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.