An Ode To the Walkman

(Weekly theme coming later.)

Sony announced yesterday that they would stop manufacturing the Walkman.  While I had no idea that they were still making them, this comes as a bit of a disappointment.  For me, the Walkman was a seminal part of growing up.  I was handed down cassette copies of albums by the Smiths, R.E.M., and Talking Heads by my older siblings.  The Walkman had a huge affect on what would eventually be my musical preferences. One year at the beach, my older Pete found a cassette copy of Chronic Town, and I must have listened to it 10 times in a row before falling asleep.

When I was 13, my sister was living in England and about to give birth to my niece.  For the trip over my older brother gave me my first actual Walkman. For years I had just been borrowing my siblings, but this trip was the first time that the portable music player was my own.  I had several cassettes ready for the flight – Weezer’s Blue Album, U2’s War, The Talking Head’s Sand in the Vaseline, Live’s Throwing Copper (hey I was 13), and R.E.M.’s Monster (which was my favorite album at the time.)

The Walkman allowed me to listen to music that my mother would otherwise disapprove of me listening to at the time.  Throwing Copper’s “Shit Towne” sounded fantastic and rebellious, and I felt a certain sense of pride when my mother was not able to hear Ed Kowalcyzk shouting, “C’mon, Motherfucker!” in the middle of “Stage”.  But cursing aside, it was during this time that I really began to understand The Talking Heads.  I had grown up with them in the background and was always a fan of “Once in a Life Time”.  “Same as it ever was”, became sometime of a catch phrase for me, even though I had to realize its irony and the disconnectedness in the way David Byrne delivered it.   But it was “Road to Nowhere” that really caught my attention on those crappy headphones on my 8 hour flight.  The song is a joyous singalong, and though I was taking my first international flight, I had no idea where I was going, or what life would be like on the other-side of the pond, even though my English mother constantly talked about returning for years.  (Of course it wasn’t until years later, that I realized that “Road to Nowhere” is probably the happiest sounding song about death.)

Soon after we arrived, I was stuck in the hospital in preparation for arrival of my niece.  I was left to my own devices, wandering around a foreign maternity ward with just my Walkman in hand.  There was nothing to read except books on pregnancy and breastfeeding, and if it weren’t for the Walkman I probably would have gone crazy.  I played the same tapes over and over again – but they never got boring.  (I did eventually have to give it up and lend it to my sister for a while.)

A couple of years later, my parents wanted to get me the upgraded Discman for Christmas. Even though it was new, and everybody I knew had one, I told them I didn’t want one.  Many of the cassettes that I had, I didn’t have on CD yet, and I had grown too attached to my dubbed versions.  I eventually did get a Discman a year or two later, when it finally broke.  I did keep a lot of my cassettes though.



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14 responses to “An Ode To the Walkman

  1. pete satterfield

    ah yes the walkman. let me hear bob dylan for the first time on a trip to new mexico when i was in boy scouts. i found highway 61 in atruck stop in ohio for 99cents. from a buick 6 stands out in my mind. i used to fall asleep in high school to the original lp dub of let it be. ialways liked dig a pony. never realized it just might be john’s accusing the rolling stones. roll a stoney…..where you can imitate everyone you know. john did always claim the stones as a few months behind.
    the walkman what a part of my music. you had our old tape copies…i had old records when you were young

    • The one I borrowed from you was great…with the big puffy headphones. I remember that you had the Beastie Boys cassette when we were in England. Oh hey speaking of records…you know that “personality” song you used to play all the time when I was a kid is now used in a commercial?

      • Sean

        Goin’ back even farther than that, my 1st pseudo-walkman was a GE model with 3 buttons–play stop and FF. Saved $5/wk cutting grass a whole summer in 82. Probably still in the attic somwhere.

        ‘Course that was my Genesis phase then.
        Pretty sure I still have some of those 25 yr old mix tapes around….

      • Hey Sean! Thanks for commenting. I’m pretty sure I inherited some of those mix tapes. I remember seeing the cassette version of Genesis’ Duke around somewhere. The GE model didn’t have a rewind button? That’s interesting. While I certainly like my Ipod, there’s something kind of cool about the tapes.

      • Sean

        A few drawbacks on the tapes, though. Hiss, and the girls don’t understand that tapes don’t have a ‘repeat’ function, like CD and digital.

        Hey, listen, my new music passion is (heh) Rush. Have a listen to Moving Pictures or 2112. I think its that summer of 81 in Canada oozing back into my brain.

      • Never listened to Rush. I should check them out. I know Neil Peart’s supposed to be an amazing drummer. Did you hear that “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” is on a car commercial now?

      • Sean

        Heard it last night when flipping channels. Think it was during the baseball game.

        For selling soccer (hockey) mom subarus. God help us all.

      • Sean

        How’s that for a theme:

        car commercials and classic songs, esp. the uptick in 80’s songs…. Deep stuff there!

      • I wrote it about it yesterday. Did you see it?

  2. yes! “shit towne” and the “c’mon, motherfucker!” in “stage.” good times.

  3. pete satterfield

    i forgot. it was thanks to sean that i got some cassettes that changed things. when i was about 12 or 13 i lent me a cassette of who’s next. wow what an album to hear. it was either that or his billy squier album emotions in motion which i still have everybody wants you…another comercial

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