Bill’s Tapes 1984-85

Kids

Im posting this here since I don’t have all of your email addresses and I thought it best to keep the story together so I don’t have to repeat it several times! 🙂

These recordings are almost 30 years old and are a look back into time for all of us.

Over the years, there have been times in my life where I’ve told various people stories about Bill “the old guy down the street”.  A unanimous reaction for most people is to look at it through jaded eyes of a society not used to a single man who invites neighborhood kids over to his house to eat salt covered pizza, brownies, play with his dog, and record them on audio cassette.  It’s kind of sad that in this world, if there happens to be a nice person who just likes kids and wants to give them a safe place to hang out, they’d be looked at with these same jaded eyes.  Eyes used to seeing the sickos and weirdos of the world.

In reality, Bill was a nice guy who just wanted to give us a fun place to hang out after school and on weekends.  I have nothing but the best memories of those days, and there isn’t a day that goes by that some part of me wonders what happened to him.

Kids these days will never know the fascination we all had recording ourselves, singing, screaming, and playing around and then getting to hear our own voices played back through a stereo.  I remember the times when Bill got out his stereo with the twin microphones as some of the best memories I had at his house.

I doubt that hearing these recordings almost 30 years in the future was in Bill’s head when he was recording these tapes.  Frankly, listening to them now, trying to catalog them, I don’t know how he put up with all of our screaming and nonsensical rambling!  It was all innocent fun, but boy, were we loud! 🙂

So you’re probably asking, Mike where the heck did you get these from, and why now?  The story of how I got these tapes, goes back about 15 years ago.  I can’t remember the exact year, but it was a couple of years after Bill disappeared for the second time.  His house was quiet for a couple of years, and one day I was walking around our block, and I saw some activity at Bill’s house.  There were several people there that I didn’t recognize throwing stuff out into a dumpster.  I walked up to a lady and I introduced myself as a friend of Bill’s and asked if she wouldn’t mind letting me in his house to get a few things.  It was then that she recognized me as Michael.  The lady was Bill’s niece Sandy.  I don’t believe I had ever met her before that day, but she recognized me from all of the pictures he had of all of us in his house.

I went into his house with two things in mind.  The first, was the picture at the top of this post.  He had it taped to the side of his fridge in the Kitchen (near the touch sensitive Jolly Green Giant lamp).  The second were these tapes.  I knew where he had kept them.  On a shelf in his laundry room, next to some other religious tapes.  Even to this very day, I can close my eyes and picture almost every nook and cranny of that house.  Above the shelf with these tapes was something Bill wrote on the wall that said “Without God, Man is Nothing, without Man, God is still God”.

Looking back, I wish I would have lingered around more and grabbed a few other memories, but I didn’t.  I walked back upstairs (past the two-piece half door that led to the basement) and thanked Sandy for letting me in and I told her that I was able to find what I was looking for.

I’m not sure what I had planned to do with those tapes back then, but I figured one day I would listen to and share them.

Well, time has a funny way of getting away from you, and those tapes got put into a box somewhere in my house for another couple of years.  Then, in 2006, I moved to Steger and at that time, the tapes turned up again.  Around this time, I had planned on converting the tapes to digital audio and sharing them.  Once again, life got in the way, and those tapes ended up in another box in my attic.

Its now 2014, and last weekend, I had to go up into the attic to get some stuff down for Beth, and while I was up there, I opened a box to look for something, and there they were.  Both tapes staring back at me.

I began to wonder if the tapes were even any good anymore.  Analog cassette tape does not last forever.  Over time, recordings can become lost due to stray magnetism, or the tape itself could become brittle and break.

I figured I’ll never know if I don’t try, and if I keep waiting, another 10 years could go by and it might be too late.

So I pulled the tapes out and got my USB Cassette Recorder that I had in my “gadget closet” and began the long process of digitally capturing and then converting it to PC.

To my surprise, the tapes held up really well.  There was a loud “hiss” that permeated the recordings, but most everything sounded pretty clear.  There were two tapes, with each side being 45 minutes.  I captured all four 45 minute sides to four MP3 files and then used a program called Audacity to digitally apply some Noise Reduction and some amplification presets to make the audio a little louder and easier to hear.  I did the best I could with the source material to make it sound as good as possible and I have to say, it came out pretty good.  If you can listen to these with headphones and many times you can hear one of us in the left channel and someone else in the right.

