Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 164

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 167

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 170

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 173

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 176

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 178

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 180

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 202

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 206

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 224

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 225

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 227

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 321

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 321

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 321

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.layout.php on line 321

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.options.metapanel.php on line 54

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.options.metapanel.php on line 54

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.options.metapanel.php on line 54

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.options.metapanel.php on line 54

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.options.metapanel.php on line 54

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.options.metapanel.php on line 54

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.options.metapanel.php on line 54

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.options.metapanel.php on line 54

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.options.metapanel.php on line 54

Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/lil58eks/public_html/bleat/wp-content/themes/platformpro/core/library/class.options.metapanel.php on line 47
The end of the personal song | The Bleat.

At the mall the other day I spotted this window display. Darth has had torso-reduction surgery, I think.

A damp and fussy day; filed ten tons of copy, wrote a Joe, got half the Halloween Diner in the can. (Oh yes: it’s a big one.) Checked the news, found one of those stories that means little, but still makes you think back and cogitate: all those pieces of magnetic meaning, arrayed for your enjoyment. Yes:
Sony has discontinued the original Walkman, the big thick units that played cassette tapes.

This is where someone attempts to sound hip by saying “What’s a cassette tape?” as if ignorance of things that preceded your brief tenure on this verdant rock is somehow a mark of distinction. We loved cassettes when they first came out, because they were a portable, compact storage medium. I got my first cassette recorder in 1969 – a Magnavox I wore on a shoulder strap like Spock’s tricorder, and it had a microphone. I took it over to Northport Shopping Center to ask people what they thought of the Apollo program. Probably the last bit of real journalism I ever did. For some reason it came with a copy of the Greatest Hits of Martin Denny, so I listened to “Quiet Village,” and put it together with “Hawaii 5-0” and asked my parents if we could go to Hawaii. They said “we’ll see,” which meant “ignore the likelihood that the answer will be no,” and I sent away for brochures and collected pamphlets from the local travel agency. Hawaii loomed large in my imagination, until the point where it didn’t. Kids are like that. Which is why it always rings false in a fictional story when someone fulfills a desire they had when they were ten – as if pure true people have an unbroken line between their adult selves and the people they were before their brain let loose the Reapers, also known as the Hormones of Adolescence. Some stuff survives the transition, but it’s rarely a passing fancy – and it’s often the things you’ve put away when you’re a know-it-all eleven-year old.

Perhaps I’ve ruined my daughter by filming so much: she will have a record of everything. How she complains now. But some day she will find all these movies, a complete chronological narrative. Wonder what she’ll think. Whether it will be a room full of butterflies or a series of wood boxes with glass tops full of insects fixed to pins.

Anyway: I had that cassette player for years, and in speech and debate would sit on the bus in the early morning listening to Beethoven through a single earplug, gearing myself up for the combat ahead with the 9th. (The first movement.) In high school I had a friend in Chicago, a cool guy who was totally into the same music but also really hard-core prog like Magma, and we would communicate via tapes, because long-distance was too expensive and made the ‘rents frown. He was the only friend I had who understood how totally awesome it was at the end of Rush’s “2112” when the voice came in and said “we have assumed control. We have assumed control.” Goosebumps dude.

Tapes faded from favor, but I know I had a small unit that played mono. Ten years after I got my first cassette recorder I felt compelled to record a day in the life of a college student, so I conducted a running narration, including a swing through the Valli restaurant, and a walk home after dark. The tape survived for decades, and was digitized a few years ago; when I do the long-promised immense site on the Valli, I’ll include some excerpts, since I’m probably the only person in the world who has audio of the place.

I know exactly where I was when I got the first Walkman – I still have it, somewhere in the basement, too. Living in the Immense Concrete Human Storage Box Arrangement known as Cedar Square West. I bought a new Genesis album and taped it without listening to it, then walked out in the sunset over the 10th avenue bridge and tried to convince myself it was genius. The most important thing was personal stereo on the move. You kids today! You have no idea! To be walking around and hearing things in stereo, this was a miracle. Even if it was “Abacab” and one had to make excuses for the new, pop-oriented direction the band was taking.

