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VHS Time Capsule

I have six hours of MTV footage from the day that Kurt Cobain died.  I had been out picking up these watercolours that I special ordered at the university bookstore, and when I walked into the apartment, my roommates gave me the news of his suicide.  We watched MTV continuously for the rest of the afternoon and evening, and at some point, I decided to put a new tape in the VCR and let it record until it ran out of tape.

Every so often, I hook two VCRs together and make copies of this tape for other people.  It has every Nirvana video, Kurt Loder grimly reporting the news.  Every so often, when I am feeling most sentimental, I put it on and watch it alone if I can’t rope Josh into a few hours of it.

We have two or three boxes in the basement filled with VHS tapes.  I didn’t mean to create these time capsules.  Most of the time, I simply recorded something because I wanted to see it later.  And then time passed and I recorded something after it without erasing the first thing and now I couldn’t erase the first thing until I saw the second.  Once the tapes filled in this manner, I started a new one.

So we have random old Thirtysomething episodes.  And probably 20 or so Real World episodes.  We have every episode of My So-Called Life — out of order.  Probably 4 hours worth of The State.  I have snippets from the Tony Awards and made-for-tv movies and news footage of random events.  I have Family Ties and the Facts of Life and several Party of Five.

I probably can’t reuse the tapes at this points and I don’t watch them very often (though I have been known when Josh is out of town to slip in a tape or two).  But I also find myself unable to part with them.  With few exceptions, those recordings meant something to me at the time.  And if they didn’t mean something to me then, they mean something to me now because they’re a time capsule of that era in my life.  I can’t imagine throwing them out any more than I could toss old photographs.

What specific television episode or footage do you wish you had on VHS tape right now and could watch again?  Who know… I may have it in my basement.

If I could see anything, it would be the Family Ties episode where Alex Keaton’s friend dies and he sings  “Light My Fire.”  I remember it being the perfect piece of television drama for invoking a good cry when you need one.  But I haven’t seen it in many years.


1 a { 02.20.11 at 8:44 am }

We just got rid of a collection of VHS tapes…and now that I think about it, I hope that I didn’t get rid of the tape with the alternate ending to True Romance. BTW, did you know that there were 2 endings to True Romance? Neither did I, until I was discussing the movie with a friend and mentioned one scene that I liked, and she had seen an entirely different scene at the end of the movie. Life was good when my parents had HBO.

2 Rachel { 02.20.11 at 8:51 am }

Get thee a DVD converter!

I would want the first couple seasons of the show Sisters. And the Bears Super Bowl XX victory.

3 Mer { 02.20.11 at 9:16 am }

There’s a new channel called HUB, at least on the Comcast cable offerings in the Philly area, that regularly shows Family Ties (I love that show still). Perhaps you get it too and can keep an eye out for that episode?

4 Delenn { 02.20.11 at 9:40 am }

I have a similar VHS time capsules. I have videos of Lois & Clark, the Shakespeare episode of Moonlighting, all sorts of episodes etc.

5 C { 02.20.11 at 10:04 am }

the Cosby show…loved it growing up and I can’t help but watch it when its on reruns.

6 Esperanza { 02.20.11 at 10:38 am }

I had pretty much every episode of the x-Files on tape, with hilarious titles to each one like, Ice Cave Worm in Ear, or Circus Freaks Puzzle Tatoo (such a good one!) I finally gave them all away when I bought them on DVD, but what really made those treasures were the commercials! Classic! I had many other shows on tape, but none so extensively.

PS I just got The State on DVD – it totally holds up!

7 Julie { 02.20.11 at 10:57 am }

thanks for this walk down memory lane! i, too, remember spending all afternoon in my dorm room w/ my suitemates watching mtv’s coverage of kurt cobain’s suicide. we also watched every episode of my so-called life the one season it was on, and were heartbroken when it was canceled. after losing my son last spring, i spent much of the summer in a non-productive funk (i am a teacher, and not having any real routine at that time was not good for me – the only summer ever, i guess) and my one refuge from my grief was watching 21 jumpstreet on netflix. i watched almost the entire show, but just as when it was really on, after booker left i lost interest. johnny depp left the show soon after that, too. i think the show i am most sentimental for now is friends – the early seasons when i was in college and it was a must-see. (and wasn’t it called “must-see tv”?!

8 Rebecca { 02.20.11 at 1:22 pm }

I have something similar to you – in August 1998 the Manic Street Preachers released a single and the whole day on some music channel was given over to them – videos, interviews, live footage, etc. I have 8 hours of it. I should really watch it again some day 🙂

9 Rebecca { 02.20.11 at 2:12 pm }

I also LOVED My So Called Life! The Cosby show was another good one!

10 MrsH { 02.20.11 at 2:12 pm }

I am still somewhat addicted to MASH. I used to love Hawkeye. I got it on DVD though and let the tapes go.

11 Erica { 02.20.11 at 3:05 pm }

I sometimes miss Mad About You. A colleague and I were talking about how it used to seem like college-aged women were dressing Helen Hunt and now it seems like they’re trying for Britney Spears or Fergie.

