Crazy Eights

The Seventies refuse to die. Whatever else you say about that God-forsaken decade, it has proven incredibly resilient. Disco --both the music and the fashions -- has made a strong comeback. The Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations have made many Americans nostalgic for those of Ford and Carter. Saturday Night Live is still on the air (although it has gone from one of the most exhilarating shows on network television to one of the lamest). And John Travolta has a career.

But with all due respect to platform shoes and white polyester suits, perhaps no icon better represents the Seventies than the 8-track tape. Oft-maligned, decried as obsolete, bypassed in the mainstream marketplace in favor of cassettes and CDs, the 8-track tape has been rescued from the brink of extinction by an underground cult of "trackers," an intrepid group of die-hards whose allegiance to the analog format in general and the defiant impracticality of 8-track tapes in particular borders on the fanatic. The movie So Wrong They're Right is their story.

So Wrong director Russ Forster edits 8-Track Mind magazine, a quarterly publication with national distribution. He teamed up with cinematographer and fellow tapeworm Dan Sutherland on a 10,000-mile cross-country odyssey, interviewing -- and in some cases boarding with -- analog aficionados from coast to coast (most of whom had contributed either letters or articles to the magazine) about their crazy eight obsession.

Interviewees range from a young woman who has been banned for life from Goodwill thrift shops because of her dogged foraging for the holy cartridges to James "Big Bucks" Burnett (whose legendary 14 Records store in Dallas recently closed) to the members of the band Gumball, whose mountainous stash of 30,000 tapes forms the equivalent of this film's Mt. Everest.

These misfits wear their passion for the "dead" format like a badge, bragging of their favorite obscurities like stamp and coin collectors gone round the bend, and fondling their prized players and cartridges with an affection that borders on perversion. They speak lovingly of the format's quirks: the notorious unreliability of both players and cartridges; the loud, reassuring ka-chunk accompanying the change of tracks; the paucity of cover art; the reshuffling of the order (and occasional deletion) of songs from the LP to better accommodate the time constraints of 8-tracks.

Clearly, for these people 8-track is more than just another format for playing and recording music. It's a state of mind. In fact 8-Track Mind magazine has gone so far as to delineate this doctrine in a statement of purpose called "The Eight Noble Truths of the 8-Track Mind" (of which there are nine -- they number the first one zero). It should come as no surprise that the man who formulated tenets such as "State of the art is in the eye of the beholder" and "'New' and 'improved' don't necessarily mean the same thing" would make a documentary with all the rough edges left in. But that just adds to the film's charm, whereas a few self-indulgent skits and bald-faced plugs for 8-Track Mind magazine feel like padding. After all, what's a little rawness among friends who know they're So Wrong They're Right?

 
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