Friday, June 17, 2011


I had my first walkman when I was something like 10. I remember the first record player predated that a bit, a cheap little plastic thing to play cheap little plastic records. The walkman, though, was my favorite thing ever. Headphones full of music, everywhere I went. Freedom with the songs I wanted to listen to. A large music player to keep me constantly tugging my jeans up to keep them from falling down.

Sitting in my room making mix tapes off the radio, trying to collect all the songs I loved to listen to. My first transistor radio happened when I was nine or ten. Lovely gigantic, huge, portable with D-cell batteries and of course the ability to record when the radio was playing; I recorded so much radio. Those mix tapes were a random mix of things like Van Morrison, Samantha Fox, Bon Jovi, Madonna, and the Stones. Weird-ass collections that showed just a splash of me tweenage dabbling in high-fashion music (Samantha Fox was a hell of a lot more interesting to me then Debbie Gibson or Tiffany). Garage-sale diving and odd-lots shopping for cassette tapes to play in my transistor radio or on the Sony walkman.

Plastic, orange, toy walkman but it would play music. I managed to get a cassette of Madonna’s Like a Virgin and was obsessed with singing “Like a Virgin” and “Dress You Up.” That tape was on an endless loop for at least a year. There was a Chuck Berry tape that got just as much play, and a quadruple cassette special from Woodstock, though I always listened to the same tape, the one that started on one side with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young singing "Ohio," and the other side that began with Sly and the Family Stone. Over and over again; my young eclectic-music styling.

That orange cassette player: because of it my room was a graveyard of AA batteries that had died. I’d learn how to push all the life out of the batteries. When the music started to slow down because the batteries were dying you could hold the play button down a little, not all the way just a little, and the music would speed up enough to sound almost right. Of course if you went too far it would sound like a drunken Hal finally losing his mind, but hold it just right and you could get another hour of music out of that little box.

Later it would be replaced with a real Sony walkman, a junk shop find that had the greatest technological advance in music players ever: auto-reverse. It would play for hours and hours and whenever you came to the end of a cassette the tape would flip over and start playing in the other direction. Genius. It became an art form to learn to record things off of other tapes or the radio in such a way that if you hit the end of the tape you could turn it over just in time to capture the music at the start of the other side so that when you were listening there was only a small gap in the song. I was good at it.

I remember the age of thirteen and how my music tastes evolved to include the Violent Femmes, Kristin Hersh, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Hole and sweet, sweet Tori Amos. Throw on top of that Danzig, some Guns and Roses and you had some hard for all the grunge and softness. Good times.

Today I woke up with the lyrics to “On a Plain” in my head, which fair enough, I was going to be on a train in a few hours and whenever I’m traveling “On a Plain” is always stuck in my head. My current MP3 player , a 120gb Zune, replaced my old 8gb Iriver that decided to die, and is a fourth or fifth replacement in a long series of MP3 replacements. This amuses me because I still have my old Sony walkman and my old Sony walkman served me solidly until 1998 when I finally got my first, and only, portable CD player.

I remember what song was playing when I was listening to my music at my high-school graduation (the Doors, "The End," singularly appropriate). I remember what music was playing in my walkman when I freed myself from home (Tori Amos and Violent Femmes). I remember which tapes I would pack for a trip on the greyhound to head south and visit friends (PJ Harvey, Lisa Germano, Depeche Mode, Nirvana). I remember the music I was listening to on my first plane ride and trip to Korea (Perfume Tree, Until the End of the World soundtrack). There was music and there was music and there was music, and there has always been music. Songs bring me back so clearly and solidly to places and times and associations.

I miss my clunky Sony walkman. I still have a box full of cassettes, many dubbed from the local library in Waukegan. The MP3 player is not nearly so satisfying when its battery is dying as it rarely allows me to squeeze out just a few more plays. Yet it still provides ample expansion of my experiences, while giving me access to a suitcase worth of cassettes that I’d rather not drag around.

My music player is smaller and no longer pulls my pants off of me when it’s in my pocket, but it still secures me in the same way. It is a violent drumbeat solace to replace the sounds of the world; providing a more solid context for my reality than being visually present.


linda said...

So this entry wasn't inspired by Super 8, was it? Anyway, I love it. I cherish many of the same radio-taping, auto-reverse awe, and Like a Virgin memories. I love your expression of this.

Saradevil said...

Haven't seen Super 8 yet, so no. But I want to. Sadly I think it is out of the theaters already. Meh.