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.”
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.