Longform

More Than 20 Years After Their Death, Eight-Tracks Are Resurrected In Dallas.

Before 1988, Bucks Burnett didn't consider eight-track tapes particularly significant. Sure, he managed the eight-track section of the long-defunct Peaches Records on Lemmon Avenue in the late '70s and early '80s, but he didn't own any eight-tracks—not a single one.

To him, it was just another format, another means to hear the popular music of the time. In those days, he didn't see these tapes the way he does now—as the format that made music portable, a format directly tied to the American car culture of the '60s and '70s, historical artifacts that stand as perfect signs of their time.

Developed throughout the '50s and '60s by Bill Lear, the same man behind the Lear Jet, eight-track technology was thought to be monumental. By recording music onto magnetic tape that could retain two separate tracks at once and be played back in stereo, the eight-track opened the music world up to a slew of possibilities—most important, perhaps, being that their continuous loops meant that they never stopped playing; listeners could pop cartridges into their players and hear music for hours at a time.

But, by 1982, the major labels started phasing the technology out of record shops, replacing them with the far more cheaply produced cassette tapes that reigned so supremely over the '80s and early '90s. Few cried foul. The eight-track's time, it seemed, had simply come and gone.

Just before they became the distant memory that they are today, Burnett finally gave in and, on a whim, bought his first eight-track in 1988—the very year the format stopped being mass-produced by major labels. He was drawn in by a single cartridge—the Beatles' white album—not planning to start the collection of tapes he boasts today.

Now, the format consumes his life. Since March of last year, Burnett has been working diligently toward a vision that will come to fruition on February 14, when he opens his Eight-Track Museum in Deep Ellum. It's the first of its kind.

In the world.

And that's kind of a big deal.

At the moment, though, Burnett's museum is kind of a small deal. Housed within three separate rooms in the Deep Ellum Foundation building on Commerce Street, right next to the Tex-Mex restaurant Sol's Taco Lounge, his museum shares space with the offices of various small businesses. As such, it doesn't really feel like a museum. It feels like the office building that it is.

Burnett, to his credit, has done what he can to change that feeling. He's painted the walls, he's furnished them with shelves and he's covered them with the bulk of his eight-track collection—one that checks in at maybe 3,000 tapes or so.

"Which is a small collection, by the way," says Burnett, milling about the largest of his museum's rooms—its permanent exhibit space, he calls it—and showcasing the rarest tracks in his collection, which are highlighted by the complete Beatles eight-track catalog.

The rest of the room is more a work in progress. The near wall hosts Burnett's collection of other long-forgotten music formats—wax cylinders, four-tracks, circular eight-track cartridges. The far wall is more of a catch-all, shelves hosting an alphabetized display of the rest of his eight-track collection. The fourth wall, meanwhile, shows more disarray. Though its face remains bare, the floor in front of it is covered in boxes—boxes also filled with eight-tracks. The disorganized appearance is not unlike that given off by Burnett himself, a somewhat shabby-looking bearded man whose shoulder-length hair has started graying, except for where he's colored it with splotches of purple.

He still needs time to properly prepare the room, he says. But that's OK by him: "I'm going to spend the rest of my life, or at least the rest of the museum's life, curating this space," Burnett says of the museum, which after a soft opening on Christmas Day, will earn its formal introduction this week.

Burnett knows that the general public might think what he's doing—opening a museum for a music format that stopped being mass-produced decades ago—is a bit off.

But, oddly enough, Burnett isn't the sole eight-track proponent in the region. Joining him are two other local players. There's Nathan Brown, a 37-year-old Fort Worth resident who runs an eight-track label called Dead Media. And there are Arlington's Kathy and Dan Gibson, who not only run an online eight-track store called Kate's Track Shack, but who handle all facets of eight-track cartridge repairs and who have also launched their own successful eight-track production house, called KTS Productions.

If only on the strength of these three entities' efforts, Dallas-Fort Worth has indisputably, and rather inexplicably, become the modern-day eight-track hub of the world.

Even while admitting eight-track is not his preferred format for listening to music, Burnett argues in favor of the format's merits—not because eight-tracks were necessarily so great, but because, for a time, they were believed to be. That's an important reveal, since, to hear Burnett tell it, his museum is just the start of a grander plan at play. The Eight-Track Museum, he says, is his first step to make sure the world doesn't forget any format through which music has ever been distributed.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman

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