We live in an age where, for better or worse, decades worth of popcult flotsam can be revisited with a quick internet search.
That weird PSA you remember from grade school? The public television edu-program you watched while home sick from school? Some power pop song that was a regional hit for all of five minutes in 1980? All summonable with a few keywords and a little effort.
It’s a far cry from pre-millennium times, when some stray splinter of memory would remain lodged in your skull for decades with little chance for clarification. The best you could hope for was finding someone similarly afflicted to share notes with, and even then the individual errors and embellishments introduced over time would only result in further muddying the waters. Mostly, you’d just spend fruitless years asking folks if they recalled “that thing, you know THAT THING WITH THE THING” until the litany of confused stares made you wonder if you’d been imagining its existence all along.
Even in this era of archived retrological excess, however, some mysteries do remain. I’ve never been able to suss out the name of the short-lived Facts of Life rip-off about a girls’ boarding school that decided to go co-ed, or find a copy of the Lost in Space themed punk single that used to play on local college radio circa 1990, or locate a digital rip of a truly bizarre GI Joe story-on-tape thing Lil Bro used to have when we were kids.
Every so often, I’ll take another look around for answers on these fronts, but more out of boredom than any hope of closure. It’s not as if the fate of the world depends on learning the truth, just a whiff of residual nostalgia and another useless factoid to file away. I’ve learned to accept that some things are simply lost to time and hazy memory.
And then, sometimes, Lil Bro texts a link with zero context on a Sunday afternoon, and another piece falls into place.
Lil Bro got the “Listen ‘n’ Fun” set as a birthday gift from one of our aunts. He was more interested in the Tripwire figure (whose garish re-deco would’ve been ideal for stealth missions in the warehouse where Cobra stored its traffic cones) than the tape which came with it. The cassette sat unplayed for a good while before we worked up the courage to listen to it — a decision we initially regretted but eventually grew to celebrate.
The cheapjack oddness and over-the-top voice acting became an inside joke between us that lasted up through the present day. The tape was one of the handful of items that managed to survive the upheaval following my mother’s death. It survived long enough to terrorize my brother’s high school friends and some of my college pals. I was absolutely convinced it was supernaturally indestructible right up until the moment it mysteriously vanished during the late Nineties.
Years passed, and the frequency of our references to it diminished. On the few occasions it did come to mind, I wondered if it was as truly dire as I remembered it being.
I made it fifteen seconds into the clip before realizing it was even worse.