All Hail the Great One

Finally, Matt Labash has come back to journalism.

Every week I highlight three newsletters that are worth your time.

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Newsletter of Newsletters

1. Matt Labash

How excited am I that Matt Labash is back at the keyboard with his own newsletter?

Because Labash is—hands down—the most talented magazine writer of his generation. It’s not close.

I could give you my own Labash testimonials, but instead I’ll let him introduce himself:

For those who don’t know me (can any of us really know each other?), I spent two-and-a-half decades as a magazine journalist, eschewing the dreary sausage-making of Washington life to write  about everything from chicken-wire circuit Christian wrestlers to diabolical dirty tricksters, from crack-smoking mayors to tangelo-colored real estate developers.   My beat was the human comedy, which often passes for the human tragedy. (The two are frequently indistinguishable.)

My generous, long-suffering editors allowed me to roam the land on their tab, unearthing what they used to call “characters” (shorthand for people with personality in a town that often had none), and to write them up at ungodly lengths.  The kind of lengths most modern editors would no longer stand for unless it was a very important three-part series on how the endangered Sumatran orangutan is showing signs of gender fluidity. Not that I don’t have utmost sympathy for endangered species – I was a print journalist. Nor can I lodge convincing complaints against gender fluidity.  I did, after all, watch all six seasons of Girls.  . . .

Why are we calling this Slack Tide?  Well, you have to call it something. And my other prospective names, quite honestly, blew.  Please Subscribe seemed a tad subtle.   Matt’s Worldloaf Emporium and Lukewarm Takes were self-cancellers.   I thought about sponging unsuspecting readers by going with Christian Pornhub or Common Sense With Bari Weiss, but no healthy relationship is built on deception.

I don’t want to give you the hardest possible sell, but if you’re only going to pay for one newsletter, this is the one to splurge on. (And if you want more Labash, his anthology of profiles, Fly Fishing with Darth Vader, is amazing.1)

Go and subscribe to Matt Labash.

Right. The Fork. Now.

2. The Deleted Scenes

Addison Del Mastro writes mostly about urbanism but this piece about the zombie industry of cassette players is fantastic:

YouTuber VWestlife, who reviews new and old audio tech (lots of record and cassette stuff), and sometimes does very deep dives into the history or pedigree of a device, recently did a really interesting video on those “all-in-one music center” stereos that are sold on Amazon and in stores like Kohl’s and Bed Bath & Beyond. They look like this (spotted at a gift shop in Hawaii).

His video focuses particularly on the cassette player portion of these devices, which is almost always a perfunctory slot-loading mechanism on the side of the unit . . .

These devices, in pretty much exactly the same form as today, have been in continuous production under dozens of different brand names since at least around the year 2000. They appear, for example, in Radio Shack catalogs from those years. Similar devices, in “cathedral radio”-style cases, have been in production since the late 1980s. Virtually all of them feature this exact, obviously very low cost, cassette mechanism.

It turns out, it isn’t a recent attempt at making the absolute cheapest possible cassette player . . . According to that video, it is actually a clone of a cassette mechanism designed long ago for car cassette players by Tanashin, a Japanese company known for its low-cost audio parts.

Tanashin, however, has not made any cassette-related equipment since the late 2000s, so any modern device using one of their designs is made by a third party, based on their now-expired patents. . . .

[T]he only cassette mechanisms still in production anywhere in the world are Tanashin clones from China. That includes the mechanisms inside any boombox, shoebox recorder, or cassette deck you can find today. So I knew that—but I didn’t know that there was this even cheaper mechanism, also a Tanashin design, that somehow migrated from car stereos to the side of cheap tabletop stereos! Do you think Tanashin executives in the 1980s would ever guess their humble designs would essentially outlive the entire cassette industry?

If this doesn’t interest you, it might seem like just a random little story. I guess it is, but I think it’s also a fascinating dispatch from the weird world of global capitalism. Lots of real audio brand names end up on equipment like this—Pyle, Crosley, Emerson, even TEAC—yet the product itself is this sort of unlicensed, almost emergent thing arising out of southern China’s massive industrial ecosystem.

I can see, based on this, how counterfeit parts can end up in the supply chains even for major companies.

Absolutely fascinating. Subscribe to the Deleted Scenes.

3. Plot Spoiler

Chuck Palahniuk is on Substack now—who knew? And his newsletter is a mixture of ephemera, personal writing, and a serialized novel called Greener Pastures.

Nothing beats a good mnemonic device. In 1998 when David Fincher was shooting the film Fight Club his partner — now wife, Cean Chaffin — introduced herself. “It’s chafe-in,” she said, “like jock itch.” And I’ve never forgotten that. Similarly in Barcelona in a taxi, Michael Chabon introduced me to his wife, Ayelet Waldman. Doing so he said, “I never say my wife’s name… I yell it.” As a testament to the power of those devices I recall not just the names but the circumstances of the introductions.

My father’s parents died when he was seven so I never knew them, not even their first names. Not until a family vacation when we drove to Idaho and visited their graves. To my surprise their names were Nick and Polly. Thus their names are an almost-mnemonic device for Palahniuk. Or as we pronounce it “PAH-la-nik.” . . .

Those original Palahniuks sailed from Bremen aboard the S.S. Saturnia, arriving in Quebec. They received their U.S. citizenship in Ukrainia, North Dakota in 1916. Born in 1939, my father tried to shed some letters from the family name, shortening it to “Palanik,”1 but when he enlisted in the Navy in the late 50s the government dug up his history and made him change the spelling back to match immigration records.

My dad’s small victory was that his first name, Frederick, was originally spelled “Frydryck.” We take our wins where we can.

Subscribe to Plot Spoiler.

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I have many funny stories about life with Matt Labash, and if you do me a solid and subscribe to Slack Tide, I’ll share some with you in the coming weeks. Like the time I was his wingman as he button-holed Christie Brinkley at the White House Correspondents Dinner.