Pic: Douglas Kirkland/Corbis
The picture above evokes very clear memories for me. On what may have been our second trip to New York City, staying as always on West 44th St at the once very seedy Hotel Iroqouis [next door to the far more storied Algonquin,] we members of Gang of Four and our road crew ventured out onto 5th or 6th Avenue where every other store was an electronics store selling a myriad of products, not least giant boomboxes coveted by street kids on bikes with ape hanger handlebars. As Dan Barry says in this NYT article – “the boombox, a cement-block of a device often propped nonchalantly on the shoulder of someone who just assumed the entire neighborhood shared his passion for “Saturday Night Fever.”
Yet we had one product in mind and one goal – the Sony Walkman personal cassette player and an end to the monotony of FM radio in our touring vehicles. Plus personal space and disengagement.
The Sony Walkman
It’s hard to believe now that Sony dropped the ball and let Apple sneak past them to deliver the best MP3 player on the market; the iPod. In 1979, all we could imagine then was that this was a technology that may never be surpassed, as the idea of music as ones and zeroes was incomprehensible at the time to a bunch of 22 year old punk rock musicians. It’s laughable that soon enough, because of this new technology, the music industry would resort to printing a message on record sleeves that read ‘Home Taping is Killing Music’ with a skull and crossbones symbol – yes, even in 1979 music lovers were pirates; oh the irony!
The record industry then went ahead in the mid-1980′s and one-upped its self – the CD, a perfect device for having us buy our music catalogs again in a more ‘convenient’ format; unfortunately those shiny discs comprised of ones and zeroes thus spelling the end of major label control.
Happy birthday to you, Sony Walkman, you know not what you have wrought..