Thanks Dad, for my first tape recorder
I just posted about the Ask MeFi thread — I actually read it a while back, but wanted to post it today, before this entry. Oddly enough, the MeFi thread got me thinking about today, and about music and audio.
Today is my father’s birthday — he would have turned 66. Aside from other cool fatherly things, such as taking the family on trips and teaching his kids how to ride a bicycle, he provided an extremely rich musical background. There was always music on in the house, or in the car. As a kid, I listened to Tchaikovsky and Chopin; Jim Reeves and Nat King Cole; Verdi and Bizet; the Platters and Marty Robbins; Neil Diamond and the Kingston Trio…and lots and lots of other folk music, children’s songs, and Disney movie music, courtesy of those orange Disney cassettes for kids, and albums by the Chipmunks and the Smurfs.
My father gave me my first tape recorder when I was in the first grade. It was a new red Panasonic model, shaped like a cube, with a telescoping antenna and a headphone jack. I could listen to AM/FM and play my cassettes, but I remember being more excited to be able to record sounds and music. Most often, I used it to dub favorite songs from the radio. (One of the first tunes I taped: "I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues" by Elton John.)
Once, I tried to record the theme to The Smurfs by placing the recorder up to the TV speaker, and trying to shush anyone who made noise around me. I think I was disappointed by the results of the recording — since the Panasonic had an omnidirectional microphone, it picked up a lot of the ambient sounds.
Sometimes I’d record myself playing piano or singing. I remember the first time I listened to my voice on playback — speaking and singing — and being shocked by how I sounded nothing like what I’d thought (aren’t we all?). I also quickly discovered that if I set the recorder a few feet away from the piano (rather than right on top of — or too close to — the instrument), the recording sounded better.
I was terribly shy as a child, and never let anyone else listen to the tapes of me playing or singing; they were just for my ears. Once on a road trip somewhere, I started singing along to whatever was playing on the car stereo — I don’t remember what it was. Except I just sort of sang it quietly, under my breath. My aunt noticed, and she smiled and told me to sing louder. Frightened and flustered, I just clammed up. And one time at home, my dad found an unlabeled tape and played it — it was me singing along to either a Phil Collins or Genesis song. I was embarrassed beyond all doubt (embarrassed by my singing, not by the song…or maybe both ). I may have grabbed the tape and run away, red-faced.
In fourth grade, my class got split into groups that had to write and produce original plays. There were two phone calls scripted in my group’s play, and I used the red Panasonic cube to record the ringing of the phone at home. I recall putting the recorder near the phone in the living room, and waiting for a call to come in. I didn’t have anyone call purposely — I just waited for someone to ring. Back then, we had rotary phones — you know, with actual dials (I know, the stone age!) — and the ringer was a real analog bell that clanged. Phones don’t sound like that anymore. Anyway, so I got home from school, and set it all up, and waited for the phone to ring…and waited…and in the evening, it finally did. I ran to the phone in the living room while saying, "Don’t answer it!" and then hit the play and record buttons (a blue arrow and a red circle) to start taping. And I let the phone ring…and ring…and ring. I finally picked up on the fourth one, I think. I waited for another call, for safety, or at least to get another take (of course, back then I just thought, "Just in case"). I ended up using those rings for the play.
Years later in high school, I was the assistant sound designer for the school production of Our Town, and did sound tech throughout high school and, even later, in college.
As a kid, I never dreamed of being a musician, or that I’d write and perform songs and put them on a CD for other people to hear. And yet, here I am, doing exactly that. It’s still hard for me to believe.
My dad bought me my first guitar when I was a junior in high school. It turned out to be his last Christmas gift to me. He never got to witness my playing ability progress, or hear any of my songs, or see me break out of my apprehensiveness about singing.
I still listen to Jim Reeves and Nat King Cole, and Marty Robbins and the Platters, and Chopin and Tchaikovsky, and Verdi and Bizet…
I still have that old Panasonic tape recorder. And it still works.
Happy birthday, Dad!