Deserted Downtown Denver

In the mid-1980's I was the entire "post-production audio" department for First Films, a small, struggling film company in Denver, whose office was located in one of the then new downtown skyscrapers, blocks of which had been built optimistically in the early 80's and ended up mostly empty for several years. The film people were a few years older than myself and had once been hippies, but had become marginally successful semi-yuppies, seeming to me -a totally a low-rent bohemian musician with one set of thrift store clothes - unthinkably well-off but in reality they were probably deep in debt for the rest of their lives. The company barely struggled along and they could barely pay me but we liked each other, and they recognised my complete devotion to my path and my ability to get a project done properly on a shoestring budget and almost zero resources, so they bought two Fostex 8-track tape machines (the 1/4" models) and a 16 channel Soundcraft mixing desk, and let me set up in a small room there to work on the films...that is, when they actually had something for me to work on which was not very often. More importantly they gave me a key to the office/studio so I could come and go as I pleased, and since they couldn't really afford to pay me they let me use the equipment for my own projects. In fact I recorded and mixed much of Thinking Plague's In This Life and Hail's Turn of the Screw there, and would often keep one of the Fostex machines most of the time in our rehearsal space which was just a few blocks away. For that I will be eternally grateful - thank you Michael Kreuger! (1951-1990)

It's hard to imagine now, but in those days - the early-mid 80's - downtown Denver was still strictly a 9-5, Monday-Friday affair; after 5PM and over the weekends all the tidy, normal office people with clean clothes and who could afford to do things like buy shoes or soap or even food, left their offices and drove back home to the distant suburbs, and the downtown streets would shortly become utterly empty, quiet, and deserted. There were no bars (except over on skid row of course, and even that was a ghost town), no shops, no amusement parks or stadiums like there are today, nothing. Deserted streets like canyons lined with towering blank steel and glass walls, silent escalators, empty parking garages....I remember days when I walked for hours, probably weekend afternoons in September, exploring rooftop parking lots, pedestrian bridges between buildings, plazas, stairways, tunnels...without ever encountering another living soul. And remember this was still in those now-distant, pre-"surveillance society" days; there was less of the now omnipresent paranoia and significantly fewer of the "security" cameras which cities are full of today, so the chance of me being chased away by some security guard for venturing into a place where the general public was not welcome was extremely unlikely, never happened as I recall.

Of course it wasn't all modern glass and steel; in the older sections of cracked sidewalks with weeds growing through there were blocks of empty, crumbling buildings and warehouses, blank empty windows with glass broken out decades ago, boarded-up doors long ago smashed or burned down by bums, hobos, or desperate lost souls...if you'd peer inside into the grey obscurity you'd see remnants of collasped ceilings, chunks of plaster fallen from the mildewed walls, undefined heaps on decaying wood floors glittering with broken glass ...

Into that strange world I would take my cassette recorder (not a portable one, it was the sort you'd have in an 80's home stereo) and a cheap Radio Shack mic, and wander the deserted downtown canyons, plugging the 120 volt AC cassette recorder into the electrical sockets I'd found here and there in parking garages and which I knew could be found hidden amongst shrubberies next to skyscrapers. I would record the squeaky gates of empty, echoing parking garages, the strange ambience of distant traffic on I-25, fake churchbells played back through crummy loudspeakers in a church tower several blocks away over on Broadway, a loose manhole cover clanking under the traffic over at Colfax and Lincoln half a mile away...weird, high-pitched sounds...animal or mechanical? the howl of a stray dog? a drunk waking in an alley with the horrors? brakes squealing in the distant, nearly abandoned no-man's-land of the railyards? all filtered and echoing strangely by bouncing off the deserted glass and steel buildings as a discarded newspaper blew along the empty street on the warm summer evening. Then, using my key and getting past the bored security guard in the lobby of the otherwise unpeopled skyscraper, (if he was even there) who always looked suspiciously at me - a thin, hungry-looking guy in dirty clothes and torn-up shoes but who always had a key, I'd take a long elevator ride up and let myself into the little studio up on one of the high floors of the mostly empty tower complex, with huge windows that didn't open looking out over the absolutely still and unpeopled streets, copy my cassettes onto the Fostex 8-track, and add more sounds - dropping an old handtruck down the building's echoey concrete stairwell (I knew nobody else was in the whole building so no one would care or complain), make some drones and funny noises using the Korg K1 synth which the film company manager gave me to use, finally mix it all to cassette using the little mixing desk, and here it is.