Time machine interruptus
I showed my daughter a Walkman and it went as well as you’d expect
As a child of the 1980s, I grew up during a time when music came on large, circular discs that we got at Zayre. My daughter, on the other hand, is growing up during a time when you can’t hold the music that you don’t own.
So it was with genuine curiosity recently that she walked into the room holding a relic from the distant past. Unearthed during an archeological expedition into our basement, the Walkman she brought upstairs likely hadn’t spun a cassette since Neil Young actually was Rockin’ in the Free World. She turned it over, examining it closely before she asked – “How do you open it?”
She was aware of what it was, but she had never held a portable cassette player or used one before. I popped the top open and offered to walk her through the experience. While she went in search of some AA batteries, I took a closer look at it and discovered something about my wife that I hadn’t known. Evidently, she was an aristocrat in the 1980s. This particular Walkman was no simple device. It had a digital clock on the front, radio preset buttons, and an alarm feature. Lady Dad on Board listened to the finest of music on only the highest quality devices, it seems.
We popped the batteries into the back and pressed play. The wheels that would advance the thin strip of tape across the heads lurched to life and began spinning. Our experiment looked promising and we were one step closer to the 1980s. Headphones and earbuds are everywhere, so we grabbed a pair and headed back to the basement to dig for a cassette.
I figured we’d stumble across something from the grunge era, but we obviously miscalculated and fired up too many gigawatts in our audio time machine. The first cassette we came across was Iron Maiden’s “Piece of Mind,” her dad’s favorite from 1985. I slipped the tape into the cover, closed it, plugged in the headphones and prepared to let “Where Eagles Dare” wash over my child’s eardrums, convincing her that her father was an audio genius and also had impeccable musical taste.
I pressed play again, hit stop and ejected the tape. I pulled it out and pressed play yet again. This time, something did happen. The Walkman started to churn forward, only to vomit its shiny silver innards all over the inner compartment. Metallic pieces burped forth and slid all around, rendering this once fine piece of audio equipment useless.
My daughter was disappointed, because now she’d have to go back to streaming flawless recordings at her convenience. At least she was spared the indignity of having to flip the tape over. But even that was a far cry from her dad’s youth, which involved advancing a Bay City Rollers 8-track manually.
There are some details from my musical past I’m just not willing to share with her quite yet.
Bill Burke is a writer who lives in southern New Hampshire with his wife and daughter, and actually did buy his first album at Zayre in Seabrook. He is also the managing editor of custom publications for McLean Communications.