I’m not going to tell you about my first* or second** cassette, but the third – it has stuck with me all these years.
I was 10, running an errand with my parents at Caldor, when this caught my eye on the cassette rack. Maybe it was the red foil writing, the (strangely inverted) lightning photo, or the confidence that I could pay for it with three of my own crumpled dollar bills.
Sudden memory – it is 1992 and I’m on the phone with a t-shirt company whose ad I saw in Circus Magazine, trying to order an iron-on back patch for my black bomber jacket. I’m leaning towards Led Zeppelin but I can’t remember what the Houses of the Holy album cover looks like, even though I’m pretty sure it was on my parents’ record shelf all along.
I ask the woman on the line and she starts describing it to me: “It’s, like, this big pile of rocks and there are a bunch of naked kids climbing up it. I’m not really sure if they’re boys or girls.”
These things we did before the internet sound like a dim, ancient fantasy, right?
In many ways, the most influential part of my college education took place not in the classroom, but at the radio station. WPRB 103.3FM may be housed on the Princeton campus, but it’s independently funded and gives a handful of Princeton students a musical outlet, work experience, and the too-rare opportunity to interact with members of the community. During my time at WPRB, one of these people was Dr. Cosmo, a DJ who had a Friday night show since the early 90s. Sadly, he passed away last weekend.
Dr. Cosmo (George Mahlberg) left a mark on everyone he met. His incredible radio voice and physical presence were backed with a lifetime of amazing stories to tell. He had a way of relating his adventures that was engaging and not prententious, though many of them were certainly brag-worthy. His life had taken various paths – astrophysicist, DJ, actor, writer…and he was a mentor to my budding Photoshop ambitions, having created the much reproduced “In-A-Gadda-Da-Oswald”, a brilliant retake on Jack Ruby’s assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald. (You can spot him in the upper left-hand corner of the photo.)
One of my favorite memories of Dr. Cosmo was from Halloween 2000, when I did a 7-10pm Halloween show (costumed, of course) and he followed at his usual hour. We put on a long track and took a spooky trip up the rusty ladder to the top of the Gothic Holder Tower and overlooked the campus, peaceful in the dark. I don’t believe in a traditional afterlife, but I know he is among those stars somewhere, cosmically continuing his adventures.