So the Walkman dies in October, the 9th anniversary of the iPod. Digital killed the analog star, as the predictable headlines would have it. I still have my first iPod, complete with its throwback Chicago font, and all the songs still locked on its disk. It was after 9/11; we had moved into Jasperwood, and I was still astonished I could stand on my front porch and behold the Hill and the Cliff. Over and over I listened to “We Have All the Time in the World” – the slow version, not the Satchmo version, not the credits version. The one that will put you on your knees.

We’re in the intermediate state now – individual devices with individual purposes and individual libraries. Give us a few years and it’ll all be up above in the ether. The idea of owing a song will be as archaic as sheet music.

Side notes: yes, I know I wrote the other day about starting the Sherlock Holmes stories from the start. And yes, I watched the Masterpiece Theater update.

I am a happy man about it.

Update: have a few pages of North Dakota! This week: Gackle. See you around.

 

68 Responses to The end of the personal song

  1. The reason the 8 track tape didn’t last was that it was based on the moebius strip and was therefore topo-gigio-logically impossible. If some busy-body hadn’t pointed out that it couldn’t be done we would still be doing it. We see this phenomenon in the apiary now: someone told the bees it was theoretically impossible to fly using their method, and as the word spreads, the colonies collapse.

    Sometimes It Pays To Be Ignorant!

  2. shesnailie says:

    DryOwlTacos says:
    October 26, 2010 at 1:48 pmWhat, no one waxes nostalgic over the very first portable music medium–the 8-track tape?…

    _@_v – in point of fact, the norelco carry-corder 150 ‘compact cassette’ cartridge tape recorder came out a year before the first 8-track recorder were made available. i have two working examples in my cassette recorder collection. nifty little units if a bit of a pain to clean the innards. the belts seem to have been made by british petroleum judging by the mess they leave behind.

    r.c.a. had a precurser to the compact cassette recorder called ‘sound tape’ that failed to thrive on account of not being compact enough.

  3. metaphizzle says:

    “Yep. Some folks will still want hard copies, and like Bob I lament the loss of fidelity with the mp3 compression. It’s a shame .flac never took off.”

    Don’t count .flac out yet. Bandcamp (an independent service for buying music straight from the bands) offers .flac as one of several formats to download in. I d/l’ed Sufjan Stevens’ All Delighted People EP as .flac’s… then I immediately burned it to an audio CD and deleted the files to free the space on my hard drive.

    I, too, hope physical media stick around, but I’m rather optimistic about it, considering that vinyl has not only survived but is making a bit of a comeback for the last few years.

    I do remember using my parent’s Walkman a bit, but never enough to really get any emotional attachment to it. I do fondly remember listening to 90′s ska on my first portable CD player. Now? I have a CD player and a turntable for listening to music at home, and an iPod for everywhere else.

  4. metaphizzle says:

    “Which is why it always rings false in a fictional story when someone fulfills a desire they had when they were ten – as if pure true people have an unbroken line between their adult selves and the people they were before their brain let loose the Reapers, also known as the Hormones of Adolescence. Some stuff survives the transition, but it’s rarely a passing fancy – and it’s often the things you’ve put away when you’re a know-it-all eleven-year old.”

    When I was ten, I was obsessed with bugs. Upon discovering that a person could make a career out of studying insects, I decided that’s what I would do. Now, I’m working on my Masters degree in Entomology.

    Which makes the butterfly metaphor in your very next paragraph all the funnier.

  5. swschrad says:

    @shesnailie: RCA and Wollensak both had that oversized cassette wannabe in the late 60s, I’ll bet they all came out of the 3m/Wollensak plant. very curiously about the same size, shape, track format, and effect in the marketplace as TEAC’s “Elcaset” of the mid 70s.

    the EC3500/Norelco 150 was meant as a dictation machine, but it did just fine on the debate bus playing music. had one for a lot of years until the mechanism wore out. used the tape head for an AC detection device behind walls.

  6. metaphizzle says:

    “This is where someone attempts to sound hip by saying “What’s a cassette tape?” as if ignorance of things that preceded your brief tenure on this verdant rock is somehow a mark of distinction.”

    What’s a rock?

  7. swschrad says:

    what’s distinction?

  8. Chris says:

    No one but the composer/player/arranger/publisher “owns” a song. And ownership is limited to matters of compensation. All you have, all you ever had, is a copy of the song. Thus, the format in which you experience it is nearly irrelevant. What matters, though, is your experience of the music. If the platform is part of your experience, then so be it.

