Listening to Music on a Walkman Cassette Player

by gurdeepmattu

I write this on the second day of Spring 2013.  It is sunny, but cold.  Last year, I purchased a Walkman, because for a long time, I hadn’t listened to music on cassette.  It was a model bought from eBay and is a WM-36 with Dolby NR.  It wasn’t too expensive, but then the 3.5mm jack is a bit loose, and so it loses a lot of its portability.  It’s not in too bad a condition given that this Walkman is probably as old as me.  (Well, nearly.  The WM-36 model was released in 1987 and the GM Model was released in 1982.)  Here’s a picture.  In the background are a pair of Onitsuka Tigers that were first released in 1981:

Image

According to some sites, it is a bit of ‘disappointing model’.  There is more detail here.  Its inside mechanics are based on the ‘lowly’ WM-33 and there’s quite a lot of hiss.  It has a metal tape door, and and decent heft.  It has a 5 band graphic equaliser and with the Dolby NR on the sound is reasonable but not spectacular.  There’s a Normal and Metal setting for the different types of tape ribbon.  Do you remembering trying to figure out with one was best?  Tinkering with the treble and bass sliders helps, and turning Dolby NR recovers a lot of the treble, but the hissssss –

I had missed it.  It is a softer, mellower sound than MP3 and CD.  It suits candlelight and red wine evenings.  It suits company.  Compact Disc is always bright and sharp and clean, and unrewarding when the stereo that you are playing it through doesn’t have a good amp.  On my Panasonic PM-20 my CDs sound okay, but lacking.  There are, I know, a whole range of frequencies not getting enough attention from the amplifier.

The hissssss reminds me of my youth.  It reminds me of taping songs from the radio, and of my first forays into a music player of my own (a 2W Matsui) and it reminds me of what felt like a simpler time.  Music was a rare commodity, to be treasured, to be played and replayed.  Tapes were worn out, distorted and in some ways, like vinyl, you were reminded of the impermanence of life.  I hope that isn’t too big a stretch for the reader but the storage mediums of cassette and vinyl didn’t have the capacity for endless replays.  There was something, then, of the actual quality of life transmitted in the replays.  Your favourite albums would degrade, in the same way that old friendships become deep, and pitted and filled with the patina of shared history and shared memory.  They say that so much of memory is a fiction: well when you’ve heard a taping of a song you recorded from the radio for the 100th time and it is basically just a set of droning noises that resembles in some way a ‘song’, you think of your friendships of many years.  They are relationships between people that resemble a friendship, but have far more encoded.  You see yourself in them.  They are mirrors, too, to an extent.

I have a CD Discman somewhere and I carried that around too, clutching at the mechanics, while at secondary school.  It technically belongs to my brother.  My grey Sony with reverse play is consigned to the dustbin of history somewhere and my AIWA was stamped on, deliberately, by my father, in a drunken rage.  It is something I have never forgiven him for, and never will.  On that day, in destroying something that I valued so highly for so petty a reason, he became something far less than a father figure and something of a persona to be witnessed and described and written about, a shambolic failure of manhood that I have spent my entire life, in some way, running from, because the basic genetic components are right here, in me, encoded.

My grey Sony eventually degraded, the plastic snapping in parts, the silver painted finish coming off, and as I sit and listen to U2’s ‘Lemon’ on a TDK D90, I turn off the Dolby NR and I’m back with you and we’re somewhere on a bus on the way to school and ultimately what you hold on to only has meaning if you can lose it

“And I feel like I’m drifting drifting drifting from the shore //
And I feel like I’m swimming out to her”

I am swimming out to you, my Love.

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