Y9 Review - Wine Reviews by Wine Critic John Turi
Night Train Express

Night Train Express, 2019

During my rebellious punk rock teenage years, I was considered by some of my friends the Ed Wood of mixed tapes. Armed with a Pioneer turntable, a Kenwood dual cassette tape deck, a Marantz receiver, and a JVC VCR, secluded in my bedroom, I would sit alone for hours, and on double-sided cassette tapes, I would meld together a collage of songs that were Grammy worthy. At least that was the consensus among many of my classmates as well as that of some of the beautiful strangers I would meet along the way. It was not uncommon to cross paths with someone who I’d learned was in possession of one of my tapes. Either one of my original recorded tapes or one that a friend had duped from one of my originals, which could have been 3 or 4 or 5 generations back. The more often this happened, the more I realized I was onto something.

Pre Napster, Spotify, and Pandora… that’s how it was back then. If someone had a mixed tape they really liked and knew how to make a copy, they would. Then they’d give their copies away (a la 2nd generation) to people who they knew would be into it or maybe to someone they wanted to sleep with. As these things go, the more people who liked it meant that more people would dupe it, and the more people who heard it meant that more people would share it. My tapes were like that. Word would get out, “Hey, have you heard Turi’s tape?” and it would make the rounds in high school, but due to the lack of ‘originals’ I made, it was inevitable that before long, the tapes circulating would be of a later and later and later generation. They were still a Grammy worthy compilation, even if quality wise they didn’t hold up to that first iteration. But regardless, they spread like fire and like I said, that’s how it was if you had a hot one and I had a lot of them.

For the most part, I would only make one copy of my mixes. It would be for the person who inspired it, usually a cute girl I was trying to get with, and the tape went into a box for safekeeping. Those were the ‘Masters’. There was only ever one master, one original and, therefore, the only 1st generation (*Gen. 1. More on that later). Unfortunately, being a lazy kid, if I was in a hurry, and someone wanted the Surf Mix of 1983, and I didn’t feel like sitting around while the dual deck recorded from the master, I’d just give them the master, in hopes of getting it back, which I never did. Oh, the perils of sloth.

My mixtape creations usually went something like this.

Boy meets girl.

Boy flirts with girl.

Girl flirts back with boy.

Girl talks to her friends who talk to Boy’s friends say something like…

my friend likes your friend, and she hopes he likes her too.

And so it would begin as nearly all art does. It was that easy, and it was that inspired. Having no idea what her musical taste or life interests were, I would take it upon myself to put together a collection of music, sound bites, and things I thought she might love or things I hoped she’d love. Things that were inspired by her or that thought might move her. I hoped that it would leave her completely spellbound, that she would fall madly in love with me, and my life would be joyous and… happily ever after.

So there I was, alone in my room. I would scour through my plethora of LPs, tapes, soundtracks, movie scores, and movies themselves. Then I would start the sorting process, deciding, “Yes! Ohhh, this one for sure!” or “No! I’ve used this one way too many times.” As I began to narrow down my selection, I would pay very close attention to what I could actually fit on a 60 minute Maxell cassette tape. That meant 30-min per side, and there was a lot I wanted to convey to the soon-to-be recipient of said tape, so I would make my selections wisely. When the final songs, music, tracks, bites were finally made, I would place the LP on the turntable, cut it to the chosen song track, then hit record on the cassette player and lower the needled onto the vinyl at that same exact moment. It was an art, and it still is for anyone who has continued the ritual.

