Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Eject Button Has Been Pressed

I was doing some cleaning in my old room at my parents' house and found a dusty, old audio cassette inside a drawer: Breakfast in America by Supertramp – a band I know nothing about. I took the tape home and put it in my damaged, but still working Sanyo boombox. My initial reaction was, "How bad does this sound?"

I fully rewound the black rectangular plastic, pressed play and then I started to listen. I was expecting some disco or folk rock type of music, but I was surprised when I heard a familiar voice. "Kumusta ka na d'yan? Eto, okay naman kame dito," a sweet female voice uttered the words. "Miss ka na namin. Uwi ka sa Pasko ha." It was my mother's voice on tape.

Before Facebook, Skype or Yahoo! Messenger, Filipino families bridged the geographic gap by using ingenious ways. We didn't own a telephone in the 1980s, and, aside from postcards, handwritten letters and old-fashioned greeting cards, my father, who was then working in the Middle East, found solace in voice tapes.

My mother always had lots of stories to tell: the current chismis, my not so impressive grades in school, the death of a close relative, Jaworski's latest bruising plays and so on. In between her tales, my sister and I would sing the latest pop tunes or read poetry aloud, while my baby brother was crying in the background.

The humble cassette was my parents' preferred medium of communicating with each other. For them, it was a romantic instrument, and they felt excitement as they started to count the days until a new tape was delivered. Those cheap, occasionally colorful pieces of plastic literally saved their marriage.

As technology progressed, consumers have abandoned the format in favor of more modern devices. Why? Because its fidelity sucked and it was notorious for getting caught in the tape deck and melting in the summer heat. 

The heyday of the cassette may be over, but it will go down in history for being the first portable form of music, when played in a Walkman, of course.

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