Lost Journal: Cassette Death and CD Rebirth

Journal entry: July 19, 1988 (age 19) – Cassettes and CDs

Yesterday, my boombox ate the tape out of my cassette single of Johnny Hates Jazz’s “Shattered Dreams.” The irony was so thick you could iron on it. The flat brown tape unspooled on my nightstand like a grocery store receipt for a really big family that only goes grocery shopping once a year and uses lots of coupons at a register that has a new roll of paper so it doesn’t come out with red stripes on it.

As I surveyed the cassette carnage, my eyes welled up. How many virginal offerings of Ray Parker, Jr. tapes (again, irony) must I sacrifice to the gaping maw of my dual-cassette deck Aiwa? “That’s it,” I said, “I’m switching to digital tomorrow.” Briefly, I reconsidered, thinking back on the good times I had shared with my boombox – like the time I played the two cassette decks at the same time to mix the Carpenters’ “Close to You” with Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” to create a master mix I dubbed “Close to Your Black Dog.”

As a final kiss-off to this musical mainframe, I used the boombox to play one last song on cassette. It was Elton John’s “I Don’t Wanna Go on With You Like That” from his album Reg Strikes Back. Predictably, the Aiwa chomped it up with a fury I hadn’t witnessed since I fed it Bruce Willis’ The Return of Bruno.

In the electronics store on Court Street today, it wasn’t difficult to choose a compact disc player. I found the cheapest compact disc player and asked a salesperson, “Does this one play compact discs?” It was more difficult to make my first CD purchase. My cassette collection fills several large briefcases that open on both sides, in order to hold twice as many America tapes. I considered buying History: America’s Greatest Hits, but the early 1970s seemed a bit out-of-date for my first digital purchase. So, instead, I bought Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits, rocketing me all the way to the mid-1970s.

I had enough cash left to get one more CD. I looked for Joe Jackson’s Night and Day, which had been my very first cassette purchase, but they didn’t have it in stock. Finally, I settled on Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, sucking me back to the ‘60s. “Who am I kidding?,” I thought. “The new format isn’t going to radically change my musical tastes. Sure, I could be really cool and buy some Debbie Gibson, but she’s no Tiffany.”

If the music industry wanted to market this format as something new and exciting, they should have chosen a better name. “Compact disc” sounds like an orthopedic diagnosis. Look at the thing – it screams futuristic and high tech. How about “space coaster?” Perhaps the record companies had run that by their legal teams, who advised against raising the ire of the powerful producers behind TV’s The Great Space Coaster. As series fixture Gary Gnu would say, “No legal gnus is good gnews.”

Before I left the store, the salesperson sold me the wires I would need to run the sound from the CD player through my stereo components. As I drove home, I wondered how I would patch things up with my boombox. Debbie Gibson wouldn’t have been a bad offering, after all.

Tim Mollen
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