The Blown Away Guy

So this just hap­pened: I’ve got a bit of a stuffy nose today, which is good, because The S.O. has been suf­fer­ing with adult croup all week and that means I prob­a­bly haven’t caught it.

So I said, “Hey; where’s the Mucinex?” Mean­ing, of course, the brand name of the pop­u­lar decon­ges­tant. Except that’s not what I said—I actu­al­ly said, “Hey, where’s the Mem­o­rex?”

She said, quite rea­son­ably, “What?” I went to the replay, as I so often have to do, to fig­ure out what I real­ly said. “Oh, I meant the Mucinex.”

“It’s under the sink in my bath­room,” she said. “What’s Mem­o­rex?”

“Ah!” I said. “You did not have to fight in the Great Stereo Wars of the ’70s. There was all sorts of debate about stereo and record­ing equip­ment, but it got most vicious when it came to car stere­os. Which was a lit­tle sil­ly, because every right-think­ing per­son knew the cor­rect answers: The very best car stereo was the under­dash Pio­neer Super­Tuner; the very best speak­ers were Jensen Tri­ax­i­als, and the ONLY cas­sette tapes that should be allowed in any­one’s stereo were Max­ell cas­sette tapes—in short, pre­cise­ly what I had installed in Charles the Deep Breather.”

That whole “Stair­way to Heav­en” thing? This is what they meant.

She wise­ly stopped lis­ten­ing at that point, so I’ll just tell you what I meant:

See, if you were around in the 1970s, it came down to this: If you liked Mem­o­rex tapes, you had to get behind their lame com­mer­cial with Ella Fitzger­ald singing a high note that broke a wine glass, then the record­ing of Ella Fitzger­ald doing the same thing.

“Is it LIVE—or is it MEMOREX?” the com­mer­cial smug­ly asked.

Well, lemme think: I’m in my car lis­ten­ing to music. Is it live? A quick glance at the pas­sen­ger and back seats con­firms: There are no musi­cians per­form­ing here. None of my win­dows are shat­ter­ing. Con­clu­sion: It is nei­ther live nor Mem­o­rex BECAUSE I’LL SET THIS CAR ON FIRE BEFORE I USE MEMOREX TAPES!

There were oth­er worth­less tape brands out there, such as TDK (aka The Dick Knnnnnnig­gits1, favored by wimps who lis­tened to smooth jazz) or BASF (aka Barf and Shit Farts,2 which your younger sib­lings used to record, direct­ly from the radio, what­ev­er bub­blegum dreck was pop­u­lar that week, and you made it known across the land that a slow, painful death await­ed he who dared even think about using in your car).

On the oth­er hand–Maxell. MAXELL, baby. They got more famouser even than Mem­o­rex with a sin­gle print ad: It was a fan­tas­tic, icon­ic image; the kind of adver­tis­ing Apple is always grasp­ing at.

On the left is a hulk­ing, mon­strous speak­er, the kind Dr. Dre wish­es he’d replaced with the Beats Pill. On the right is a deep leather arm­chair in which a guy wear­ing a leather avi­a­tor’s jack­et and scarf is hang­ing on for dear life. His scarf is snap­ping and flut­ter­ing like he’s a Flori­da reporter stand­ing out­side for no rea­son dur­ing a hur­ri­cane. Behind him, on his right, a lamp is about to blow away. On his left is a small side table upon which a mar­ti­ni glass has slid to the edge and is about to tip over; the mar­ti­ni itself and its olive are spray­ing over the edge of the glass.

The guy in the chair quick­ly become known as The Blown Away Guy, and the ad OBLITERATED Mem­o­rex. It was on bill­boards for a while dur­ing my senior year of high school–just the pho­to with the word Max­ell down in one cor­ner. That’s all they need­ed. If you were a faith­ful Max­ell user you would just shout “MAXELL!” and high-five your pas­sen­ger. If not, you would turn your stereo way down in abject hor­ror and mis­ery, won­der­ing if you could ever aspire to redo all your mix tapes and albums on Max­ell tapes.

When they final­ly decid­ed to make it a com­mer­cial, they did Apple before Apple was Apple: All you saw was the guy hang­ing on, teeth and toe­nails, against the oncom­ing tsuna­mi of–not Led Zep­pelin or KISS or The Who, but Wag­n­er’s “Flight of the Valkyries.”

It’s been 20 years since even seen a cas­sette tape, much less lis­tened to one. But hav­ing acci­den­tal­ly spo­ken the Cas­sette Brand That Must Not Be Named, I still feel the need to apol­o­gize to Max­ell and any­one old enough to under­stand what the hell I’m talk­ing about.