Wednesday, April 13

"It looks like a detonator; It sounds like dynamite."

There are few items I treasure more than my Panasonic 'Dynamite' portable 8-track player.

If you're not familiar with 8-tracks, they are a format between the LP and cassette tape that was briefly popular in the mid- to late-1970s. I got my player at Halcyon, a coffeeshop/nightclub/antique shop in Brooklyn, about 4 years ago, only to find that it didn't work. But a generous 8-Track samaritan (there really are such people!) who I barely knew fixed it for free, and it's given me nothing but joy ever since.

The Dynamite model even used "Good Times" star Jimmy Walker as its spokesman, for obvious reasons.

Some famous pop culture 8-Track shoutouts:
-- The Beastie Boys' "Hey Ladies" video
-- "Dazed and Confused"
-- "The Blues Brothers"

The technology of the 8-track leaves much to be desired -- it squeezes four tracks side-by-side on a piece of tape, with a magnetic head that moves across them to play the song. (Four tracks x right & left channels = 8 tracks)

The big flaw is that you can't fast-forward or rewind, yet have to change tracks if you want to hear the complete album. It also had some serious technical problems: the tapes tend to degrade over time, to the point where if you buy one today that's still shrink-wrapped it's virtually certain not to work. And the moving parts mean that the players themselves break down a lot.

Inconvenient, unreliable, and so-so sound quality -- what's the appeal?

Well, in the case of my Dynamite model, they look undeniably cool, and they're self-contained and portable, so it's perfect for a trip to the park or lying out in the garden. For me there's also retro appeal to listening to an obsolete medium, especially one that evokes Led Zeppelin and Cadillac Coupe de Villes. It's like a sonic time capsule.

Because the 8-track has been passed over as a format, you can get tapes for unbelievably low sums of money on eBay -- sometimes as little as a buck or two. I got EIGHT live Curtis Mayfield albums for the princely sum of $10.

I would love to have the complete set of the Dynamite models.

I need a red and blue one to go with Ole Yeller. I've also tried some baroque hacks to get my iPod to work with the 8-Track player -- something about twinning the cutting edge with something that belongs in a museum. I've tried using an 8-Track -> cassette adapter along with a cassette tape -> audio-in jack, but no luck so far. The quest continues.

Links:
-- 8-Track Heaven
-- 8-Track Lesbian
-- History of the 8-Track

And if you've really been inspired, check out my self-styled 8-track T-Shirt, available for purchase at CafePress for $13.99.

1 comment:

Evie said...

I'd totally be up for any info if you end up figuring or finding anything about an 8-track adapter. My '79 Jaguar XJ6L has the original radio, and I thought it'd be cool to make an adapter or have one.