The Walkman Is Dead

October 27, 2010

I’ve come across several articles over the past few days announcing the end of Sony’s Walkman. The final batch was shipped to stores in Japan.

The groundbreaking portable cassette player hit the shores of the States in 1979 as a fifth grader deep in the heart of nowhere was just beginning to warm to music. I hadn’t even committed to buying music at the time much less feel a need to have the stuff at my beck and call at all times.

And, at that time, even if I’d wanted a Walkman, the cost would have made having one a pipe dream.

By the summer of ’82, I had the radio on as often as possible and had begun to buy cassettes. My buddy Beej was always ahead of the curve in electronic gadgetry and he was the first among my friends to snag a Walkman. He brought it home from his annual summer visit to see his dad in Arizona.

Months later, a portable cassette player was part of my take for Christmas.

I think it was a Panasonic.

It didn’t matter to me as the mere ability to block out the world and be lost in music anywhere, at any time, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and an oft-needed refuge.

It must have been the next Christmas that I received my first Walkman. The following summer I didn’t remove the Walkman’s headphones once during our family’s two week trip to Florida.

(I was sixteen, sullen, and adhering to teenage protocol)

It’s odd that I don’t remember the details of my first Walkman. That part of my brain might have been blown out in the ’90s

Or, maybe it’s because I had a number of portable cassette players of different brands over a two decade period. The prices dropped making them more economical to replace and replace them I did as, though I did treat mine with care, I put them through an excessive workload.

The last time I remember having a Sony was toward the end of high school. It was one of the first to reduce the size of the device down to just slightly larger than the size of the cassette being played.

It ended up heading to college with me, served me well, and is likely now in some anonymous landfill.

Time and techology marches on.

I remained true to the concept of the portable cassette player until the first few years of the 21st century when I bought an mp3 player. Now, it’s hard to imagine not having tens of thousands of songs at my fingertips.

Here are four random songs courtesy of the iPod…

Robert Palmer – Every Kinda People
from Very Best Of Robert Palmer

I knew only a sliver of the work of the suave Robert Palmer prior to the doubleshot of his solo album Riptide and the debut by The Power Station in 1985/1986. Then, he was inescapable on radio and video.

But, I’ve come to appreciate the earlier records by the late singer especially since Paloma and I started buying vinyl. Every Kinda Of People has a breezy feel and, though the song – which echoes the legendary Marvin Gaye – has a serious message, it’s uplifting as its theme of acceptance is delivered with a soulful vocal by Palmer that soars.

Duran Duran – Save A Prayer
from Electric Barbarella

I really liked the first couple albums by Duran Duran after the group hit the US shores in late ’82.

(I had to discover their self-titled debut after Rio hit)

The shimmering ballad Save A Prayer was a favorite.

Manic Street Preachers – Suicide Is Painless (Theme from M*A*S*H)
from Forever Delayed

I know that even as a small child, I immediately recognized the heaviness of the theme song from M*A*S*H even before I became a viewer of the show. Later, I was surprised to learn that the teenaged son of director Robert Altman had written the lyrics.

(I had to wonder if he was truly miserable or merely able to conjure up such despair)

For quite awhile, this anthemic cover wasn’t the easiest song to find for Manics fans in the States.

The Smashing Pumpkins – You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
from The Aeroplane Flies High

Paloma and I loved The Smashing Pumpkins and I can still picture the toy ray gun that she wore in her hair when we saw them live on their tour for Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. I wouldn’t hesitate to name them as one of the best bands of the ’90s.

The prolific band released a number of cover songs including this one by The Cars. Toward the end of the Pumpkins run with the original line-up, I saw them again. I told Billy Corgan that I had dug the solo record he had produced for The Cars’ Rik Ocasek.

He smiled as soon as I mentioned the little-heard (but truly groovy) album.

Time To Burnish My Legacy

November 19, 2009

As someone commented the other day, I’m old.

Well, not really. I mean, I am older than I was, but I’d like to think that I am not close to as old as I will be.

However, since my brush with death last week, I’ve been giving great thought to my mortality and the things I have yet to achieve.

(it really wasn’t so dire and I rarely think of my own mortality aside from the fact that it would be an unimpeachable excuse to stay home from work)

I do eyeball the obituaries in the New York Times most days. It’s nothing morbid. Some of it is a natural interest in current events.

Some of it is because of a game a couple of friends and I played when we were co-workers, working on Billboard‘s musical database. When an artist died, whoever removed them from the database first received a small, photocopy the size of a postage stamp of a skull and crossbones.

This competetion became quite heated and we proudly taped our “kills” to our cubicle walls.

But, one reason to read the obituaries in the Times is for the intriguing taglines like “Robert Rines, Inventor and Monster Hunter, Dies at 87 ” or “William Belton, Self-Taught Ornithologist, Dies at 95.”

I’d like something like that for myself when the time comes except I am not an inventor, monster hunter, or self-taught ornithologist. I have done pioneering work in the combination of peanut butter and bacon as a sandwich and I do quite like those Monsterquest documentaries, though.

But, the only thing involving birds that I have taught myself, so far as I can think, is how to make fried chicken (though I’m more inclined to drag Paloma out of the way on a road trip for such foodstuff).

So, in the meantime, I’ve got some work to do. Fortunately, I’m hoping I have some time to amass some accomplishments that will result in an eye-catching lead when I do finally shuffle onward.

