It’s a terrifying 30 years since the Sony Walkman was introduced and music became portable in a way that didn’t alienate everyone within a 500m radius.
I didn’t have a Walkman 30 years ago, obviously, because they were ruinously expensive and I was only little – I simply didn’t have the strength to carry one.
They started to creep into my consciousness when I was at high school and a fellow student, one of the ones who always had the right coat, bag, shoes and highlights, brought a giant yellow Walkman on a school trip.
It was passed around the coach with the kind of reverence you might expect if you whipped out the Turin Shroud at a convent.
Despite being the size of the Yellow Pages and boasting the kind of sound quality that made listening to music underwater seem crystal clear, it represented an exciting, high-tech future.
Having only just persuaded my parents to buy one of those tinny made-for-teenagers ‘ghetto blasters’, I knew it would be a while before I could tap them up for a Walkman, or rather a Walkman equivalent available from my Mum’s home catalogue.
As archaic as it was, my own tape player had released me from the tyranny of my father, who was somewhat of a stereo Nazi, owning a set of hugely expensive ‘separates’ which made me the only person I knew who had to master a tuner and graphic equalisers before being able to put Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ on the turntable.
Everyone else’s Mum and Dad had a nice, simple Hinari or a Binatone stereo that could have been operated by an earthworm. Mine required tutorials from What Stereo? magazine before you felt confident enough to even switch it on.
On the plus side, my Dad’s technical fascism did mean that I made the most professional mix-tapes this side of the Western hemisphere.
He even taught me how to produce ‘quality silence’, a lost art these days, especially in cinema or theatre audiences when I’m in the auditorium.
In the good old days, if you made someone a mix-tape, it represented a fair chunk of your entire Sunday given over to faffing around with the record player and hovering over the pause button on the tape deck.
(I think, by the way, that that’s a contender for the most biddified, grey-haired, mobility-scooter riding sentence I’ve ever written.)
I would spend hour-upon-hour carefully working out an intricate play list that would fit on each side of a Memorex C90 without cutting Morrissey off midway through ‘What Difference Does It Make?’ or, more likely, Aha off during ‘Take On Me’.
It could easily take eight hours to make one 90-minute tape. An hour of which would be spent making ‘quality silence’ (also known as ‘sulking’ if my Dad was still lurking around trying to be ‘helpful’).
Each tape was compiled with the recipient in mind or, less nobly, as a blatant attempt to persuade the recipient to want to get off with me – those tapes cost good money, and I was keen to see some form of return. Teenage boys being teenage boys, I wasn’t often disappointed.
Hours would evaporate as you tried to cut out the recording ‘click’ between songs, struggled not to put two songs by the same artist in a row, resisted the urge to kill any parent unwittingly walking into the front room and jogging the needle on the record player and then struggled to fit all the track names on the tape insert in felt-tip pen.
After all that effort, keen to get the mix-tape to the recipient, I’d then bike it round, by which I mean I got on my bicycle and pedalled to their house rather than called on an in-house courier (even though I lived in a Grade II listed house with a balcony AND window boxes, I wasn’t that posh).
These days, I can burn a CD in about three minutes (is it illegal? If it is, when I say that I burn CDs, I refer to music made by my family. On, er, spoons) and email it to someone immediately. It’s taken some of the magic away, frankly.
Equally, I can now have up to 10,000 songs on my iPod and if I shake it, it randomly chooses a new track for me to listen to.
Try that with the Walkman and you’d have been listening to a decidedly old record: your parents giving you the ‘you never look after anything properly’ speech for the gazillionth time before grounding you indefinitely.
NB: I still have some of my Dad’s stereo equipment, even though he went to the big hi-fi shop in the world back in 1992. And it still works, which kind of annoyingly proves his point about quality. Any of you fancy a mix-tape?
**** It’s been many a long week since last I graced WordPress. Lots of work, a lovely dose of swine flu (I didn’t throw a party for others to catch it), the odd weekend away (empahsis on ‘odd’), general apathy and ennui have kept me from posting. I will be visiting you all later to see what you’ve been up to. You’d better have been good while I’ve been away or I’ll know not to leave you home alone again. And don’t think I won’t be checking the phone bill. And the liquor cabinet ****