Mad About You had a Ferberizing episode that wan’t my favorite & struck me as really sad at the time, but I would like to see it again if only because sleep issues hardly ever seem to show up on tv except as a joke.

12 loribeth { 02.20.11 at 5:01 pm }

I used to tape a lot of stuff too (& before there was VHS, when I was a kid, we actually used to tape shows with a cassette tape recorder & then listen to the soundtrack!). I had hours & hours worth of figure skating competitions taped that I eventually just chucked out, but I still have a bunch of VHS tapes in my basement — some movies, some A&E biographies, some skating specials.

I sometimes used to think it would be great to go back & be able to see this or that particular skating routine again… and then I discovered YouTube. It’s AMAZING what is on there!

I can’t think of a particular TV show episode I would want to see again. So many of them are on DVD these days, if I really want to find it, it’s probably out there.

13 TasIVFer { 02.20.11 at 8:52 pm }

I think I need a highlights ‘reel’ of the 90’s. I spent most of the decade in non-English speaking countries – and as a student so I was too poor for a tele – so it’s like I have a huge whole in my cultural literacy. For most people my age they experienced Kurt Cobain’s death. They knew his music before he died and felt a loss. For me, I experience him just like Marilyn Monroe: I got the news all at once. I learned who he was and that he was dead all at the same time. Oh, and that Al Yankovic had an awesome parody called ‘Smells Like Nirvana’. It’s tainted every song or video I’ve ever heard of him.

So that’s what I need; my gaps filled in! I can only get so much be obsessively listening to Weird Al (not that I’ll stop!).

14 marilyn { 02.21.11 at 12:01 am }

This is great!! I was not a fan Nirvana when he was alive, but 8 years ago my husband had me listen to his unplugged cd. Amazing. We lost a great artist. Hmm , a show I would love to see…my husband just said night rider. Oh please I hope you do not have that!! lol

15 Kristin { 02.21.11 at 3:22 am }

OMG, we have a huge freaking box of video tapes up in the attic. I need to get a hold of a VCR to dvd converter cause our last VCR dies years ago.

16 Miriam { 02.21.11 at 4:27 am }

Thats what kids are for! I’m reliving my childhood through them. LOL I bought them She-Ra dolls, *real* My Little Pony and Barbies from the 80s. We just watched Rainbow Brite, too. Every so often I remember something else and calculate how much longer until I can introduce them to it.

My husband doesn’t get it.

17 KIr { 02.21.11 at 7:15 am }

that was a walk down memory lane.
and I got rid of a lot of VHS tapes about 3 yrs ago..I kept our wedding video and hope to get that on DVD. Not that I watch it. LOL

I think I’d like to see the Royal Wedding of Princess Diana again..and the days after her death. We watched that non stop when I was finally a senior a college.
and I love the final episode of Mash. I think I could watch that again or the Friends where Chandler asks Monica to marry him.

18 Sarah { 02.21.11 at 8:19 am }

I love this! I am sure I have random episodes of shows I loved taped because I was the queen of recording, but I must admit that we no longer even have a VHS player, so they are now lost in time 🙂


19 Carla { 02.21.11 at 8:56 am }

Oh my, I’m going to have to start making a list now and collecting old episodes. I’d have to go with Mash and Family Ties also, especially the one where the parents go out of town for a weekend and the kids turn the house into a Bed and Breakfast (due to the money they could make over a big football weekend). I can’t even remember what was so funny about that one, but I do remember laughing so hard my sides hurt!

20 Gail { 02.21.11 at 10:22 am }

I’d like to see the news from the day the Berlin Wall came down and the nonstop concerts that took place. I’d like to see other history-making newscasts, but that’s about it. I really don’t need to see old TV shows and the ones that I do want to see, we own on DVD.

Sadly, our VCR only plays things and doesn’t rewind or fast forward. We converted our home movies and wedding and things like that onto DVDs a few years ago and just need to get rid of the VCR.

21 Chickenpig { 02.21.11 at 10:38 am }

I’m with Gail. My friends and I were glued to the tube when the Wall came down. That and when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison.

I saw the Mad About You episode with the sleep training, and even at the time long before children I knew it was bullshit. Ferber does NOT tell parents to go cold turkey like that. You sooth the child every 10 minutes in a deadpan voice, lay them back down, say good night. It is sleep training, not torture. That show was torture.

22 MommyOdyssey { 02.21.11 at 10:59 am }

a) I want all of your tapes! Seriously! I spent the day in the exact same way you did. I still remember those shots of fans gathering around the house and CL reading out his note…
I wouldn’t say no to My So Called Life either.
b) my dream VHS tape would be a compilation of the first two seasons of “Picket Fences” , Old episodes of “Remote Control”, And every wayne’s world sketch on SNL ever.
c) You should really considering transferring those tapes onto DVD! I fear for them! 🙂

23 Julia { 02.21.11 at 11:13 am }

Oh my goodness! What memories just came flooding back to me! I was in high school. Wore the flannel. Loved Nirvana. Remember where I was when I heard Kurt died. I would, also, add old SNL skits. Back when SNL was funny–Coffee Talk, Wayne’s World, Daily Affirmations with Stewart Smalley, etc.