Within in tape case was something they called a J-Card. It was created in the fashion of an index card. It was a firm, smooth semi-gloss paper, lined on both sides, completely blank on the spine, and it fits into the mold of the case perfectly. This is where things got even more personal. The inside of the J-Card was the index. This is where the list of songs would be written for the recipient. On the first line, I would write the name of the first song. This was a crucial part of the process, and as you only got one J-Card with each tape, it was imperative that you get it right! If you screwed it up… if you smeared the ink or messed up the spelling, if you wrote a song in the wrong order, UGH! It was the worst! It was an arduous painstaking process, but oh, it was so worth it. So, when song one ended, I would hit pause on the tape player, carefully write the name of the first song on the J-Card, then put it somewhere safe as to not bend it or smear it or spill anything on it, change to vinyl from song one to song two and repeat the process. This was like a ceremony for me, and it would take a few hours to create a great new mix. At times, if I were feeling particularly inspired, while one song was recording, I would add personal touches to the front of the J-Card. I’d draw strange flowers or skulls or whatever I felt would get this girl to dig me. The spine of the J-Card is where I would write the name I’d chosen for that mix.  Names like, “Be it Groove Mix for Emily” or “3 Am Can’t Sleep Slow Mix” or “Drink, Drank, Drunk Party Mix”. It would just depend on the music and on the way I was feeling. Once I made a Sinatra and Nat King Cole mix for my mother on Mother’s Day.

If the person I were creating the tape for were someone that I really, and I mean really wanted to hook up with, I would add sound bites from movies between songs. This was a whole other process. Back in the ’80s, not everything was available on VHS, so there was that limitation. There was also the laserdisc player my Dad had that I would, in a very stealthy manner, use on extremely rare occasions. If he had ever seen me using it, I wouldn’t have fingers today! I’m happy to say that I’m writing this with all my digits intact, so I dodged a bullet there. The point is, I used whatever I had at my disposal, but getting this right was a big deal to me. I was also contending with the fact that at the time ‘no one’ owned VHS videos. Seriously. The damn things cost hundreds of dollars each. This was also before the days of ‘movie rentals’… remember? The wave of mass video rental stores, chains like Blockbuster Video and Tower Records? When we would actually go to the store, walk through the isles with fingers crossed that our movie was still available, head to the counter, plop down our video membership card and our $3 bucks, walk out with our movie (and maybe some movie candy) with the knowingness that we had to have our movie back the next day. Yep! Those were the days, and ‘this’ was before all of that! Please be kind… rewind!

My penchant for video rentals was fulfilled at the old TV repair shop in a strip mall near my house. It was attached to a senior living complex. What was so cool about renting there was the guy who owned it loved horror movies. I was a fan too, and he had everything from Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tool Box Murders, and even a Spanish version of Dracula, made during the night when the US team at Universal went home.

I’d take the rented movie I’d picked up from the old TV repair guy, put it in the VCR, cue the film to the perfect scene, record the sound clip into the tape deck. I might also take the VCR from my parents’ room, wire it into mine, and copy the entire tape I’d just rented because at that time, there was no copyright protection on tapes. Within a few years, I’d amassed an impressive and vast collection of films that I could cue up any time I wanted to. My biggest challenge was keeping straight the amount of cinema dialogue I had stored in my head and trying to piece together and recall the clip I wanted to include to what movie it was actually from. I would eventually figure it out and would blend it into the mix.

Before the internet and before Craig’s List, when people wanted to buy something used, they’d go the thrift stores or garage sales. But there was another way. You would go to a liquor store and buy a copy of a newspaper called ‘The Recycler’. Looking back, it was kind of genius. I wish I’d thought of it. A new edition of The Recycler came out every Thursday. You could find almost anything. If you wanted to buy a car, pick up a refrigerator someone was throwing out, if you needed a new lead singer for your band if you wanted to sell the 100lbs of yarn your Great-Granny left you… you name it. You could find it listed, or you could list it. If you were hunting, there was a good chance you’d find it in Recycler.

Every once in a while, I’d be looking through The Recycler and the category called Miscellaneous, I spot a diamond in the rough.

