I am not here to lament all that we've supposedly lost due to the digital age. Nah. I love my Apple Music (though I wish streaming paid artists more) - I love how easy it is to FIND new music and to share that music and to listen to that music. I still buy records, occasionally, of my favorite albums. It's good to have a physical copy of something - there is a ritual to putting on a record. Just like there is a ritual to listening to all the Dylan bootlegs I have on cassette. Sure I could easily download them, but it's just not the same - I want that distant feeling like he is actually off on stage and I'm sitting in the grass of a general admissions show. BUT there is one thing I miss. The Hidden Track.
The Hidden Track was like a secret, shared moment you had with the others that found it. Back before we could Tweet out links to our favorite songs or share playlists, the ways to share music were much more direct, connected. You could listen, together, to a song in the car. You could make a mix tape and give it to the person (man do I miss mix tapes). You could go see it live and experience it that way. But for me, as a teenager without a car, the hidden track was a beautiful little gem that you found and held and hoped that others did as well.
Here are two of my favorite hidden tracks -
Live - "Horse" from Throwing Copper
My sisters and I shared a cassette tape of this album and whenever we were going someone, we made my parents put this into the tape deck of our Dodge Caravan Minivan. I was lucky and always got the middle bench seat to myself whereas my two older sisters had to share the back. Anyway. Live was a local band - they were from York, we lived in Lancaster just across the river. They were IT. They were OUR band and we knew every single word to that album. But I always loved the last song... which was really two songs. "White, Discussion" is a political song - I knew that then - but never really understood what it was about. I just loved that it was political - it spoke to my burgeoning rebellion (which eventually lead to an obsessive Rage Against the Machine/AIM/Free Leonard Peltier phase) against everything that the little suburban Christian conservative town I lived in represented - and especially the way he just yells and screams "Look where all this talking got us, baby!" over and over and over as it fades to black and the cassette, you can still hear the plastic cogs turning in the player and then "1,2,3,4" and an acoustic guitar and cymbal splash and this beautiful pedal steel guitar and now I'm along the river, sitting on a porch watching mayflies gather for their last hoorah around the one light and "Horses," "Horses" this perfect song, this hidden song, perfect for the cassette tape with that spinning plastic and crinkly tape added an ethereal layer to that song, another long lonesome whine of the pedal steel. And you listen to it hoping that someone else, somewhere also found this beautiful little nugget of music and a hidden track becomes a shared experience.
"Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - "Zero is Also a Number" - The X-Files Soundtrack
Oh man. Much like "Horses" was perfect for the cassette tape, "Zero is Also a Number" was perfect for the CD. It was MADE for the CD. It could only EXIST because of the CD. I was pretty obsessed with The X-Files as a 13-14 year old. I loved staying up for it every Friday night and the weirdness it projected into the mundane existence of 8th and 9th grade. They eventually released a soundtrack - Songs in the Key of X - an incredible collection of music that had the likes of Sheryl Crow next to Soul Coughing and Burroughs and R.E.M.
But what made this hidden song the, in my opinion, best hidden song ever, is that you needed to have a CD and needed to read the liner notes to catch that little blurb at the top that "Nick Cave and the Dirty Three would like you to know that '0' is also a number." Holy shit. HOLY SHIT. HOLY SHIT! Okay, so let me put the CD in and have it start on track one, then let's hold down the "back" button and HOLY SHIT NOW THE NUMBERS ARE GOING NEGATIVE HOLY SHIT HOW LONG IS THIS??? It went all the way back to like "-10:00" and then you let it ride and you hear what I think is one of the most beautiful, transcendent pieces of music from this group of artists.
You are transported into what feels like an actual X-Files episode - it's dark, it's dreamy, it's creepy, there are people flitting in and out like ghosts. Goddamn. The lyrics are sparse and the interplay between Cave's voice and Warren's violin tells its own story, a story within a story. But the story centers around "being called to the forest" and that image, that call to action, appears quite randomly throughout my days, still. The song seems to find itself as it develops, it's a story being told, that doesn't seem to be written down, but is finding itself as it is played - much like how you have to find the actual song. And that discovery is communal, a shared experience built on faith that others have also put the clues together.