    And no, sheet music is not archaic. My son uses it in piano every day. Works for him — it has for hundreds of years. The written language of music will outlive all of us. Tapes, records, iPods, nah.

  9. JamesS says:

    metaphizzle says: When I was ten, I was obsessed with bugs. Upon discovering that a person could make a career out of studying insects, I decided that’s what I would do. Now, I’m working on my Masters degree in Entomology.

    When I was that age I was fascinated by rocks. Rocks and mountains and outcrops sticking out of the ground, and stuff like that.

    When I started college, I was a music education major. During the typical traumatic breakup with my high school girlfriend, I decided to make a clean break and select a new major. My new field: geology.

    A few years later and I was a freshly minted BS Geology graduate. Later on, my career led me from geology to cartography/photogrammetry and thence to computer-assisted cartographic systems, and ultimately to database administration and design — but that’s another story.

    My childhood love for geology has never passed.

  10. Reese says:

    Ron Ramblin up there 10/26 1:01 PM,

    That was probably the top use of a “walkman” ever in history! Har!

    Then again, there’s the “walkman” type instrument used by Matthew Broderick in Wargames to escape his captivity.

    My first tape recorder was (is– I still have it) called a “Book-Corder” because it was about the size of the “T” volume in a 1950′s encyclopedia. It ate Radio Shack batteries (C-Zn) in about 15 minutes. Gift ca. 1969. I recorded from the radio speaker The Animals’ “So Happy Together.”

    First Walkman-type object was a Toshiba purchased with my first paycheck out of Navy bootcamp in ’82. I needed it because the midnight watches at my first Navy school were very boring. Snuck the speakers under my watchcap and peecoat collar (Chicago Winter) to listen to “The Wall” twice in four hours.

  11. Billie says:

    I think that it’s wonderful that you’re making so many records of your daughter. I wish my parents had made more, but most of all I wish my parents STILL would. I’m in college, living on campus far from home, and I miss them all the time. They’re not young anymore, they’re in their early 50′s, and I know that every day that I get to spend with them is absolutely precious. No one in my family has a good memory, either, so I wish that we would all invest more time in making records of the time we spend with our loved ones.

    My grandfather helped raised my sister and I when we were very, very young, while my parents both worked long hours to keep us afloat and provide a good life for us. We never wanted for anything. My granddad passed away when I was a cantankerous preteen, and now I wish that I had spent more time cataloging all of the wonderful stories he would tell us about his childhood and cherishing the incredible memories he gave me, for they are fleeting more each passing day.

    Please keep making and storing more memories of your family. You’re not spoiling anyone. You will never regret what you are doing. Loved ones will eventually pass, memories may only fade if we allow them to.

  12. The MCP says:

    @swschrad: Just for the record, the “Elcaset” was Sony’s baby, not Teac. (Although Teac *did* make an Elcaset deck which was, and still is, considered to be the best deck ever made for that ill-fated format. An EL-700 in working condition fetches *astonishingly* premium prices on eBay these days.)

    Elcaset was a neat idea, at least in theory — a tape cartridge that married the portability and convenience of the cassette, with the high fidelity of open-reel tape. Since the sound quality of “compact cassette” wasn’t exactly all that and a bag of chips at the time, Elcaset *could* have been a contender — but Sony priced it much too high, and didn’t market it very well. (Plus, I don’t think they *ever* made any effort to get the record companies to turn out prerecorded tapes for the format; I certainly never saw any.) So when Dolby B/C noise reduction and better oxide formulas turned the compact cassette into a reasonably decent-quality format, it kicked the legs out from under Elcaset and Sony threw in the towel after only about 2-3 years.

    Believe it or not, I still own one of the Sony decks, along with about fifty-odd tapes for it… still sounds great. :-)

  13. shesnailie says:

    _@_v – no to be an überg??k… but the carry-corder 150 came in three model numbers the el-3300, 3301 and 3302. the earlier 3300s originally didn’t have the record-protect feature – or an adjustable trimpot on the board for motor speed – that latter feature means that surviving models often sound… er… sluggish. the 3301 had the same body styling but improved on the internals. i have one non-working el-3300 – it run at the bottom of tape-speed acceptability – and two working el-3301s

    the el-3302 was largely a styling change with internal improvements. i have two of those models

    while the carry-corder may have been advertised as a dictation machine, the demo tape that came with them had musical selections and the first units shipped with a patch cord to allow users to hook the machine to their hi-fi set.

    included on the demo tape that came with mine is a brief recording of two office guys futzing with the unit the day they got it. the manual that came with it list the machine as having been bought in miami during the summer of 1966

    of course i’ve digitised and uploaded the clip…

    http://home.roadrunner.com/~dasimperator/norelco_test.mp3

  14. Jeff says:

    @Wagner: “The reason the 8 track tape didn’t last was that it was based on the moebius strip and was therefore topo-gigio-logically impossible.”

