The first song I ever liked was “Love You Save” by The Jackson 5. I loved the way the young girl on the record sang. I hadn’t started buying records yet so I’d wait for the radio to play it on the little transistor I carried around with me. It came with an “earphone,” that looked like hearing aids of the time, so I could listen in bed at night when I was supposed to be sleeping.
Eventually I started buying records: 45s and LPs; I had a pretty big collection. My parents let me install a stereo “system” in our basement— four honkin’ speakers mounted in the drop ceiling. I’d rock out to Aerosmith or Wings, Marshall Tucker or Harry Nilsson (my taste in music varied).
I had headphones, big padded black monsters with a curlicue cord coming out of them like an old telephone. They fit completely over my ears like earmuffs. I’d only use them late, late at night. Otherwise I played my music out loud. Loud and proud. I even mounted loud speakers to the outside of our quiet, little summer cottage on a sleepy lake in Wisconsin so everyone for miles around knew how much I liked Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I’m not sure if I was trying to drive my parents crazy with it but I’m sure I did.
Playing “your” music loud enough for everyone to hear it was half the reason you listened to music. It was “your” music, after all. Everything else was someone else’s music. You wanted everybody within earshot to know how cool your playlist was.
Driving around in your car, something cool had better be blasting out of your 8-track. The guy next to you at the stoplight had to be aware that you loved Bowie or Chicago.
Choice of music could also show how alike we were. I can remember at the Indiana dunes, walking from our blanket on the beach to the concession stand, passing radio after radio tuned to the same station, playing the same song at the same time, hundreds of strangers connected by WLS.
The Walkman, in the late 70s, started the “personal listening experience.” Everybody in their own cone of silence. Everyone nodding off in a closed off world. The headphones were smaller, lighter. They didn’t make you look like Princess Leia. But they still closed the music off to an audience of one. The Discman, of course, was next, then the iPod, iPhone. We went along like this for quite a while, musically cloistered... until lately.
Lately, I’ve noticed our listening habits have come back around. Besides big headphones hugging hipsters’ heads, I’m seeing commercials for plug-in speaker cubes: “Hey kids! Share your tunes with friends!” (novel concept) There’re docking stations, BOSE and otherwise, even iPod docks and AUX jacks in cars. My kids set up our WiFi to play their iPods and cellphones through our home theater system...
Technology “modernized” back to where it was in my childhood, the same only different. It could be good ol’ American planned obsolesces; a way to make you re-buy everything you threw away. It could just be the natural order of things. Or it could be I was right all along!
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