A new study done in the U.S. shows that the majority of people still find new music by tuning in the radio, and not availing of the numerous digital music services. Perhaps there is something more credible and reassuring about listening to the presenter endorsing a new band or song. Long journeys or commutes, however, still bring up the desire for the CD collection or mp3 player.
One famous company has unveiled its plans for the next generation of in-car entertainment. It will probably access your music library from your phone or tablet, go online for further playlists, send and receive emails, apply your make-up for you, and possibly settle backseat squabbles between the children.
The problem occurs with the assumption that you, as the car owner or driver, have full control over ‘the tunes’. As anyone with a family knows – either the family you’ve created or the family you’re from – this is utterly unrealistic.
Most people develop their music tastes in early adolescence, which coincides with when you’re still relying on your parents for lifts everywhere. What you don’t realise, as a young teenager, is that there was a time when your Mam or Dad actually enjoyed listening to their own music while they drove. Who remembers when the family car suddenly had a tape deck? Now that was technology. Either your folks managed to afford a car that had a built-in tape deck, or your father picked up a shoebox-sized cassette player and had it bolted underneath the existing radio with a spaghetti junction of wires attached from it to the speakers. In my own case, I remember a tape player suddenly appeared to the right of the steering wheel, underneath the dashboard unit. This was a cunning move by my father as he had a veto on any song choice for the journey.
(Certain readers will remember how there was never a ‘rewind’ button, so you had to eject and fast forward the other side if you wanted to achieve this function.)
For a teenager growing up in the 80s or even some of the 90s, having a tape deck in the car was sensational, despite the conflicts and negotiations it threw up. Suddenly you could – as everyone did back then – record your vinyl onto tape and enjoy the wonderful sounds of the Eurythmics, Duran Duran and Frankie Goes To Hollywood on your car trip. Not everyone shared your enthusiasm; sibling bickering and parental disapproval were frequent. ‘Turn off that racket!’ was a very common utterance.
On one occasion, in my late teens, I was being dragged off to a play somewhere – it was on the Leaving Cert, we weren’t a family of thespians – and for reasons I can’t remember we were giving a lift to some girls from an adjoining school to mine.
Being the sort of cool dude that I naively thought I was, I’d prepared a mixtape for the journey. These girls would be swooning over my musical sophistication. There were tracks from the Stone Roses, REM and The Cure.
The journey began and immediately I charmed the passengers with my cool, stand-offish teenage awkwardness of sitting there and saying nothing. Time to put the tape on. The unmistakable strains of ‘I Owe You Nothing’ by Bros began to emit from the car speakers. Oh good God, I almost had a heart attack. My finger couldn’t dart towards the fast forward button quick enough. What was next? ‘China In Your Hand’ by T’Pau. No, no, no, I thought to myself, this is going horribly wrong.
My mother was stealing glances at me, clearly wondering what on earth I was panicking about. I ejected the tape. The sticker label was the right one, but then I noticed the problem. The cassette was not the cassette. Someone had removed the sticker from the original and placed it on this imposter mixtape. The ‘someone’ was obviously a mischievous sibling, perhaps male, who knew what I’d be up to. By now the girls in the back seat were either chuckling or staring despondently out the window.
It was a moment I wouldn’t forget. ‘So... er... what do you think of the Stone Roses?’ I feebly offered, trying to salvage the situation. Silence. Giggles.
‘Hamlet is an interesting play isn’t it?’ my mother cheerily said, sensing the calamity.
In-car entertainment may evolve dramatically but, while it could prevent situations like the prank I’ve just described, it still won’t act as peace-maker between family factions that occur from differing music tastes. Maybe we need those harmless rows anyway. Car journeys would be much more boring without a good argument over whether we listen to Gangnam Style or Glen Campbell. (Anyone who can’t appreciate the beauty of ‘Wichita Lineman’ will not be getting a lift in my car.)