    Actually, that’s not true. A moebius strip is a length of tape spliced to itself with a half twist, thereby creating only one apparent surface. 8-track tapes, like the Fidelipac-style carts that were ubiquitous in radio and television stations since the ’60s, are a loop spliced in the ordinary way so that there are two distinct sides. This is essential since the tape only has oxide coating on one side, and that side must be in contact with the heads. Flipping the tape with the oxide away from the head drops the level dramatically and kills high frequency response, as anyone who has mis-threaded a reel-to-reel machine knows. A moebius band would be a clever idea except for the really bad performance you would get through have of every loop cycle… not to mention the extremely high crosstalk that would result from effectively doubling the number of tracks and increasing the head-to-oxide distance half the time.

  15. Jeff says:

    Okay, that last sentence should have read “half of every loop cycle”. The coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been maintaining broadcast tape machines for over 40 years — everything from ’50s vintage tube-type Ampex, through decades of cart machines, up to today’s digital video gear. (I still have a collection of reel-to-reel and cart machines at home, to my wife’s consternation.) It’s strange to see tape disappearing in favor of memory cards the size of a thumbnail, but I don’t especially miss the mechanical complexity.

  16. Ross says:

    “Chris says:
    …The written language of music will outlive all of us. Tapes, records, iPods, nah.”

    With the earlier comment about moderns becoming too lazy to learn an instrument, etc., yours reminded me of something I saw some years ago when a classically-trained musician who composes film scores was explaining one of the downsides to the new compostion/dictation programs(don’t know the name of it, but it scores what you play as you play it), namely that they’re too precise.
    When you have notation that exact(note & rest lengths in 124ths & the like), the player doesn’t have to learn the unwritten stylistic elements that distinguish playing the notes straight from, say, swinging it or baroque from classical, etc. So they never develop the musical vocabulary that allows someone like Marsalis or Hancock(or, in an earlier time, Bernstein) to advance a young musician’s interpretive skills. Over time, you get whole generations of dull, dumb(or, more accurately, ignorant) players.

    I had college friends who were what is now termed “early adopters” who loaned me their first-generation Walkmans, and it really was revelatory(they were also the ones who had me over to see MTV a couple of weeks after they launched, w/a similar effect–the first video I saw was Robert Palmer’s “Searching for Clues” w/the test pattern signal running under the song). My first very own(bought when I was finally working again after college–I still miss it) was a beautiful, tough little Toshiba unit–all metal & small(the cassette itself stuck out the top c.1/4″), easy to use controls, auto-play(no having to flip the cassette for side 2)& GREAT sound. I got it on the advice of the guys at a Schaak Electronics(miss them, too) next door to the tobacco shop I worked in, mid-80s. It made the cross-town bus commute until my first car tolerable. I abused that thing for years, but when it finally needed fixing, Schaak was gone & I couldn’t find an independent shop that would work on it. I probably tossed it, but if I find it someday, I’ll be online like a shot searching for someone who can restore it. I’m planning on replacing the cassette player in my beater, too–despite the degredation over time, the day-to-day practicality(very klutz-forgiving) of cassettes is what I love about them. Of course, now that I have a home pc, I expect a digital player will eventually replace it.

  17. rivlax says:

    Sorry for the late comment but have been away from a computer. I had to write to say that I, too, had my infatuation with Hawaii. I read Michener’s book in ’64 or so and then read every book I could get my hand on about Hawaii. It was the place I was going to head to when I got old enough to leave the house. But, alas, I never went, and, strangely, have no desire to go. Though maybe I will at some point just to visit the USS Arizona memorial.

  18. NukemHill says:

    He was the only friend I had who understood how totally awesome it was at the end of Rush’s “2112” when the voice came in and said “we have assumed control. We have assumed control.” Goosebumps dude.

    Absolutely!

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:


Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!