“For Sale, VHS, Decline of the Western Civilization, *Gen 2. Cost: $50.00”

Holy shit! I’ve been searching for this movie for years.” I shouted out loud, to myself! I’m not kidding. YEARS! At the time, this movie was not available for viewing in any form. [It was not around even a few years ago. Penelope Spheeris had a bitch of a time finding the owners of the songs used in the film. Luckily she sorted that mess out, and the film is available on Blu Ray, streaming, damn near everywhere.] If you were lucky enough, you might hear about a midnight showing somewhere in Hollywood, drive out to LA, and catch it with a friend or a cute girl. But more often than not, by the time you caught wind that it was playing, you’d call the theater, and it had already moved on. The Decline was (and is) the pivotal punk rock documentary that set the stage for many more like it. It featured an early look at L.A. punk bands and the music of that generation. I had to have it! I called the guy from the ad. He lived in Torrance. I was in Long Beach. I drove to his house, at night, alone, which was in this totally sketchy neighborhood. I parked, walked up to front the door, knocked and a very VERY large guy answered. He looked down at me, and I looked up at him. “You here for the Decline?” he asked. I nodded. “Cool. Come on in.

I walked in. He was a total video nerd. He had VCR’s everywhere along with stacks of VHS tapes. He said he worked in Hollywood, where they mastered the VHS tapes for the studios. From the looks of his set up, I wasn’t too sure, but I didn’t argue with him. I got my tape and left. But like a really good drug dealer, that would not be the last time I saw him. Over the years I’d call him up when I was looking for some obscure movie that did not (or was not supposed to) exist in any format. If he didn’t have it, he could get it. He was that kind of guy. Some of the gems I scored from him were Song of the South, E.T., Rocky Horror Picture Show; which by the way I would dupe and then sell my own copies from the Recycler (Orange County edition)for $50, and I would include with the VHS a dot-matrix printout of the script. They were 3rd generation copes (aka: “*Gen. 3” in Recycler speak), but they were good enough for the true fans. As it would turn out, Rocky Horror would not be available on VHS for another ten years.

*a little Recycler history:

[Gen. 2, Gen. 3, Gen. 4, etc., described the quality of the copy. Gen. 1 is copied from the master film. Any copy beyond that moves down a generation. There is a whole subculture of audio and video geeks who could talk more accurately, more articulately, and for hours (and I mean hours)about the quality of specific types of recordings, what is their favorite, what they hate and what they own and why. It’s a thing.]

Finally, with a copy of the Decline, all my own, in hand, I could source the best sounds bites imaginable, for a punk rock mixtape I’d been building in my head for weeks. I would go to Zed Records in Long Beach and scan through the rows and rows of punk vinyl. Zed Records was a famous record shop in Long Beach. If you wanted to know what punk band was playing in the area, you’d go to Zed’s and pick up the flyers lying on the table by the register. I still have many of those flyers in a folder in my office desk drawer. I loved Zeds.

Zed Records

The Mix Tape Heard Around The World

Here’s how it went down. Over the course of a weekend in late May of 1986, I loaded up the VCR and watched the Decline, and noted the minutes and sound bites I liked. I did the same with A Clockwork Orange and Fiddler on the Roof, which I watched on my father’s laserdisc player, plus a bunch of random classic films. Then I stacked the albums I wanted to include in order.

I started off with known bands; X, TSOL, Rhino 39, Tex and the Horseheads, Agent Orange, Falling Idols, The Vandals, and as many Long Beach punk bands I could fit. Between each song, I would put a clip of Exene talking from the Decline, Darby Crash yelling from the stage, Alex and the Droogs sitting at the Korova Milk Bar discussing violence and drinking a Moloko Plus. As the albums came off and the VCR paused I’d move the vinyl off the turntable and carefully back into the album sleeve. The music mattered, but the lyrics told the story when I made a mixtape. Each tape I made had a flow to it. Some people figured it out, and others just jammed to the music.

It was the angst of the mid-80s. Saint Reagan babbled on about Russia, cocaine flourished, and John Hughes defined what it was like to be in High School. All of this went it each tape I made. I created these tapes because I wanted to listen to them.

