Q&A: The Great Bucks Burnett Lets Us Inside His Eight-Track Obsessed Mind In Anticipation of His NX35 Museum Opening

Categories: Interviews
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Sl. Burnett
Bucks Burnett
If there's one man on the planet poised to make 8-track collecting cool, it's Bucks Burnett. Not that collecting cartridges wasn't "cool" before--I mean, you can't even buy a new player for them at your neighborhood indie record store. How snobby-cool is that? And, it's not like Burnett hasn't been collecting and selling 8-tracks and players for years, currently at Earotica in Dolly Python.

What makes things different now? Well, Burnett's Eight Track Museum is about to open its doors as a part of the walk-able portion of North by 35 daytime festivities, and when he's not driving the collection from Dallas to Denton, he's busy fielding calls from NPR and The Wall Street Journal. (We journalists can't help but drool at "trend" stories like this.)

But, even without the media's interest, and things like the flogging to death of the "vinyl comeback," interest in retro-format collecting is at an all time high. And, after talking with Burnett yesterday, I can't help but wonder why this hasn't happen sooner.

After the jump, check the lengthy Q&A with Bucks that Unfair Park so nicely touted earlier this morning.

For those who maybe aren't familiar with The Eight Track Museum, give us a basic overview, because this is only the second time that this collection will be on display, right?
The first show was late October at the Barry Whistler Gallery, and that was really a gallery show presented by the Eight Track Museum, also know as myself because this is my collection, which is about 20 years old now. But this is the first, this is like a museum opening, we have rented a space. We have constructed walls and painted them and built fixtures, this is less a gallery exhibit and more a proper museum. Barry was very kind to let us do that exhibit for a few days, but this is sorta the museum taking on its own life. [He pauses for effect.] Which hopefully won't lead to me taking my own life.

And, right now you are trying to find a permanent home for The Eight Track Museum, what kind of options are you looking at right now?
Well, we're talking, but we're sorta too busy putting the show together. Today's the last day of prep before it opens tomorrow. But there's talk of keeping it in Denton somehow.
I'm open to Denton, Dallas or Austin, within Texas. I'd also love to do it in Brooklyn or London. Ideally, I'd like to have three or four small museums, each with a permanent exhibit room, as well as a revolving exhibit room. I don't think that stuff like this should be confined to one city, but obviously I will have to start in one city."

OK, and obviously, for now that's Denton. So, how did this happen with the launch coinciding with North by 35?
Well, I have roots in Denton. I opened a record store in Denton in 1988 called Fourteen Records. And Fourteen Records was on Fry Street for three years, and then I moved it to Dallas on Lower Greenville for four years. So, Fourteen was in business for seven years, but it was born in Denton and that was the first time I'd lived in Denton.

[His phone rings. He talks about picking up some 8-track stickers in Arlington with a reporter from Fort Worth.]

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, I'm mulit-media-tasking. Dude, I'm doing an interview with NPR later today. And then the Wall Street Journal article comes out Thursday or Friday. This thing is exploding, and I don't say that to hype it, but we're already really getting a lot of media interest in the museum, which I always assumed I would if I could get one open. Because it's never been done. See, the thing is, if you open an 8-track museum, you're guaranteed a certain amount of media interest due to the novelty factor. My challenge is gonna be to move the perception of the of the museum beyond the novelty status and into to a lasting project.

The easy part is that first wave of having people show up, which had never even heard of such a thing, and that first wave of media attention from bored journalists writing about it because they're tired of writing about Al Qaeda or earthquakes. Wave two, the next challenge, is finding a permanent home. But I have no money, I'm literally selling off my CD collection to pay for all these 8-tracks I bought to add to the exhibit. I don't have deep pockets, I don't even have Hot Pockets. So, second wave is to begin the campaign to find a permanent home, while also trying to decrease the snickering by maybe 10 percent.

How has collecting the 8-tracks changed with the advent of the Internet and sites like eBay?
I started collecting 8-tracks in 1988, I never owned an 8-track in my life before that, which is surprising because of my age. I'm 51, so I was a child of the 8-track era, but my parents had a cassette deck in their stereo, so I never had an 8-track - never wanted one, never thought about it. But I bought a White Album 8-track at a garage sale in 1988. Cause I thought, 'Oh, wow, The White Album is my favorite album by anybody, so I may as well have the 8-track.' Then I got the perverse idea of building a complete Beatles 8-track collection. And I didn't know how many there were, or how I was gonna do it. But that started my quest. This was pre-eBay, so I had to do it old school. I was going to garage sales, thrift stores, flea markets.

[It took him five years of "aggressive searching."]

[Some people, he says have suggested that now with eBay amassing such a collection is child's play, but Burnett says that the prices have been on the rise. And, as artists like Bob Dylan and Miles Davis get scooped up first, it drives up the prices of the remaining 8-tracks. So, increasingly building complete collections of certain artists is becoming all but impossible.]

