(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.