Monday, May 14, 2012

Listening differently

It hit me with a start as I was rummaging through my belongings. I have literally thousands of audio cassette tapes that I have accumulated over the years, but do you think I have any audio cassette player? Apparently not. Certainly I have owned plenty of these devices. But, like many things in my life, they have either been broken, lost or stolen by my children. It’s not really a pressing need though. I can listen to music through any number of methods these days. But all the work that I put into saving recordings from what is now ancient technology seems wasted. And it doesn’t even begin with my huge cassette collection.
Like most of us seasoned folk, my first real memory of possessing music was on a vinyl record. There were 78’s that spun at an incredible pace, then the 45’s that were smaller in size but still packed the same amount of music onto a side thanks to microgroove technology. Today, microgroove sounds like some sort of new coffee variant. The tough deal about the 7-inch 45’s was the adapter that you needed to play the things on a standard record player. If your player did not come with a large cylindrical adapter useful for playing stacks of hit songs, you needed a plastic adapter, often called a spider because, well, I’m not really sure why anybody called it a spider since it looked more like a round three-legged swastika than any insect I have seen. But with a pack of spiders and an automatic changer for the player, the music would never end -- at least not for about an hour.
For real music lovers, the album was the chosen method of listening. Turning at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, the disk would run under the record needle which would faithfully reproduce anything from “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” for our listening pleasure. Of course, the record player didn’t help for those long car trips when Mom and Dad wanted to listen to the equivalent of Muzak on the radio. But soon, music lovers were presented with salvation itself. It was called the 8-track tape. With just a quick push into the dashboard or into the slot on the home hi-fi, and the music would flow.
I never owned an 8-track tape or an 8-track player. I found early on that there were disadvantages to the 8-track technology. For one, there were four “programs” on the tape and often the recording didn’t fit well onto the allotted space on the tape. The result was a fade out of the music, a click to the next program on the tape, and a fade in of the music again. Annoying. The other drawback was that the vast majority of 8-track machines were simply players and not recorders. So I bypassed the 8-track for the prize that didn’t include fading during guitar solos and did include the ability to create my own recordings. I went straight to cassette. Yes, I was a trendsetter. It took a while before I could get many pre-recorded cassettes. In fact, if not for the Columbia House Record and Tape Club, I probably would have been music-free in my formidable years except for recording my favorite songs from the radio.
I still have no 8-track player, although I do have a turntable, which is the fancy way of saying record player. I can play music from the vinyl discs and from the more-common compact discs. Then there is the new standard for music -- digital. I never had an mp3 player of my own or any kind of iPod, but I do now have an iPhone which accomplishes the same purpose. (Oddly enough, my iPhone also makes phone calls. Who’da thunk it?)
But for some reason, I don’t have a cassette player to my name. I purposely avoided the 8-tracks that I knew would be worthless and sunk my time, money and energy into a different obsolete music format. Now I’m faced with the fact that I have a boatload of cassettes that I can store in the same room as all the VHS video tapes I can no longer watch since my VCR blew up a few years ago. I feel like technology has marched right over me.

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