The Mexican dirt weed I smoked really helped as well. We didn’t have a source for good quality pot yet, so we’d burn whatever we could score. Dirt weed was $10 for what we called at the time, ‘a dime bad’. It was mostly seeds and stems, but it did the trick.

With side one complete, it was time to begin with, side two. This would be a blend of UK and New York punk. I’d dig through all the albums I had, and I’d call friends to borrow their records if need be. The Angelic Upstarts would lead us off, followed by Toy Dolls, The Damned, The Ramones, Rudimentary Peni, Iggy and the Stooges, Johnny Thunders, The Rezillos, The Buzzcocks. Then intermingled in-between were sound bites; Tevia talking to Laser the Butcher. Little Alex telling us that he’s just fine. The survivor from Chainsaw Massacre screaming from the truck as Leatherface was swinging his saw over his head. I ended the mix with Sid Vicious singing Sinatra’s My Way.

The mix was made on a Maxell UL 90 minute cassette tape. The J-Card had no band’s names, no song listings, all it said was Punk Mix 1986 – from Long Beach with Love. The total band count was twenty-one and over 10 minutes of sound bites from various movies, TV shows, and local commercials. I duped 10 copies and set off handing them out to a few friends, a few girls I liked, and one went in my cassette deck in my car. It would be the summer of high school graduation, and it was all I would listen to all summer.

Two months into the summer, a friend and I went to a party out in Rancho Cucamonga. My friend’s cousin lived out there, and he invited us to come hang out, drink beer, and party for the weekend. Those of us from Long Beach referred to Rancho as inland, and it was landlocked. No beach. No surf. No thank you. I didn’t mind visiting Cucamonga but wouldn’t want to live there. They had a decent punk scene that mixed well with the long hairs who listened to bands like Metallica, Motorhead, and of course, the Sex Pistols.

When we walked into the party, we met Tom’s cousin Ricky. A stereo was playing Pinhead, a song by The Ramones. “Not a bad way to begin a night,” I thought. After the song ended, I heard something very familiar. It was Little Alex screaming. I knew this scream vividly. It was from a scene in A Clock Work Orange when the  Droogs went against him and kicked his ass in the tunnel. I looked at Tom and asked, “Did you give your cousin the summer mix?” Tom said, “No! I haven’t seen him in like 6 months.” I hopped up on a barstool and yelled, “Turn u­p the music, The Vandals are next!” The whole party turned around and looked at me in silence. All you could hear was Alex getting the shit kicked out of him. There was a slow fadeout, and before it wound back up, it launched the beginning of Anarchy Burger, the sound erupting out of the speakers, and the crowd went crazy.

The party continued on and there I was, out the middle of nowhere, in some moderately desolate city and somehow… my little tape had made its way there. By what means? Who knows! I just thought it was very cool. Things were humming along, and this guy walks up to me. He’s Native American, easily 6’6”, wearing a Dead Kennedys t-shirt, a beer in each hand and gun to my head, I would have sworn he was ALL muscle. Standing an entire foot taller than me, he looked down at my 5’6” frame and yelled in my face, “Hey! How’d you know what song was next?” Standing in front of (or actually under) this tower of a man, I was frozen. I looked up at him and stuttered, “I… I made it.” Then my new friend yells, “Hey. Listen Up! This little guy just told me that he made the tape we’re listening to!” Then Tom shouts up to the sky. “Turi! NO, you didn’t!” Friends always there to break your balls. It was once again silent except for the music that was playing, from a little mixed tape that I’d made. One thing that was perfectly clear to me at this moment was that, when this vast Indian speaks, everyone (and I mean everyone) listened. With all eyes once again on me and Tom laughing to himself and shaking his head in disbelief, I’m standing there attempting to spit out a few words. “I… I…” then, the song ends, and like a stroke of genius, it hits me. I know exactly what comes next, and so from the top of my lungs, I scream, “I don’t care about you… Fuck You!” and thank the gods for divine timing because seconds later, as the next song on the tape (that I’d made) began, Lee Ving of Fear screamed those very same lines, because they were his lyrics and if need be, I could do that all night long. [For factual reference, please visit: https://bit.ly/1Z2qNY1]

