I was just shy of 11 years-old when music grabbed a hold of my life. I haven’t seen the literature, but expect that is true for about 99.9% of pubescent folks. There has to be something about being infused with all sorts of ridiculous hormones that splices musical memories to your DNA.
At this stage of my existence, the compilation albums RULED. The first album I ever got (a gift from my parents) was “Double Gold” from our friends at K-Tel Canada.
We were living above the Arctic circle where purchasing anything meant great financial sacrifice so radio was the biggest source of musical enjoyment for us kids. The early ‘80s brought a heady mixture of synthesizer and guitar, and the new British Invasion. The “Saturday Night Request Show” had us tuned in to hear our friends and tipsy partygoers asking DJ Steve to play their favourite hits.
Music videos were just taking off and I would beg my parents to let me watch just one more video on “Good Rockin’ Tonite” with Terry David Mulligan. I would hope it was the video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (pushing off my already deferred bedtime a full 14 minutes).
That year at Christmas, there was a cosmic alignment of sorts. My siblings and I ran down in the wee hours to grab our stockings, and hauled them up to our room. Oh man, I was excited to see that the stocking contained two princely gifts in addition to the usual chocolates and goodies. The best music in the history of the world was about to collide with the best technology invented to that day.
One gift was my very own Walkman. No wait – I am overselling it. It was a portable cassette player. Not Sony, not Sanyo, or even Realistic. Keep going down the quality scale to something way off-brand. Burgundy foam ear pads, and a very minimalist design. Not as in “the delicately rounded corners of an iPhone”. Think “fireplace brick”, that’s the aesthetic I am talking about. It only had “Fast Forward”. No rewind.
The Caring Curmudgeon has to delve into the ridiculousness for a minute. To rewind the tape, you had to flip it over, fast forward, and then flip it over again. It gets better: batteries were super expensive and fast forward eats up lots of battery power. No problem, pop the tape out, stick a pencil in the appropriate roller and start twirling. Five minutes later, the tape is rewound! Maybe this set me on the path of doing stupid things that wasted time but saved money. I’ll have to analyze that in a future piece.
The other gift was a compilation cassette called Rock ’83. Killer tunes from bands on three continents, in one package. Rush! Men At Work! Even VH1’s number one one hit wonder (say that ten times fast) of the ‘80s – “Come on Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
I put it in my Walkman, I mean portable cassette player, and heard the beedly beedy boop of the frequency test at the beginning followed by the guitar intro to “Be Good Johnny” by Men at Work. It was all there, playing right into my head in my own private little world where I could play it as loud as I wanted (or at least until the crummy headphones distorted the tuneage). I remember sitting there and looping the cassette over and over until my parents got up to make a late Christmas morning breakfast.
To this day there is still something magical about putting headphones on and tuning the world out as I tune into music that suits the mood (and I have many moods, just ask my wife Valerie). Now it is Bluetooth and smartphones, where an entire collection of albums is digitized and sits at my fingertips. No more twirling cassette tapes with a pencil or wiggling frayed headphone wires when one earphone starts cutting out. Just cursing about why the damn Bluetooth isn’t pairing!
As for Rock ’83? It was a touchstone for Valerie as well. When we coalesced our meager household effects, we had two copies of that cassette. Hers was in far better condition (of course) and I still have it in a pile of tapes I cannot bring myself to get rid of. When the old truck with our sole cassette player is gone from our life, I will have to make a tough decision. But until then, we can keep rocking like it’s 1983.
I had so many problems
And then I got me a walkman
I really liked it a lot, and
They walked right in and they solved them
“I Heard Ramona Sing” by Frank Black