By now you’ve surely heard about Sony’s termination in manufacturing the Walkman. Everyone who has heard this news had nearly identical reactions: “They were still making those??” Yes, apparently they were. And I have to say, my heart is a little heavy at the idea that no more walkmans (walkmen?) will sold. So this post is dedicated to the Maxell cassette era. No, I don’t have issues with dating myself in this post.
My dad immigrated here in the late 60s, so that meant our family grew up on Classic Rock. At the time, we were proud and dedicated listeners of WCKG 105.9 FM, the classic rock station. Of course, this made me a super-dork at school, and I couldn’t really relate to my peers because I didn’t know a whole lot about mainstream music. No problem, we had a radio with a cassette deck. And on that cassette deck, we had a very key button (well, two buttons, really): play + record. I remember when my brother, Sachin, taught me how to record ourselves talking (just record) and recording off the radio. If I was lucky enough to hear a great song (and the only way I knew it was a great song was because my brother kind of taught me), I would hit record! Yes, I usually cut off the first 5-10 seconds. I also remember our family being proud owners of a very simple Sony Walkman. And on a separate occasion, my dad had a business trip to China and he brought us back the most complex Walkman I’ve ever seen. So. Many. Buttons. We have so many cassettes in our house: My parents would purchase the 60-minute Maxell tapes in bulk to record whatever my dad brought from the library. At then we got the 90-minute Maxell cassettes. I think those bulk packages is my first experience with frustration of too-much-useless packaging. We had actually far fewer albums (on tape) in our house, but somehow we had, well we still have, many recordings of various artists on cassettes. Mostly, these tapes are Classical Indian and Classical Western music. I don’t care so much for the latter, but it’s funny that I had zero interest in the former for…my first 20 years of existence. They were housed in our basement, and even after so many floods, they’ve still survived. Because I know you’re curious, my first “tape” was Debbie Gibson’s “Electric Youth”. I couldn’t justify buying classic rock on tape if I could just hit record. Also, I was trying to fit in.
I’m fully aware of the uselessness of the cassette tape, for music storage, as compared to its counterparts: vinyl, the cd, the mp3. I don’t care: something has to define my formative years. And the mix-tape is just that. That is not to say I got stuck in time and never graduated to the cd, it just means I still “kept it real”. My best friend from high school, Jana, and I used to make each other mix-tapes all the time, and I’m sure many of you share similar memories. Jana is the reason I had any opportunity to go to my first rock concert: Tori Amos (oh yes, I was a late bloomer). Tori Amos has a well-represented presence on many mix-tapes from Jana. And Jana has the most beautiful handwriting to fit – not only song title, but artist as well – on those damn tiny cards in the cases. She’s also how I learned about Ani DiFranco and Dar Williams. I used to make mix-tapes for Jana, but they were still Classic Rock, so I suppose I added to her collection in a different way. I remember one time trying to decipher my college roommate’s amazing stereo system so that I could make a mix-tape for a guy I had a crush on. You would think that since I was on the verge of exiting college with a bachelor’s degree, I could manage making a damn mix-tape on the uber-stereo. I even added the tracks’ minutes together in my strategic planning. And yet, somehow I managed to throw 5 full minutes of dead-air time on this tape. Ah well, guess it wasn’t meant to be (ha ha).
Well, eventually I graduated from college and by that point, I graduated to collecting more cds and making mix-cds. That’s really because I moved back to Chicago and my dad had a Nero cd burner at that point. But it was still a lot of work – putting all those tracks on the computer first, then the system had to read those tracks, then you had to hope the Nero system wouldn’t reject your cd at the end of it all. Making mix-cds usually kept me up pretty late at night. And I made a lot of mix cds, mostly for my best friend from college, Ann and Jana. Ann and I would trade a lot of salsa music this way (by the way, Ann has a minidisc recorder – how hot is that?). Jana was, by this point, inundated with my World Music “commitment” (“You call it obsession, I call it commitment.”). Now that we’re in the era of mp3 downloading, I have never made a “playlist” for anybody but myself. And that too, it was really just a lazy-list of “favorites” to play at parties or to jog to at the break of dawn. Something had to get me out of bed. My dad is now on a mission to digitize all of his tapes in an effort to preserve these rare collections that have, so fare, survived our basement.
I’ll say it again: I know cassettes are useless when it comes to storing music, but I still have a very special place in my heart for the mix-tape.
I’d love to hear your stories and memories of the mix-tape era. Please send stories and share!