In the very next moment, The Tower (as I affectionately referred him… in my mind!) literally picked me with one arm, beer still in his hand, and carried me across the room to party central, which was where the music was being played. It was like being embraced by a mountain. My head was sandwiched against his hubcap sized breast and armpit. I’d been there less than 30-min, I’m 60 miles from home and whatever this is… it’s happening. My mind was racing, my heart was pounding, my adrenaline was pumping, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why this guy cared so much about the fact that I’d made this tape. He put me down, popped the tape out of the tape deck, shook it in front of my face, and asked me again, “How did you know you know what song would be next on this tape? Did you really make this?” I took the tape from his giant hand and looked at it. It wasn’t my masters, and it wasn’t one of my original Maxell ULs. This one had been duped on a Realistic cassette. Not a brand I loved. Someone had duped this mix (my mix), and I didn’t know who it was, but it was, in fact, made from my one of original Maxell UL 90s, and that’s exactly what I told The Tower. I then informed him that, “Prepping the next song is a Cal Worthington commercial, and it’s followed by The Addicts!” He put the tape back in the deck, hit play, and within a few seconds, Cal Worthington was making some remark about his dog spot, and then  ‘Johnny Was A Soldier’ started to play. The tower started laughing. He slapped me on the back which felt a bit being struck by a semi-truck. Seriously, I think the width of his hand (thumb to pinky) spanned the width of my entire back. He really was one of the biggest men I’d ever seen.

The Tower placed his beers down on a very used coffee table. When I say used, I mean people probably had sex on this thing, snorted lines or everything, and also ate pizza off of it. Next table and an old couch. The kind of couch you’d only willingly sit on if you were drunk enough, high enough, or recently had a tetanus shot. The sort of couch that had a distinct look of having been slept on puked on, fucked on by ‘lots and lots’ of people. So to be fair the sofa and couch were a matching set. The Tower said something which jerked me out of momentary haze, “Hey, bro, I didn’t mean to freak you out. The name is A.J.” With my undivided attention, AJ began to tell me his story. “I’m a roadie for the Dead Kennedys, and I just got back from England a few weeks ago. I was tripping out because I hooked with this girl in London and all night long she was playing this tape and we… ya’ know, screwed all night. She told me it was one of the best mixes she has ever heard. Actually what she said was… this tape kills! She told me a friend who was in Germany got a copy of it from a guitar player she was screwing.

As if that wasn’t enough to blow my mind wide open, he went on to tell me that a few days ago, he’d heard the tape again while in LA and thought, what are the chances? Because the very same tape (or same mix… my mix) was being played all over San Francisco, where he lived, by a bunch of people he knew personally. They all had copies of it. He continued. “It’s not just the bands on the tape or the songs you selected, but it’s the entire compilation of music, the sound clips, the flow, the story. Dude! Honestly? That tape is a work of art.” He asked me if I’d make him a copy from the original since the copy he had was probably a Gen. 6 or Gen. 7. Ummmm… the answer was YES!

Not only did I make him a Gen. 2 copy, but a few weeks later, I personally delivered it to him in Los Angeles, backstage at the Palladium, at a Dead Kennedy’s show, which of course I was invited to stay for. I already had a great story to share about how A.J. and I met and how he came to be in possession of my mixed tape masterpiece. But unbeknownst to either of us, later that night, we would have another ‘moment’ that I would share with friends for years to come. Something I’d remember the rest of my life.

