Monday, October 25, 2010


So long, pal

If you're a member of Gen X, how do you know you're old -- or at least getting there?

(a) when they declare someone "the New Madonna" -- and it sticks

(b) when they invent new sexual pecadilloes that horrify -- or at least mystify -- you

(c) when they turn to you at a party and say, "You know, it's nice to know people your age who can still party"

(d) when they publish magazine cover stories with titles like "What Ever Happened to Generation X?"

(e) when they come up with an uncreative moniker for the next generation ("Generation Y" -- really?)

(f) when you find yourself feeling shocked at how old and puffy John Cusack looks

(g) when they discontinue the single most important audio breakthrough of your entire generation

Yep, those nerds at Sony have announced that the iPOD and MP3s have won the Millennial Sound Wars: no more will they manufacure the Sony Walkman. I personally haven't used or owned a Walkman in about, oh, twenty years, which is just enough time to have completely forgotten about it's impact on my life. It as first devised by Sony technicians (particularly engineer Nobutoshi Kihara) in 1978 after Sony chairman Akio Morita requested a device on which he could listen to opera whilst flying around the world on business trips. Once again, a rich guy gets a bug up his ass and the rest of us benefit.

When the original Walkman first hit U.S. shores at the beginning of the 1980s, it was called the "Soundabout" and it took about 2 or 3 years before you couldn't go a block and not run into someone power-walking with what looked to be a TV remote strapped awkwardly to their hip. Then there was those cheap, squishy foam covers that always ripped or fell off, leaving you wearing the painful bare metal earphones that bit into your skin. The first music I heard on a Walkman was Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast (my roommate's). The first argument I had over a Walkman was with my Mom over the effects of blasting my eardrums with sonic noise. The first "cassingles" I bought and listened to were "Been Caught Stealing" and "Things That Make You Go Hmm." The first cassette album where I first and fully appreciated the stereophonic effects on the headphones was Godley & Creme's The History Mix, Vol. 1 -- it was one of those clear plastic cassettes they made in the mid-1980s that for some reason smelled like grapes. The first time I "showed off" my headphones was to impress a girl after a school bike trip in 10th grade, listening to "It Must Be Love" by Madness but not letting on that the batteries were dying and the music sounded like it was being melted in a frying pan. The first time I "co-listened" to a Walkman with one of those two-way splice plugs was with an old friend as we walked through snow drifts while Santana 3 blasted on our earphones. We never did that again: something about two guys listening to the same Walkman made us uncomfortable, as if we were showering together or something.

If I remember correctly, I believe I owned about 5 or 6 different versions of the Walkman over the years. The first just played cassettes, the next incarnation included an AM/FM radio and subsequent models were all pimped out with MegaBass, AutoReverse and Graphic Equalizers. Thing is, each version was so cheaply manufactured (at least the ones I could afford on a teenager's salary) that one jostle could destroy the whole apparatus. It got to a point where I became paranoid and fearful about my Walkmans' fates, especially when the futility of taking them into the local stereo repair made itself painfully apparent. Case in point: lying on my dorm room bed in college looking up at a shelf above me where my just-bought Walkman sat gleaming and ready to be used and thinking "You know what? That's not a safe place for such a precious commodity." As I reached up to grab it, my wrist became entangled in the dangling headphone cord and the thing came crashing down on my desk. That was it. Dead as Dillinger. Never was played and never would be.

Now, in our Audience Participation segment, we're collecting memories good and bad about the wild and woolly frontier days of the Walkman. Feel free to post yours in our 'Comments' section. And please, no penis pill advertisements. Show some respect for the dead.

1 comment:

  1. The first time I listened to a Walkman was @ a h.s. football game, from a kid a grade above me. He was the product of wealthy parents, and received new 'toys' on a weekly basis. It was the Autumn of '84 and we were in the bleachers listening to Madness and The English Beat; new wave kids listening to ska for the first time, in stereophonic sound.