Here are some songs by artists who have passed away in the month of November in years past…

Quiet Riot – Cum On Feel The Noize
from Metal Health

From all I’ve read and based on a few first-hand accounts, Quiet Riot lead singer Kevin DuBrow worked ceaselessly to break his band. Then, he proceeded to alienate most of the music industry and Quiet Riot, who had been the first metal act to have a Number One album in the US, plummeted back to obscurity (with DuBow getting fired from the band).

However, during the autumn of ’83, Quiet Riot’s cover of Slade’s classic Cum On Feel The Noize was inescapable and Metal Health was heard blaring from every car stereo in our high school parking lot. DuBrow, who later rejoined the band, passed away on November 19, 2007 of a cocaine overdose.

Chris Whitley – Power Down
from Terra Firma

Texan Chris Whitley went from busking on the streets of New York City to being one of the musical surprises of 1991 when his debut Living With The Law found favor with critics and fans. It took four years for him to follow it up and, when he did he incorporated elements of grunge, alternative rock, and dissonant noise to his bluesy folk rock.

Power Down is a smoldering four minutes of jagged, wiry rock. Sadly, the underappreciated Whitley – who counted artists including Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Hornsby, Tom Petty, Iggy Pop, John Mayer, Daniel Lanois and Keith Richards among his admirers – passed away from lung cancer on November 20, 2005.

Bow Wow Wow – Do You Wanna Hold Me?
from When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going

Bow Wow Wow was formed when impresario Malcolm McClaren poached Adam’s Ants and made teen-aged ingenue Annabella Lwin lead singer. The result was one of the iconic songs of the ’80s with their version of The Strangeloves’ I Want Candy.

The group also had a minor hit with the equally energetic (if less remembered) Do You Wanna Hold Me? Guitarist Matthew Ashman died of diabetes-related complications on November 21, 1995, but, having been in both Adam & The Ants and Bow Wow Wow, he managed to be in two of the most beloved acts of the New Wave era.

Manic Street Preachers – This Is Yesterday
from The Holy Bible

Almost unknown in the States, the Welsh band Manic Street Preachers have been superstars in the UK for two decades. And, anyone who has followed the band is well aware of their history, particular rhythm guitarist/lyricist Richey Edwards, who mysteriously vanished in February, 1994.

The lovely, melancholic This Is Yesterday appeared on The Holy Bible, the group’s third album and one which is regarded by many critics to be as powerful as and the equal of Nirvana’s landscape-changing Nevermind. Edward’s vanished a day prior to embarking on a US protional tour for the record.

Edwards has never been found (though he has been “sighted” everywhere from India to the Canary Islands). It was only on November 23, 2008 that he was officially declared to be “presumed dead.”

Accidentally Poking The Nun With A Stick (Or, Maybe She Simply Wasn’t A Lakers Fan)

April 14, 2009

Unlike last Easter, Paloma and I opted for a more traditional take on the holiday this year – I’d promised we could go shopping for some plants and flowers.

As the late morning sky resembled that from the opening credits of The Simpsons, we decided to head out into the countryside and, forty-five minutes later, she was loading up a cart at a lawn and garden store.

Checking out, Paloma made polite conversation with the clerk. As it was roughly noon on Easter, she asked if things had been slow.

The clerk replied that, actually, quite the opposite was true. “Guess people ‘round here don’t go to church on Easter Sunday.”

His eye contact conveyed disapproval and his tone had enough accusation in it for me to, momentarily, consider telling him that we were Muslim were late for the call to prayer.

However, as “’round here” was Sticksville, I suspected such a comment might have brought Homeland Security into the mix. Paloma had promised me KFC for lunch, so, obviously, that would have been an inconvenience.

When I was in third grade, basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was only about half a dozen years removed from being known as Lew Alcindor. As Larry Bird and Magic Johnson wouldn’t really bring the NBA onto my radar for several years, I doubt that I knew Abdul-Jabbar by any name.

(I was surprised that both Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Lew Alcindor passed spell check – what a glorious time to be alive)

As a nine-year old who was being raised Catholic in a small Midwestern town, I doubt I’d heard of Islam, either, until reading an article on Abdul-Jabbar in some magazine (probably Sports Illustrated).

The piece made me aware of the greatness of Abdul-Jabbar and it served as a foreshadowing of the future.

After several days of letting the subject slosh around in my nine-year old brain, I decided to take up the matter in religion class with Sister Jonette.

“Sister Jonette, we’re Catholic and believe in God, yes?”

So far, so good.

“And some people are Muslim and they believe in Allah, right?”

I was suddenly sailing into unfavorable waters.

“So, how do we know that we’re not praying to the same god? Or, what if we’ve got the wrong one?”

Sister Jonette had to be eighty-years old. She was of the ruler-wielding generation of nuns. She was not really of the demographic to take into account that I was quite honestly curious about a topic that would prove to be vexing to a lot of folks down the road.

I tried to throw Kareem under the bus as the source of my curiosity.

As I shuffled off to the principal’s office, I was no closer to having a grasp on spirituality, but I had learned a valuable lesson regarding religion.

Queens Of The Stone Age – God Is In The Radio

Beth Orton (with Emmylou Harris and Ryan Adams) – God Song

Faithless – God Is A DJ

Manic Street Preachers – The Girl Who Wanted To Be God