• Emil

From the start ...

Updated: Jan 14, 2019

Growing up I had access, from a young age, to my parents large collection of vinyl LPs, tapes and reels of music. From the rock and roll of the 50s to the British invasion of the 60s, to the hard rock, folk and even disco of the 70s. No respected collection would skip on: The King, Johnny Cash, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Who, Yes, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Canned Heat, Kiss, Eagles, Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, etc, etc. Building large music collections was no easy feat behind the Iron Curtain. Prior to 1980 procuring western released music was difficult, but not impossible, in the Eastern Block. Original LP pressings and cassette tapes made their way into the country, where they were copied to analog tapes or reels, over and over again. People would feed on music, perhaps dreaming and longing about a better future …

Starting around 1980, the communist dictatorial regime imposed new, stricter rules in regards to the western music finding it’s way into Romania, my country of origin. Tapes and LPs would be confiscated at border crossings, or by the postal customs. Into the 80s very few tapes and LPs made it into the country, leaving the music enthusiasts stuck with even fewer options: limited access to vinyl reissues from other communist state run labels such as the Bulgarian Balkanton (Балкантон) or the Russian Melodiya (Μелодия). The state run Romanian music label, Electrecord, was only allowed to release domestic music, and that under a drastic censorship. The most “viable” outlet to learn about newer western music were a couple of radio stations with platforms aimed against the communist regime, which also had dedicated music programs. The stations, Voice of America, and Radio Free Europe (in Germany) were both transmitting on SW (short wave band), nowhere near ideal for music listening, and further obstructed by the communist’s deliberate RF interferences. And if that wasn’t enough, listeners were living with the fear of being caught and severely punished: jailed or worst.

It was on a Monday night, in 1987, when I first heard Bon Jovi during a music program aired by Voice of America. The program’s curator always offered to mail tapes to the listeners upon written requests. A friend of mine and I, sent a letter and, lo and behold, thru some sort of a miracle, a few months latter we received in the mail a 90 minutes analog audio tape, with BON JOVI’s 1986 “Slippery When Wet” on side A, and EUROPE’s “The Final Countdown” on the B side. It is needless to say that the tape was immediately copied and played to death. This 90 minutes tape was the game changer that firmly cemented my love for rock music. In all fairness, I did purchased a lot of domestic rock music on LP, during this period of time, but we shall leave that for another time and discussion, and focus on some international releases that I’ve bought or copied back then, with stealing not being an option. Having heard Metallica and Iron Maiden on these radio shows, left me with a desire for faster, heavier music.

Another classmate, with relatives in Germany, offered to make me a copy of his recently smuggled “Keeper of the Seven Keys – part I & II” cassettes by, then up and coming, HELLOWEEN. That resulted in another 90 minutes tape, with the last 3 or 4 minutes of “Keeper of the Seven Keys” missing on side B, due to the album being longer than 45 minutes! Arghhh! With my newly discovered love for speed metal, in the beginning of 1989 I had the opportunity to buy a bootleg tape of BLIND GUARDIAN’s debut album “Battalions of Fear” (released in 1988). A couple of months later, I’ve made my first metal LP purchase: a Bulgarian copy of Yngwie Malmsteen’s RISING FORCE “Odyssey”, also released in 1988. This one was bought from a girl neighbor, who received the LP as a gift, but wasn’t really interested in it. Another great opportunity came by in the summer of 1989, when I was offered to buy a secondhand cassette copy of MOTORHEAD’s 1981 “No Sleep `’til Hammersmith”

These are just a handful of albums that I either purchased or copied, during my early teens, and under the difficult circumstances faced with. Other albums were copied or received as gifts during the late 80s. Once in high school, at the end of 1989, I befriended a pack of metalheads, including some which were older, and the whole tape trading and copying reached much higher levels, leading to … well … obsession. After the political events at the very end of 1989, and the fall of the Iron Curtain, by 1990 the local markets exploded with rock and metal albums, some original, but mostly pirate, bootleg tapes, which included both mainstream and deep underground releases. Access to LPs, but mainly cassette tapes and CDs facilitated the ability to copy music to tapes and Xeroxing the album covers in black & white. Shortly into the 90s I had the privilege to start working for a local FM radio station. There we had a working relationship with BBC radio in the UK, where on regular basis crates of promotional CDs were received. Access to quality pro-audio equipment allowing for great quality copies on (type II) Maxwell or TDK tapes. My personal music collection flourishing – the vast majority of these tapes and vinyl records are still with me. Upon moving to the United States, in the mid 90s, my main collecting focus went towards vinyl, available for dirt cheap at that point, and audio CDs, which were on a booming upright trajectory at the time. The rest is history…

Originally published on Blessed Altar Zine.

© 2018 by Emil Chiru



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