Home > Teddy Bear Diary > [July, 1992] The Walkman: In Memoriam

[July, 1992] The Walkman: In Memoriam

Monday, July 27, 1992

Dear Journal,

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!

How we listened to music in the (not so) olden days.

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.

George Michael: did not fool Mom's gaydar.

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.

A happy MTV moment any time they played the video for "With or Without You".

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…

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  1. July 19, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    U2’s Joshua Tree (and more specifically, With or Without You) was a huge part of my musical awakening, as well. You make an excellent point about how different that whole record sounded compared to everything else that was on the radio in 1986/87. It sounded like nothing I had ever heard and I was instantly captivated.

    While I’m not crazy about much of U2’s more recent stuff (isn’t it always cooler to like their older stuff better??), I still rate The Joshua Tree among the best records ever made. Sparse yet full, simple yet profound. As my musical tastes have matured and changed over the years, this record remains a constant in my collection.

    Love this blog and your insights into your adolescent psyche. I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to do it!

    • damiella
      July 19, 2010 at 4:25 pm

      Ryan,

      After With or Without You, Achtung Baby was the album that changed everything for me (I found it edgier and darker than Joshua Tree, less straight up rock). And yes, it’s always cooler to prefer the older material, though it’s also true for me of U2 (Boy is my second favorite after Achtung), Radiohead, and Nine Inch Nails.

      And thanks for the kind words on the blog. I don’t know if it’s bravery as much as distance (enough time has passed that it’s almost as if these things happened to someone else).

  2. Ethan
    September 9, 2014 at 4:36 am

    Hey Damiella.

    Love the site, been reading it for a few months now. Lots of funny stuff on here, but also lots of sweet and touching entries as well. You’re certainly one of the wittiest, most human writers on the web right now. I’ve read quite a few blogs in recent years, and so many authors tend to come across as being very cold and pretentious. So it’s been pretty refreshing to come across a site like this one, where the writing is from such a unique and heartfelt perspective. I truly admire your individuality.

    Anyway, I also have a big soft spot for the ’80s and ’90s. I definitely have a quaint fondness for Walkmans and tapes as well. I still proudly blast my Broken, Fixed, and Pretty Hate Machine tapes when I’m in my dad’s car.

    I also like how stubborn you were about holding off on CDs and sticking to your tape collection. How many tapes did you acquire by the time you got that Discman, anyway?

    Keep up the awesome blog!

    • September 9, 2014 at 11:32 am

      Hi Ethan,

      Thank you for the kind words about the blog, it made my day. 🙂

      I don’t remember exactly how many cassettes I ended up with before grudgingly accepting the CD format, but I think it was about 300. I got rid of a lot of them, but still have a lot at my “storage facility” (Mom’s place). I probably have those NIN tapes somewhere, too, but those were probably some of the first albums I upgraded to CD.

  1. October 14, 2013 at 8:31 pm
  2. June 19, 2014 at 4:05 pm

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