I used to listen to the radio, waiting for the opening strains of a particular song. My fingers were sweating, poised and preparing to pressurize the “play” and “record” button at the same time. I was keeping the radio low. My preacher Dad didn’t think I needed to be listening to this.
The announcer said something stupid about the weather, but under his voice I could hear the guitar strum. I pushed down with determination and smiled.
The tape was a menagerie of starts and stops. Words and sentences cut in half as a new song began or ended. When it could hold nothing else, I’d scribble a secret code across the sticker on the top and slam it into a stack next to the Walkman.
After school, I’d push headphones into the jack, clip the player onto my elastic waistband and swing a leg over the seat of my knock-off Hotliner, ready to ride that bike up and down the track I had traced in the side yard, pretending it was a mountain trail.
One fall, “Love of a Lifetime” made the playlist. I’d ride with the girl from the 5th grade class on my mind, imaging she knew this was our song (she definitely did not). One day we’d get matching bikes and ride through these pine needles and down into my carport together.
Certain songs got special treatment. If they’d been on the playlist long enough, the next step was to unearth the wide-spaced notepad and a pencil after dinner and head to the cleaned-off kitchen table. With the headphone pads white-knuckled firmly to my ears, I’d listen for each word of my favorites and scribble down the lyrics in my 11-year-old scrawl so that I could reference and memorize the words and tune in entirety in the coming weeks. Start/Stop/Write. Start/Stop/Write.
To this day, there are no songs I still know more word perfect than the ones I committed to mind using this method (including all of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” All of it.).
I imagine sometimes what my 11-year-old self would think if I was able to step back from this future and let him know that by the time he had kids, almost any song he could conjure up could be summoned with a literal press of a button. I would smile when I explained that he’d never need to start and stop a tape player to write down words. He could just type the title into a little box and the words would appear. All of them.
And then I wonder if he’d be a little disappointed.
Immediate satisfaction is tempting in theory. And almost impossible to pass on once you’ve gotten used to the luxury.
But the faster something can be experienced, the quicker it can be disregarded, too.
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