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Monday, July 6, 2009

Walkman Turns 30 and Makes Teen's Head Explode

That title makes it sound like this came out of the Weekly World News. You would almost expect to see the decimated skull of a teen wearing head phones in a picture next to an update on Bat Boy. And the title doesn’t really denote any physical harm to the little whipper snapper. He didn’t get rocked to death. In fact, the only thing harmed was the hope that the next generation will be able to take care of us old fogeys. All of this is over the 30th birthday of the Walkman and how a 13 year old couldn’t figure one out. Oh, how my generation gently weeps.

The basics of the story, which you can click on above to open in a new window, leaving your current reading enjoyment of my blog intact, is that a 13 year old was handed a Walkman and asked to try it out against the current technology or the iPod and other Portable Media Players. The youngster was first put off by the size of the Walkman compared to the iPod Nano or Shuffle. Secondly, that all too familiar squeaky sound from the rollers turning the tape and the push button functionality made him feel like the monolith standing before primitive man, motionless, but trying to nudge them towards picking up a bone with a thought. But that notion became reversed when it took him three days to realize that there was a Side B to the tape. Now, who is flinging pooh, junior? His retort was that it didn’t hold nearly enough music compared to the iPod. This is the biggest slap in the face of music and technology since Limp Bizkit used a Speak and Spell to cover The Who’s "Behind Blue Eyes". If that kid ever loses his ball in my yard, he’s not getting back. Go cry to Fred Durst about it.

The Walkman was from a different time than the iPod. For all you young readers out there…first of all I commend you for taking the time out of your busy schedule of texting to read this…you have to remember that until 2001, we had no choice but to listen to our music on physical media. Whether we rocked out to a minidisc, a compact disc, or a TDK 120 minute cassette tape with DNR, we still had to open the player and stick something in it. You can imagine my frustration the first time I got an iPod and wondered how to open the damn thing. Oh and by the way, TDK and DNR are not txtspeak, that’s the name of the company and Dolby Noise Reduction. Regardless of how new technology may appear to be cool, let’s take a trip down memory lane and see a real trendsetter, the 13 year old Mongo on his 10 speed.

In my youth, I had a paper route. Actually, I had two paper routes combined into one. Starting from my house, I went in one direction, travelling 2.1 miles in a loop around half of my neighborhood. Then, I returned home, grabbed a second set of papers and headed in the opposite direction, travelling 1.7 miles in a loop around the other the half. In total I had roughly 60 papers to deliver and it took about an hour and a half to complete. I did this every weekday afternoon and Saturday mornings at 6:30 AM for nearly six years. To date, it is my second longest tenured job, though I am not too quick to include it on my resume.

To put this into perspective, I had 90 minutes of banal peddling, stopping, dropping off a paper; peddling, dropping…you get the idea. So, what better way to pass the time than by putting together the most awesome mix tape ever for riding your bike to? I labored intensively night and day toggling record and play on my dual cassette deck boom box, my fingers synced better than a twelve year old texting his five best friends, simultaneously. I rifled through my brother’s tape and CD collection to find the right mix of peddle pushing, fist pumping, kick ass mullet rock and 80’s movie soundtrack pop songs that could fill my TDK tape. Then, the coup de grace, knowing that the clip on a Walkman was near useless, I MacGyvered a way to strap my it to my leg with some parts from a book bag, Velcro and a little help from Doug Masters in Iron Eagle.

With my tunes at the ready, I strolled out of my house like an astronaut taking that slow motion strut along the catwalk, heading for the space shuttle on my way to destroy the Earth threatening meteor. I mounted up, pushed play, and left my driveway in the dust along with my Walkman which had slipped its bonds and fell off my leg. Hoping for the best, I tossed the now scuffed tape player into my paper bag and went about my way. The soundtrack gems of Roger Daltrey from Quicksilver, Queen from the aforementioned Iron Eagle, and John Parr from St Elmo’s Fire kept time with my feet as I rode along my route, delivering the news.

When I became old enough to drive, laziness kicked in and I started to take the family car on my route. Now, I could ride in Oldsmobile style, utilizing the factory equipped AM/FM cassette radio, free from earphones. I could share my music with the rest of my hood and not get my legs nipped at by the neighbor’s dog. Once I began college, I then upgraded to a DiscMan because I still did not have a car with a CD player already installed. I had to use the adaptor tape plugged into my tape player and headphone jack. I still used the Iron Eagle method of strapping my player to my leg because at the time, the car did not have a suitable storage are for me to put my DiscMan in and the skipping made it impossible to enjoy music if I laid it on the seat.

How could this be considered inferior to the iPod? I ask you. What do these kids know? Who doesn’t like to jog around town with an 8 Track sized block of plastic and printed circuit boards strapped to their arm, the weight of the Walkman shifting your balance, causing a curvature of your spine? That’s what chiropractors are for after all.

So, the next time some adolescent eyes you eye up because you are toting a Walkman, clipped to your belt, take his iPod and toss it against the wall. Then laugh because if the same thing happened to you, all you need is a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers, a solder gun, and an eraser topped pencil to fix your Walkman and rewind your tape. Tech support in the 80’s consisted of three techniques, bang on it, blow in it, or buy a new one for less than 40 bucks. Try that with an iPod besides the shuffle. And while you’re at it, go smack Fred Durst.

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