Thursday, June 2, 2016

Captive Audience

One thousand miles on the road will give you plenty of scenery to look at and a lot of time to listen to music -- your parents' music.

In the late 1970's and the early 1980's, before walkmans became cheap and affordable to children with little allowance, my brother and I didn't control the radio. While the Queen Mother and Royal Father were merciful upon us by often tuning to whatever CHR (Current Hit Radio) station they could find -- including Casey Kasem's American Top 40 if we were on the road Sunday morning -- we also had to endure their music library. It included the Beatles, but it also included:

  • Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops
  • Peter Paul And Mary (If I had a hammer, I would hammer in the morning, I would hammer in the evening, until that cassette was destroyed)
  • Herb Alpert's Rise (which isn't actually a bad album, but it felt too much like disco at the time, and disco was dead)
  • John Denver (I'm not a country boy)
  • The Association (which your servant had to dub onto tape from the original LP)
  • Miscellaneous classical pieces, including one so dreary it should've been labeled "Music To Die For"

My response to this as a kid: barf, barf, barf.

The Royal Father bought a Walkman in the early 80's, and when he upgraded to a new model, it got passed down to my brother and I. We also borrowed or inherited other headphone radios Dad bought, and by the mid 1980's, we could tune into whatever we wanted or stick in our own tapes if the car's sound system was in barf mode.

Dad also had a small black-and-white TV we wedged between the front seats, giving us another option until we fought too much over what to watch. The TV went into the trunk. A few years later, the handheld Sony Watchman arrived at an affordable price. I bought one and so did my brother.

This marvelous device worked very well in the back seat of a car in the analog TV era, where snowy signals still got through. The Watchman also had a handy "sound" setting, which shut off the screen but kept the sound on if you needed to save battery power. I relied on rechargeable batteries, which would work for about a day's worth of viewing.

Dad also got into the act after awhile, putting headphones on while driving so he could listen to a tape while the Queen Mother took in the radio. This led to an awkward moment at the start of one trip.

"Dave, Dave?"


Dad, my brother and myself were all wearing headphones, all in our musical zones, leaving the Queen Mother with a talking point. "Everybody is wearing headphones and nobody can hear me."

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