The long part was listening to each 45 minute recording and splitting it up into smaller tracks.  The tapes turned out to be duplicates from an original tape.  I’m sure those original tapes are long lost, and I am pretty sure there were a lot more recordings than what I have on these two cassettes, but still, this is a lot.  The tapes themselves were not dated, but listening to the tracks, we often would say the date at some point while we were talking, so that made it easy to date some of the tracks.

Some of the audio on the tape was actually duplicated, and Side B of the second tape was in really bad shape, so I don’t have exactly 180 minutes worth of stuff, but what I do have here is almost everything that was usable.

I tried to be descriptive of whats on each track and put it in the title of the MP3.  If there is a date mentioned in the recording, I included it, and I tried to include the names of everyone in each recording.  There are a few times where I can’t tell (mostly because we scream so much!)

So here you go, a window to all of our pasts.  A little under two and a half hours worth of recordings of us being kids.  Doing what kids do, and having so much fun.  We were all oblivious to the fact that years later, the friend that Bill was to us would be looked at with suspicion by others.  It was a time that we all shared together and a time that hopefully has stuck with all of you over the years.

Let me know if you have any problems getting the audio to play, or if you want copies for yourselves.

Listen to Bill’s Tapes 1984 – 1985

-Mike

3 Comments

  1. Nicole (pretty sure everyone called me Nickie)

    Tif and I had a unique view of Bill, in the fact that we lived right next door. I especially spent a lot of time with him usually in his driveway or in the garage after school. I remember telling him that I was going to go home to get some gum and when I came back he would have rode off on his motorcycle.

    I remember the player piano too and the Jolly Green Giant for sure!

    I remember him being a wonderful friend to me. And wish as I got older that I had just 10% of the sentimentality that Tif has to keep in touch with him.

    I learned as I got older, from my dad, that Bill had a few really dark times while we lived next door. And I also learned what a great neighbor and friend my dad was to him, he saved Bil’s life one day. Even though Bill had some dark times I know that Bill appreciated having us kids around why else would he have put up with us screaming and carrying on like we did.

    It is too bad that my own kids will never have a Bill Wilson because as you say the world just doesn’t allow that anymore. It brings tears to my eyes to know that you actually got that picture off of his fridge. He kept it there all those years. That is amazing, he was a truly unique and wondering individual.

  2. I dont think I ever realized how much of a friend your dad was to him. He must have been really bummed when you guys moved away. Part of me wants to know more about what happened, but another part of me wants to just remember him how we knew him as kids.

    He disappeared twice. I think I was in 6th grade when he “came back” and by then we were a little older, but my sister was old enough to remember going over there. She actually does have some memories of Bill too, just not like we do. He had a stroke, and he walked with a limp. He couldn’t ride his motorcycles anymore, but other than that, he seemed like the same old Bill. Nicky died and he got another poodle that he named Nicky II. The first Nicky was white, the second one was black.

    I can’t remember how long after that before he disappeared again, but I was probably in high school by then. There was a long period of time in between the last time I saw him and when I went inside his house to get those tapes.

    Sad story, I wish I knew more. To be honest, I never knew for sure if or when he even died. When I was there that last time, his niece told me he was moved to assisted living. I know he was born in 1939, so in theory, if he was still alive today, he’d be 74 years old right now.

    A couple of years back I did some ancestry searches to build a family tree for my family and I tried to find information about him. His first name isnt really Bill, it was Bryant. His middle initial was W. I dont know what the W stands for, but since we called him ‘Bill’, its plausible it stood for William. In any case, other than him living at that house in Chicago Heights, I never found any further information about him.

  3. I think I was one of the last people to actually see Bill. I was 19 I believe and I had ridden over there on my KZ 1000 to show him. It did bring a smile to his face. We actually sat upstairs in the “green room” and chatted for an hour or two. The details are very fuzzy as that was now a pretty long time ago. But I remember the visit being a good one. Bill’s health however had been going downhill. I was able to say thanks for the fun and rode off. I went back about a year later I believe but he was gone by then. Know this though. he loved the kids more than life. And most of you knew him a lot better than I did. He loved all of you very much.

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