I started this blog, wanting to write about cassettes. How they are produced, the growth in their popularity and lots of other fact based other articles formed themselves in my notebook. Those ideas are not happening for me though. I don’t have writer’s block, I just don’t think any of that is very interesting to be honest. What I keep coming back to, is how I feel when I listen to cassettes.
I’ve made no secret of my love for cassettes. It has, after all, formed the basis of this new project that is taking shape with each day that passes. I keep asking myself the same two questions though: “Why do I want to focus on cassettes?” and “What is so special about cassettes?”.
Well, I’ve been thinking about my connection with music and watching how others use music as they go about their day. It is actually fascinating to see people in two places at once which is essentially how music, podcasts, audiobooks and the radio are enjoyed more often than not. People in the present, doing their work, taking a run, eating and moving from a to b are also totally disconnected from that reality and in their own, totally private place – the middle of a gig, a sporting event, or a fictional world that they have travelled to via their headphones.
I believe that whilst the iPhone, iPod, MP3 player, Minidisk and Diskman have been the more recent apparatus of the media on the move phenomenon that has shaped popular culture for the past 40 years. They owe everything they have achieved to one device: The Walkman. A product that owes its entire existence to the cassette.
The humble cassette, which in my opinion, spawned our endless pursuit for convenience. To quote Shuhei Hosokawa, a Japanese Professor from the International Research Center for Japanese Studies who wrote ‘The Walkman Effect’ in 1984;
The interviewer, apparently, asks young people (eighteen to twenty-two years old) the following: whether men with the walkman are human or not; whether they are losing contact with reality; whether the relations between eyes and ears are changing radically; whether they are psychotic or schizophrenic; whether they are worried about the fate of humanity. One of the interviewees replies: your question is out-of-date. All of these problems of communication and incommunicability, according to him, belong to the sixties and the seventies. The eighties are not the same at all. They are the years of autonomy, of an intersection of singularities in the construction of discourses. Soon, he says, you will have every kind of film on video at home, every kind of classical music on only one tape. This is what gives me pleasure.
The accuracy of that interviewee blows my mind to be honest! Pop Trivia here… When the Walkman was first put into production in 1979, it included two headphone jacks so that the owner could invite a friend to enjoy the listening experience with them. It lasted for three iterations of the Walkman before Sony scrapped it, realising that there was simply no need for the extra jack. Their marketing approach of sending a Walkman to every cool/popular person on earth had done its job and kickstarted Generation Me.
I recently picked up a Walkman from the early nineties on eBay. It cost me £14 and was an absolute gem. Rewind to the beginning of this post when I talked about my thoughts always ending up at how cassettes make me feel – and then multiply that feeling by a thousand – and you’ll get somewhere close to how it feels to listen to a mixtape whilst walking the dog, or sitting on the tube via a Walkman. It’s the feeling of being transported into a place dedicated to the things I love, despite going about everyday business – and that is what gives me pleasure.