Armagideon Time

Reel, too real

April 23rd, 2019

Some folks will tell you that the Apollo 11 mission was 1969’s biggest scientific achievement.

They are wrong.

Transporting a pair of human to the surface of another world is pretty impressive, I’ll admit…

…but it pales in comparison to the advent of a portable cassette player with a protective enclosure for its media.

Portable tape recorders became a huge thing in my elementary school around 1981 or so, briefly supplanting videogames and big ticket Star Wars toys as the birthday gift of choice. If it was a knock-on effect from the success of Sony’s Walkman, it was a convoluted one.

They were very rarely used to play music, and never pre-recorded cassettes. At most, you’d get a tinny version of Back in Black taped within ten feet of a store-brand phonograph player, with a “SHUT THE DOOR! I’M TAPING!” screamed during the guitar solo of “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

The real allure of these devices was the ability to record yourself and your friends doing their pre-adolescent approximations of humor — a grab bag of routines lifted from Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Cheech & Chong and Saturday Night Live, reworked for the most hyper-local of audiences. (Maura and her friend used to record homebrew song parodies — such as “Shadows of the Night” reworked as “Shitheads of the Night” — on theirs.)

And a fuckton of fart noises and scatological puns.

I can’t recall ever listening to what we taped. Recording these ad hoc routines was the real experience, one that involved pants-pissing laughter and frantic efforts to one-up each other. The very notion of technological preservation was magic in itself, adding an additional thrill to the collaborative act of creation. No matter how “amazing” the final product was, it existed to be taped over by an even better performance the following afternoon.

My sturdy Panasonic jobber and associated cassettes went missing well before my teen years. If the tapes had survived, they’d provide an unfiltered core sample of my nine year old self’s existence…so maybe it’s better they didn’t.

2 Responses to “Reel, too real”

  1. Mike

    Yup, we did that. Our thing home-grown versions of radio novelty records like “Convention ’72” (, in which we’d pretend to be newscasters interviewing celebrities or politicians; their answers would be dubbed-in lines from a pop record. As in:
    Q: Mr. Nixon, [suppressed giggle] what was your impression of the Soviet ambassador?
    A: [via scratched copy of 3 Dog Night’s ‘Joy to the World’] “Never understood a word he said, but I helped him drink his wine.”
    Q: “I see.”
    A: “–and he always had some very fine wine.”
    I haven’t thought about those in over 40 years. Probably best left forgotten, but thanks for the memory. Getting tech that they can be creative with into kids’ hands is a good thing, generally.

  2. DensityDuck

    Hah! My sister and our friends used to crack each other up by doing exactly that — recording ourselves doing comedy bits we’d overheard and half-understood, bellowing obscenities, or just being straight-up weird. As soon as a tape clicked at the end we’d rewind it and record ourselves again. Only very occasionally would we listen to what we’d recorded, and thank Christ our parents never got ahold of any of it.

Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © Armagideon Time. All rights reserved.