I'm trying to build truly complete 8-track collections of all the major, most influential artists. I've done it with The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk, and that's it out of all the dozens and dozens of artist that have sold millions of 8-tracks and, you know, I've only managed to get three complete collections. Well, and The Rutles, but they only made one album, and the Sex Pistols too. 

[Bucks then remarks about the irony of recording an 8-track interview on a digital recorder. I apologized for not bringing my micro cassette recorder instead.]

I'm of the opinion now that all formats are cool. Even, and especially, the Compact Disc  which is on the extinction list now. I'm to the point that I don't care whether their into cassettes or CDs, as long as they are into a format. And I'm not anti-downloading at all. I don't know how to do it, but I'm all for people doing it. But, at the same time, I do have a little animosity toward the mp3 'cause it's threatening the music stores.

[He jokes about how an mp3 collection is, well, not really a collection to be proud of, at least not something you can show off like a collection of vinyl. We talk about recent trends and events like the resurgence of vinyl (with download codes), cassette only labels and bands like Cheap Trick releasing 8-tracks. (And, yes, the band sent him a copy.) ]

What do you think about some of these format comebacks?
I love it; I say bring back the 78 and the wax cylinder while we're at it. And, I'm thrilled that these formats are coming back, because I spent 15 years thinking that people, no, people did hate records for about15 years. And I thought, 'Well, this is the way the world turned out and it kind of sucks.' And, for me, the death of vinyl was quite a painful thing for millions of music lovers....Now it's flipped and the album is making a real strong comeback and CDs are on their way to being considered worthless.

So, if someone, wanted to cash in all their CDs and start collecting 8-tracks, what's the first thing you recommend? Where should they start? What advise would you give?
I would recommend that they get out of my way. I will destroy them.

[Long laughs.]

Aren't there lots of shops around town that carry 8-tracks?
Oh yeah, you can always find them, but the odds of finding good titles in good condition in any kind of store now are a million to one. You'll find a lot of easy listening and country 8-tracks. But my advise, honestly....

[His phone rings again. It's another reporter. But, after the phone call, our conversation takes another turn. I ask him what he thinks about things like digital download codes with vinyl, does he feel like that's a step in the right direction for the recording industry.]
 
"The industry is finally starting to say smart things from its death bed. Some of the best words to come out of people's mouths are on their deathbed because they finally realize that it's finally time to say something that matters. And that's the music industry to me, it's on its last gasp now, and it's finally dawning on them, because they now realize that they need to be smart. And if 10 or so years ago when Napster had to go to court, and downloading became the enemy of all that was good and decent in our land....If those major labels had taken an opposite approach, and done something productive instead of suing college students for millions of dollars, then there could have been a whole different outcome. Everybody feel obligated to think, 'Oh, what do we do to save the music business?' I say watch it drown. Buh-buh-buh-bye, because it's dying by its own hands and not by progress, but by its own resistance to progress.

But, what does you see for the future, or hope to see in the future?
A balance. You may say that I am a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I foresee a future in claymation - it's always in claymation - where there's a balance, where a major label, if there are to be any, work hand in hand with the 20 year olds who are smarter than them, more inventive than them saying, 'Hey, we want to work with you so we can be apart of this.' Rather than, 'Hey, stop or we'll cut you.'

[He starts talking more about what's wrgong with the recording industry and about how he'd love to get a job advising them, for pay of course. Then he turns back to 8-tracks.]

Believe me I'm having a laugh too, I'm having a laugh that the Dallas Observer is interviewing me. Frankly, this has already gone too far. [He laughs.] I just got a call from the Wall Street Journal. This has gone waaaaaay too far, because the one thing that finally gets me taken seriously happens to be the 8-track tape. Go figure skate. Of all things"

[His phone again. More 8-track talk. The Wall Street Journal again.]

How does it feel to have your interview macked by the Wall Street Journal? Back up Street Journal, we're Observicatin'. Observicatin'. That just felt so right.

OK, but what do you hope people take away from this?
Well, they better not take my tracks. [more laughs.] I hope that when they see them on the wall people will see how cool they look, when you line up a complete set of the tapes with their matching paper jacket that says Apple Records on it, it's beautiful. Now, if you just put them haphazardly stacked on your desk next to some other crap, then they're just 8-tracks. So, I am the first to elevate them to art; artistic and historic relevance is how I want them to be perceived, and I promise that we're pulling it off. Because that's what happened at the Barry Whistler Gallery and that's what's gonna happen with this museum. So, I want to increase the awareness that these things are cool not so much that these things are worth money, and that they'll go up in value.

The 8-track is 45 years old and it's moving from collectiblity into history, so it's sorta time to start treating it with a little bit of respect, while still having a laugh. But, above all let's keep these out of the landfills, and get them out of the garages and attics and onto some nice shelves where, people could go see them in a public place so people can go, 'Wow! No wonder they invented CDs.' Or whatever, but I just want them to be shown off.

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