24 Kira { 02.21.11 at 2:05 pm }

This is going to sounds really silly…. but the original X-Men cartoon. I actually at one point paid for VHS copies a guy and made from his TV… but after the first couple of episodes the quality goes to crap. And at this point I don’t even own a VHS player…. Oh, and the movie “Dark Horse” You can still get it on Amazon on VHS, but only VHS and I can’t decide what would be involved with buying the VHS and having it converted to a DVD so I could watch it… I keep thinking it must be really expensive so I don’t do it but it’s probably not very expensive…. and finally, the TV shows “Blossom” and “Saved By The Bell”. I loved those shows as a kid. I’m sure if I was to watch them today I would be shocked at it’s corniness, but it would also be really cool. I would just have to make sure Scott wasn’t home to make fun of me.

25 Mrs.A { 02.21.11 at 2:54 pm }

I would love to start my own time capsule…..I think I just might. :o)

I would have loved to record every New Year’s In NY!!! I would have really enjoyed watching them back!

26 Rochelle { 02.21.11 at 4:50 pm }

My mother recorded a few days worth of coverage when Princess Diana died and I remember stumbling across it and being hooked. Like I watched through 3 or 4 tapes over the course of a day and just cried at the emotion that people were showing. It’s a bizarre memory. And since my mother is a hoarder, I know she still has them.

27 Maria { 02.21.11 at 5:14 pm }

I would have to have every single episode of What’s Happening. I was absolutely addicted to that show as a kid and recently saw the actress who played the mom in a movie wearing the exact same necklace that she wore in every episode of What’s Happening. Warmed my heart. 🙂

28 Mrs. Gamgee { 02.21.11 at 10:03 pm }

I had several tapes filled with every mention of New Kids on the Block I was able to catch. Appearances on Entertainment Tonight, Arsenio Hall, and video after video. I was such a geek, I even had a catalogue of where each clip was on each tape.

If I could have one thing on tape to watch right now, I would love to see the men’s figure skating competition from the Nagano olympics (’98 I think?). It was the event where Elvis Stojko was at the top of his game and was poised to win gold… but then he got hurt. I remember bawling watching him try to finish his long program.

(I never said I was cool…)

29 Sian { 02.22.11 at 6:55 am }

I also had lots of old VHS’s but threw them away. Except of course for my family videos which I want to put on DVD – I think I’ll delete the bit of me doing a Madonna impression though.

30 Bionic Baby Mama { 02.22.11 at 10:25 am }

a sideways answer: i never understood the point of espn classics — the channel that shows old games — until i saw an game i remembered very clearly. it was a duke/unc basketball game from when i was in high school. i was a duke fan, largely because my dad and my best friend and everyone else i knew at the age such things are set were carolina fans, and well, that’s how i am sometimes.

this game was at duke, and duke lost. it was horrible. coach k was out with a back injury, and the team was a mess without him. and then they lost to their biggest rival at home — it was all so unjust. to have lost fair and square would have been bad enough, but it was so clear that they needed their coach. the whole experience was heart-rending.

but seeing the game 10 or 15 years later was so different. i knew that coach k had recovered and returned, that future seasons had been better, that this wasn’t the beginning of the end. and you know what? it was a beautiful game. both teams played well; carolina just played better. i couldn’t believe how much i loved watching it.

so i guess what i’ll take is the duke seasons of my middle and high school years, when i spent the most time watching. i’ll take the famous buzzer-beater win over kentucky — i can still see that shot in my head — but i’ll take the horrifying losses (to arizona, the first non-acc team i remember seeing beat them; to kansas with that awful forward with the black hair), too. although i still might not be recovered enough to watch unlv clobber them in the ncaa again….

31 Jen { 02.22.11 at 1:28 pm }

I have a huge stash of HVS myself. I have a very large collection of figure skating competitions and exhibitions (more tapes that I am willing to admit), the final episode of Friends, quite possibly the final episode of Cheers, and some anniversary episodes of Days of Our Lives. My brother-in-law got a converter for Christmas this year. I may just have to commandeer it.

32 myinfertilitywoes { 02.27.11 at 7:05 am }

What a cool post and the comments brought back memories… for a few years now I’ve been saying I need to convert my VHS tapes into DVDs but it seems silly. I have the last episode of Friends, I have some Mad About You shows, and Party of Five too!!!

And what an amazing story that someone got you the Family Ties DVD of the episode you wanted. That was so touching! I recently had gone back and ordered the Family Ties series on netflix and so much enjoyed it! I think that show, over any other, really brings me back to my childhood with people I can really identify with!

33 Brian { 03.15.11 at 2:34 am }

I was a huge fan of Days of our Lives throughout the 90’s and taped it every day while at high school and college. Luckily I kept these tapes all these years and have located hundreds of them in the basement and started transferring to dvd. Too bad stuff like this isn’t available on commercial dvd though. Ah, I really miss the 90s sometimes.

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