Old Tapes Revive Childhood Memories

Documentary filmmaker Keva Rosenfeld found an old box of reel-to-reel audio tapes from his childhood. Listening to them, he also found clues of how and why he became who he is today. This piece originally aired in May 2007.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

(Soundbite of NPR's Day to Day, May 21, 2007)

Mr. KEVA ROSENFELD (Documentary Filmmaker): I was cleaning out my parents' house after they died, and I found a box of quarter-inch tapes, all sorts of tapes. I had no idea what was on them.

BRAND: That's documentary filmmaker Keva Rosenfeld. We are re-airing a story he did for us nearly two years ago. It's about his parents, his childhood and a collection of old reel-to-reel audio tapes. He calls his story "Sound Evidence."

(Soundbite of NPR's Day to Day, May 21, 2007)

(Soundbite of muffled tape recording)

Mr. ROSENFELD: They were recorded and rerecorded over and over again, often with layers of previous sound still there. The one thing that was consistent: music.

(Soundbite of song "If You Are but a Dream")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) If you are but a dream I hope I never waken...

Mr. ROSENFELD: My parents used their reel-to-reel machine to record off records and radio. When cassettes came in, these recordings were packed away and never played again, lost, really, until I found them in the rafters in their garage.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ROSENFELD: I went through 15 hours of these tapes, hoping to unearth something that would illuminate something, something about me. And there was a lot of me to listen to.

(Soundbite of rewinding audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) Oh, we have a very good program today.

Hi, this is tape, I think, two. Testing.

Mr. ROSENFELD: I don't remember making these tapes, but I recorded all sorts of mundane stuff.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) I'm going to sign off for now because we're going to go swimming.

Just came back from going swimming.

Mr. ROSENFELD: Maybe as a way of making family life less boring, I'd secretly mic my sister.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) OK. Rachel found anything to play with in her - in the bath tub and we're going to record it. She doesn't know it's going to be recorded. So, here it is.

(Soundbite of bubbles blown under water)

Ms. RACHEL ROSENFELD: All the way in California, can you hear me?

Mr. ROSENFELD: Tapes of relatives from the East Coast would arrive in the mail. We'd listen and then record another tape to send back.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) They're antiquing the cabinets. They make it look antique-able(ph).

Ms. ROSENFELD: Now, Dina(ph) is going to play on the piano two of (unintelligible) "Six Miniatures."

(Soundbite of playing piano)

Mr. ROSENFELD: Before texting and nationwide roaming, there was long-distance phone calls, and they were expensive. This was the alternative.

(Soundbite of playing piano)

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) Hi again, this is Keva Rosenfeld, station K-E-V-A.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ROSENFELD: Hearing myself is a little embarrassing. Even back then, I was self-conscious about my voice. So, I must've record this not to hear myself, but as a way of capturing something for someone else or for the future.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) OK, this is an interview that I'm going to ask Rachel. Rachel, what's your name?

Ms. ROSENFELD: Rachel.

Mr. ROSENFELD: I interviewed my little sister then in kindergarten. I couldn't have known this then, but now I see that I used her as my tool as a way of trying to develop some interviewing skills.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) Do you have a big bedroom?

Ms. ROSENFELD: Yeah.

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) Do you know how to color?

Ms. ROSENFELD: Yeah.

Mr. ROSENFELD: Given this as a start, it's surprising that I was able to build a career directing documentaries.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) Do you color outside the lines?

Ms. ROSENFELD: No.

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) OK. That is our interview, folks. So, thank you for listening. And now for some music, "Three Blind Mice."

Ms. ROSENFELD: (Singing) Three blind mice, see how they run...

Mr. ROSENFELD: So, how much of who I am started here? Did maturing really do anything to me besides change my voice?

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) Hi. This is me again, Keva. And I just came back from school, and I have to tell you what's happening in school because it's about the teachers' strike in L.A.

Mr. ROSENFELD: On this tape, I heard the beginnings of my political awareness and my understanding of television.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) And we're going to record the news on the strike, and they'll have a demonstration.

Here it is, Van Nuys.

(Soundbite of news broadcast)

Unidentified Reporter #1: Birmingham High held a rally...

Mr. ROSENFELD: I sympathized with the teachers, but I was more interested in the media coverage.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Unidentified Man #1: What do your mom and dad think about this?

Unidentified Man #2: They are marching.

Mr. ROSENFELD: In my media coverage.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: Hey, I'm right in back of them.

Unidentified Reporter #2: Lay-offs caused by the walkouts are spreading.

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) Well, that was it, and they showed Birmingham, they showed Balboa Park, and they showed me, too.

Here's Jerry Rubin. He was at UCLA today.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. JERRY RUBIN (Political Activist): That's why the UC program has open to up every jail. Free the teachers and jail the judges.

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) Well, hi. There's lot more news on how the cutbacks and all of the teachers' strike and the Berkeley riots and everything like that, but I don't want to waste your time, so we'll just get back to good old taping.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Unidentified Woman: One, two, three, four.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: All right, all right. Stop. Stop. Stop. All right, now, go.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ROSENFELD: I don't remember much about being in a band. We never performed, and we only practiced a few times. But I recorded it. I played the drums.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ROSENFELD: This is our long lost garage session. Thankfully, it's our only recording. (Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Unidentified Man #3: Shut up.

Mr. ROSENFELD: Like many rock groups, there was conflict and tension, and we had that right from the start.

Unidentified Man #4: Shut up! We're trying to get this done.

Mr. ROSENFELD: Even before we laid down the vocals, the bass player quit.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Unidentified Man #5: You guys are too bad.

(Soundbite of cymbal)

Mr. ROSENFELD: Our band broke up.

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) And now, we will have intermission. Ready?

Ms. ROSENFELD: Go.

(Soundbite of song "Shave and a Haircut")

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) If you get sick of this tape, all you have to do is fast forward it or rewind it and just freak out on the spinning wheel.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ROSENFELD: These tapes triggered all sorts of questions that were impossible to imagine when I was a boy. Where did this need-to-chronicle gene come from? Why didn't my siblings interview each other or record news off the TV set? And why am I still doing this sort of thing? Then I wonder this: When I'm older, what questions will I have hearing this voice right now? Will what I say right here help me understand who I will have become then?

(Soundbite of song "If You Are but a Dream")

Mr. SINATRA: (Singing) If you're a fantasy...

(Soundbite of reel-to-reel audio tape)

Mr. ROSENFELD: (As a child) And that's about all for now.

Say goodbye to the audience.

Ms. ROSENFELD: Goodbye, auduments(ph). I hope you have a nice day today. Goodbye. Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "If You Are but a Dream)

Mr. SINATRA: (Singing) I hope I never wake up If you are but a dream...

BRAND: That story from filmmaker Keva Rosenfeld originally aired on Day to Day in May 2007.

(Soundbite of song "If You Are but a Dream")

Mr. SINATRA: (Singing) If our romance should break up I hope I never wake up If you are but a dream...

BRAND: NPR's Day to Day continues.

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