Before the Earth Explodes, and most recently Filler is out this week and Darwinauts is launching in June. He also burns the midnight oil in the punk band Singing Lungs and rides BMX bikes. Here’s what he’s currently interested in.
It all started with a stroll through a musty, dusty thrift store with my family one Saturday afternoon. We had just moved across Michigan for my wife’s new teaching gig and were looking for some stuff to make our new-to-us house feel like a home. There, in a pile of discarded electronics I spotted a Studio Standard Stereo Cassette Deck by Fischer. A feeling in my stomach told me I couldn’t just leave it there in that pile. It needed a new home and I just happened to have one. It was only three bucks. I made my case to the wife. She rolled her eyes. I got my way.
When I arrived home and got the tape deck installed, I set out to search the mountain of boxes in the basement for the small collection of cassettes that I had hung onto over the years. These were some of the tapes I had picked up from local bands at the first shows I ever went to. There were also tapes I had made in high school with friends, who like me, could hardly play their instruments. Most of these tapes were terrible but thanks to my new thrift store tape deck they had never sounded better.
When I first started discovering music, tapes we’re the only option I had for getting to listen to the stuff I wanted to hear. My brother listened to hair metal and wouldn’t let me come into his room to watch MTV on his little black and white television so I had to listen to Europe and Def Leppard with my ear up against the door. At least that was the case until I could convince my mom to drive me to the mall to spend some of my lawn mowing money on tapes that I could call my own. There was a new world opening up to me because of the tapes I would stumbled upon at the mall. I’ll never forget discovering that Faith No More had an album before The Real Thing and that it featured a different singer (We Care A Lot and Chuck Mosely, respectively.)
My tapes became my most prized possessions. They were these things that made me feel things I had never felt before and helped me to share something about who I was (or wanted to be) with others. I remember when I found a copy of Green Day’s 1039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours at the guitar shop in my town. I was a freshman and I was so excited about it that I took it to school the next day to show it to this weirdo upperclassman named Chris that I knew also liked Green Day. I was proud of it like it was a sort of trophy I had won. What I didn’t anticipate is him putting the tape in his pocket and telling me to fuck off. He was bigger than me so there wasn’t much I could do…besides steal his girlfriend, of course. FYI, this would be a shining moment in my adolescent journey…probably the only one.
Just as I had gotten my tape deck up and running and was falling in love with tapes again, I noticed that bands were starting to put out music on cassette again so for the last couple of years, I’ve been hooked on collecting tapes from indie artists. I think this makes so much sense on many different levels.
First, tangible media is awesome. I love something I can hold on to. The immediacy of our digital age is incredible but there is nothing like holding onto an artifact that means something special to you. Small portable media that can be passed from one hand to another used to make our musical world go around. I have a lot of respect for that. Tapes require active participation. You have to send someone money for it or find it in a store. You have to pick it up and hold it. You have to have a place to keep it. You have to choose it yourself, slip it in the player, and press some buttons before you hear that “chunk” and “hiss” followed by several seconds of silence before the first notes kick in. This all has a different quality than passively accepting whatever music the algorithm feeds to you while it streams in the background.
Secondly, it’s cheap for artists to manufacture. Vinyl is great, but if you can’t sell at least 500 copies of a record you can’t afford to release records. The turnaround for producing vinyl also seems to be taking longer these days as it continues to grow in popularity. Getting 100 tapes made is pretty affordable and only takes a few weeks to produce. If an artist needs less than 100 copies they can dub them at home in whatever quantity makes sense. I won’t go much further into music industry economics but buying a tape directly from an artist certainly earns them more cash for their hard work than streaming does. It’s cheap for the consumer, too. And for those who are anything like me and obsess about obscure, uncool hobbies, cheap is a pretty important characteristic.
Lasty, though I could probably keep going on about why I think tapes are awesome, it’s really about good old fashion nostalgia for me. Playing a tape reminds me of a simpler time when there was nothing more exciting than going to a show at the local all ages venue, I consider myself very lucky to have had such a thing in the Flint Local 432, and handing five bucks to a local band so I could bring home new music that they had recorded in their bedroom. Those moments shaped my life and I don’t want to forget. So I keep those memories on bits of plastic, recorded on magnetic tape, sitting on some shelves in my basement. Every now and then, I dust one off, pop it in my Studio Standard Stereo Cassette Deck by Fischer, turn it up, and feel, for just a few moments something that reminds me of those first times I really started to feel alive. I might not be the king of cool with all my weirdo hobbies but at least I have a nice tape deck.