There I was, standing by the side of the stage, listening to and watching the Dead-Fucking-Kennedys, when the crowd moved into a slam pit, and I got pushed in. I know Tom did it. As I was trying to fight my way out, I got tripped by the mass of people and fell to the ground. A.J. saw what was happening, and being the unstoppable sizable force that he was, he jumped in and started moving the crowd out of the way. It was like Moses parting the red sea. It was really quite graceful, that was until when he bent down to pick me up. When he did, he slipped on whatever liquid covered the floor, most likely puke and his steel toe boot connected with my nose. He scooped me up at once, look at my nose, and said, “Sorry about that little buddy!” then grabbed my nose and just like “that” snapped it back into place. I was so hammered on King Cobra malt liquor that I didn’t feel anything and wouldn’t until many, many hours later.

Mix Tape

In the Summer of 1986, my friends told me they heard the tape up and down the state, and when they went on vacation, they brought copies to give to friends, cousins, and anyone who loved Punk. My friend Ryan told me he heard the tape playing in a bar in Ensenada, Mexico, over Labor Day weekend. It would come to be known as the ‘Long Beach Punk Mix’. Some people… many people,  claimed they made themselves, for a girl, for a boy, for a party and that was cool, because, ‘I knew!’ and that’s what mattered.

I may not have written the music or lyrics and scripts from where I pulled these gems, but I didn’t have to. I saw their potential, of what could happen to them if combined and folded in and masterfully blended with other music, songs, pieces of dialog. It was the culmination of my favorite punk songs, irreverent sound clips, touches of things that moved me, of things that I just felt belonged together, and… it worked. It was the mix of all mixes. It was my interpretation of the music, and it was ALL music. If an alien landed on Earth and asked me to define Punk Rock, I would hand him that tape. Then, I’d ask him to take me back home, and I’d say, “What took you so long?” but that’s a story for another time.

A couple of years ago, at my thirty-year high school reunion, a guy I didn’t remember came up to me and asked, “Hey Turi. Do you still have a copy of that mix you did when we graduated? The copy I had finally wore out a few years ago. God, I loved that thing.” I told him that I might have a copy in my garage somewhere and that if I found it, I’d let him know. I’m still digging through old boxes, looking for the master. Hell, I’d take a Gen. 6 at this point.

You see kids, that’s what it was like to go viral back in the day. Before Youtube, before Instagram and before being an influencer was even a thing. I was influencing long before it was a catchphrase, and before Social Media was having its moment. Want to try something? Put your phone away, and let’s see how many likes, emojis, views or fans you get doing it old school. Creating a playlist on your iPhone is probably the closest you’ll get to make a mixtape.

Although this piece has nothing to do with wine, it does have to do with passion and inspiration. The juice still (and will always) inspire, but my love for writing will always be King (or Queen). My writing is what inspires me to want to write about wine or anything I love. Not the other way around.

For this and future writings, I won’t always lead with the grape, but I will always tell you a story, and for those stories that are absent of wine as the central them, my intention is this; I will sit with the words I’ve written and see what comes to the surface. I’ll be open to the Muse, to the inspiration she might reveal, and if a particular wine starts to whisper or feels like it would go well with the story, then I will dedicate those words to that wine.

In closing, I will still do my deep dives into wines I love, into winemakers and wineries who are doing really amazing things, but it has to be when something really moves me. I have never felt like “I have to write about wine.” I’ve only ever felt like, “I want to write about wine.” I still do, and I will, when I have something sincere and inspired to say. And that is my promise… to myself and to you. What’s true is, “I do not have to write about wine!” What is even truer is that “I HAVE TO WRITE! Period.”

With all of that explained, this wine, to me, is pure punk rock. It’s unpredictable, angry, truthful, and doesn’t give a shit about what you think of it. This is what I drank in high school at parties. It served one purpose. I do have fond memories of this citrus wine. I also have no memories, at times, with this wine.

Night Train Express

2019 Night Train Express
Night Tarin Limited
Modesto, CA

The Nose: Kool-Aid and alcohol
The First Bite: Ouch! Sugar fruit – wine cooler on steroids
The Finish: Slow burn and a hint of orange

Alcohol: 17.5%

Price: $2.99
Serving Temperature: 55°
Final Rating: 9

John Turi