These Tape Collectionists (Maxell Maniacs? Dual-Deck Dorks?) have apparently gotten under my balls, because I find myself dragging you back to the dark days before we plugged ourselves in and trusted that everything would turn out all right. The olden days, when content and player were different objects, and in fact were still objects at all. Plus, you had to buy batteries, and the batteries were not included.
The batteries were never included.
Cassettes were superior to vinyl in two metrics: they were much longer, holding 45 or 50 minutes a side as opposed to 15 or 20; and they were portable. (There were pocket turntables that ran on batteries, of course, but no one had them and even if you had one, the records themselves didn’t enjoy being dragged all over the place. A couple rich guys and wackjobs had record players installed in their cars, but I can’t imagine how that worked: needles skip if you walk heavily enough near the stereo.)
We discussed the cassette, and now the player. They came in three varieties, and each sub-species ranged in price and status and quality and all the other stuff. The first category was the non-portable machine, and for most of us middle-class suburban kids, that looked like this:
Can you hear the sound the power button made? Like it was drawing in breath? And the firm and authoritative CHUNK of the Play and Record buttons hit simultaneously?
(An aside to the youth: the tape with the stuff on it would go in Deck B, and the blank tape went in Deck A. Then, you hit Play on B and Play and Record on A at the same time–it took both hands–and 45 minutes later, you would flip the tape over. Also, copying a 45 minute tape took 45 minutes. Eventually, most machines had a “fast record” feature, but at first it took 45 minutes to copy a 45 minute tape. It was like monks illuminating a manuscript.)
Clues to greater societal shifts can also be noted in the prominence of the AM/FM radio, and also the design, which is the exact opposite of today’s obsession with sleekness and removing bullshit. The development of this device had at least one meeting where someone said, “Put more bullshit on it. And combine teal and red. But mostly the bullshit.” Its size can be excused, as the turntable demanded a certain radius; these suckers were a lot lighter than they look in the picture; the interior is mostly air.
All the cool dudes upgraded to this beauty:
That’s real faux-walnut, Enthusiasts. Also, you could put bitchin’ stickers on the glass. This particular set-up gets points off for not including the coolest of modular 90’s stereo equipment:
The light-up EQ. Ahh, yeah. You could look at that shit when you were high.
Moving on, we come to the second category of tape player: semi-portable. They came in all sorts of outlandish, D-battery-gobbling options, but one of them looked like this:
Which is just a scaled-down version of the piece of shit up top, but without the turntable, and with a handle. Unlike the stereo system, they weren’t full of air, and they were heavy as shit, plus they were concentration camps for D-batteries. Two hours, tops, and D’s are expensive; most people ended up plugging them into the wall and leaving them in one place. Still, they had a handle so: semi-portable.
Again we stop to share with the younger Enthusiasts. Semi-portable cassette players were known as boom boxes, but they were also called “ghetto blasters” and they were not called that in private. You could call them that on TV; I think there was an episode where Dr. Huxtable bought one and called it that. It was a more innocent time.
But these two categories were neither gamechangers nor disruptors, mostly because no one had begun using those dopey terms yet. The last of the trio, though, was magic:
This, my friends, was not the first Walkman, but it was TotD’s first Walkman. It’s a Sony WM-8, and it was introduced in 1981; you wore it over your shoulder with the strap because it weighed 45 pounds. Even before I liked rock music, I had this gadget: I listened to Spider-man stories on tape, and the soundtrack to the Robin Williams version of Popeye for some reason. (I have since learned that the music from that film was all written by Harry Nilsson, so even before I knew I had good taste, I had good taste.)
Other models were smaller, and I moved on from Tapezilla up there soon, and not only was their battery life much better than that of boom boxes, but they ran on double-AA batteries which were cheaper or could just be taken from the crisper in the fridge. From sheet music, to player piano reels, to wax cylinders, to vinyl records, to this. You were in charge: listen to Bach in the park, or Deep Purple outside Janet’s house at 3 a.m., or Aretha Franklin under Janet’s bed waiting for her to come home.
DON’T GO IN THERE, JANET!
Are you all right?
I got caught up in the story.
Okay, pal. I’m gonna wrap up.
Knock ’em dead.
The evolution of musical delivery systems has been as fast and exponential as the evolution of flight; they happened concurrently. Edison’s phonograph, and its cylinders first sold in 1896; the Wrights glided above that North Carolina beach for the first time in 1903. And while aviation seems to be stuck around the era of the Walkman–we were promised sub-orbital jumpships–the technology for jamming groovy tunes into your earholes is light-years beyond. The Walkman allowed you to choose your own music, but you had to choose it before you left the house, and then you could not change your mind.
Whereas your current options are: everything ever recorded ever. It used to be almost everything, but then Prince died and now it’s absolutely everything.
If you want to listen to cassette tapes, then go right ahead, but I think you shouldn’t live within a thousand feet of a school. This is not a value judgment. Also, whichever bathroom you were using, you should not be allowed to use that bathroom any more. Again: I say this out of concern and compassion; I love the Tape Collectionist, and hate the tape.
Put the head cleaner down and let’s be reasonable about this.