[July, 1992] The Walkman: In Memoriam
Monday, July 27, 1992
As I am writing this, we are on our way to Boston.
Right now I am sitting next to Anita. She is really nice (& cool) and I like hanging out with her. Didi is acting nice toward me.
I am feeling pretty restless and a little bored. In the front of the bus the councelors are playing Donna Summer songs and Anita knows the words to almost all of the songs because her mother listens to her a lot. Anyway, I am very bored. I don’t know what I should do next. I’ll probably listen to my walkman. I can’t wait until we arrive at our destination. I’ll write more later. See ya!
A moment of silence for the walkman.
Before it was possible to carry hours, days, weeks worth of music in a portable device the size of your palm, there were cassettes, boomboxes, and walkmans (according to Sony, they prefer the device be pluralized as Walkman Personal Stereos, but I prefer saying “walkmans” or “korvalappustereot” which is how they say it in Finnish. Those wacky Finns).
Back in the early 1990’s, CDs were starting to appear on the scene, but the cassette tape was still my preferred music medium. Not only were tapes less expensive, but you could buy blank ones and fill them with songs taped off the radio.
I was around nine when I discovered this clever and elusive way to capture music, except that I had a stereo that only had one tape deck and no record functionality. However my parents did have a clunky tape recorder, which I was able to hold up to the radio to capture two-thirds of Europe’s “Carrie” (not the most auspicious musical beginning perhaps, but I’ve always had a soft spot for power ballads.
Luckily, my parents noticed my emerging passion for music and started buying me tapes, and eventually a stereo with two tape decks. The first piece of music I ever owned was George Michael’s Faith (followed by Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors). I remember one awkward summer day listening to “I Want Your Sex” with my mother; she grew thoughtful and said “I think he [George Michael] is light blue,” in Russian. She then explained “light blue” in our native language meant “gay.” I didn’t know what to think of such a statement at the time, considering that back then I associated homosexual men with the flamboyance of someone like Liberace or Elton John. I also developed something of a crush on the tight-jeaned, 5 o’clock shadowed, aviator-shade-wearing George Michael of 1987, and was completely under his hetero-spell. Who knew Mom had such dead-on gaydar?
In addition to the tape player, my parents bought me several walkmans (take that, Sony!) over the years, and much of my allowance was spent on cassettes. For the next five years, my music tastes grew but remained limited to pop selections from the Top 40, and often the cheesier end of the spectrum (though I did stop after one Paula Abdul album, so a little credit for that, right? No? Okay). The later models of the walkman I owned had fancy features like Auto Reverse, which would start playing the second side of the tape without the need to manually remove and flip the tape. Back then this was considered pretty high tech.
The summer of 1992 expanded my musical horizons beyond Donna Summer (who was fun for bus trips, but not anyone whose albums I sought out). I remember the counselors also played a lot of Billy Joel and Meat Loaf (Anita couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” before), neither of which I was crazy about. It wasn’t until Anita let me borrow her cassette copy of The Joshua Tree that I started to understand how intriguing and captivating music could be. “With or Without You” was the song that hooked me, more than any other song had in my life. Compared to the more straightforward catchy tunes I was used to, I found this song haunting, ambiguous, and deliciously tortured. I didn’t bother listening to the rest of the album, just that one song, over and over again, recording it onto a blank tape repeatedly until it filled up all of Side A. I was slowly discovering music that made me think and feel on a level I never had before and was on the cusp of a music revolution, one that would help me survive some dark days ahead.
Later on, “With or Without You” would the first piece of music I owned on CD, when someone gave me the CD single as a gift. However I was so stubborn about remaining true to my walkman and growing collection of cassette tapes, it would be a while before I had anything to play it on. The discman would not be part of my reality for a few years yet…