Monday, October 25, 2010

The End of the Sony Cassette Walkman

It is, I believe, impossible to overstate the importance of the Sony Walkman.  It was a complete "game changer", as the kids like to say.

I remember the first time I strapped one on.  I was in school up in South Bend, & I borrowed my roomie's Walkman with his copy of Dire Strait's Love Over Gold.  The album wasn't memorable, but the experience was: strolling across the darkened campus with the Walkman cranked up made me feel like I was in my own movie*.  That sentiment may be cliche now, but back then it was quite novel.

The cassette Walkman set the personal control innovations of the cassette tape (ability to make your own mix instead of consuming what record companies put out on vinyl or what programmers put on the radio or - heaven forbid! - even recording your own music) into a personal, portable platform.  The designers surely understood how the aspect of portability would affect music consumption, and they may have even had an inkling about how the personal listening aspects would affect the music experience, but I doubt that any one of them could know how the Walkman would change the way music would interact with the listener and his/her environment.  Like I say, it may be cliche now to think of portable music devices as scoring our lives in real time, but this was something revolutionary when portable music first appeared.

As of today, Sony has discontinued the production of the cassette Walkman in Japan.  Portable cassette players will still continue to be available in countries where computers are scarce and cassettes are still the primary mode of music consumption.  I am not going to be a nostalgic old fart and pretend that there is something inherently superior to the cassette Walkman, but it is, after all, the genesis of portable music.

Above is my own Walkman.  I bought it three years ago & had it on sale with the cassette release of Black Kaspar's Pain Free Living.  At some point I will get distribution for the cassette, but the special $50 custom Black Kaspar Walkman is apparently a thing of the past.  Or at least, if I find another source, they won't be Sonys.  And if it isn't a Sony, it isn't a Walkman.

[UPDATE: Sony has announced that the Walkman will still be available for the foreseeable future in the U.S.]
*  Just like "Skateaway", from Dire Strait's Making Movies, which is a decent take on the personal soundtrack.

1 comment:

rootless said...

Good post. I was listening to a walkman for a long time before, but my most vivid memory is of listening to The Roots, "Things Fall Apart", in Prague when I first moved there, a district called Nusle. The air was foul with coal smoke, the gambling herna bars spilling over with the detritus of post-communist life, and that album just blew me away. I kept having to rewind it though as the whole album didn't fit on there and DC put a mediocre hard rock band called the Strippers on the other side.