Tape delay

I’m one of those Dads who like to tell stories about the tough times of their childhoods. I’m the guy who tells his kids he didn’t have any toys as a kid, and when they challenge me, I tell them to ask Grandma. And when she laughs and says that I most definitely had toys, I challenge her, and make her list all of my toys, and when she only remembers three of four, I say, “ha!”

And when I then tell Son and Daughter how I had to make cows out of (used) matches and a pair of pine cones, they look at me like I’m crazy and then we have to go on Wikipedia to see what a “cow” is. (I’m kidding, Son and Daughter have seen cows in the wild.)

However, I do like to tell them about the good old days when a small boy only had one (small) box of Legos, not ten, and when he only had one little Donald Duck figurine, not a complete Minion set.

I’m not completely sure why I like doing that but I must somehow believe that it makes them appreciate what they’ve got. After all, I can always point to the fact that I still have that Donald Duck figurine. He’s waving at me from the pencil holder on my desk right now. Or, as I like to tell the kids, “I may not have had a real bed but I did have that Donald Duck figurine.”

Now, toys and and cone cows aren’t cutting it anymore, not in the 21st century, and besides, the story about the cone cows is what my Mom used to tell me when I was a kid. I realize that I need to adapt to the changing times, while the obvious – obvious!  – need to tell them about the tough times of the yesteryear is still there.

My new story is about life in a world without YouTube. It takes place in Helsinki, Finland in the golden Eighties.

Picture a tiny student apartment, with only a bed, a desk, and a bookshelf in it. The bookshelf’s got books, a TV set, a VCR, a stereo, an answering machine, and some records on it. On the desk, there’s a typewriter, and a pile of books and photocopies, a newspaper and candy wrappers.

The TV is on. The TV is always on. Even when I’m listening to music, the TV’s on. It’s muted but it’s on so I can see if a good song comes on so I can turn the sound on and listen to it.

The Sky channel was a dream come true for me.

Not that Sky had music on all the time, mostly only in the afternoons and late at night, but that was perfect for me, because that was when I was home anyway. I’d get home from the university just in time to catch the Pat Sharp Show, maybe Young, Free and Single, or the American Top 100. And later, Monsters of Rock.

And since Sky also ran comedies, such as “Get Smart” and “I Dream of Jeannie”, it was a major upgrade from our house where, to be able to watch music videos, I had to tape the few videos that were played on a weekly music show on one of the two channels we had.

(See how I got the two-channel dystopia in there?)

Sky had competition in the music video market. There was also Music Box with their own star VJs and shows. I had only seen it once, at a friend’s house, but the little I had seen convinced me of its coolness. I wanted to have it, too.

But, obviously, I, like everybody else at that time, really wanted my MTV, the American Music Television, the real thing, the birthplace and home of the music video, the art form of the 1980s.

Music videos were short films, and in some cases, much more interesting than the song itself. Michael Jackson’s Thriller was such a groundbreaking video that when he was about to release the first video of his follow-up album, Bad, I stayed up to see its first airing. Naturally, the video, directed by Martin Scorcese, had been aired in the US before that but there was no way for me to have seen it. I didn’t even know about it.

Then one day, I noticed in the newspaper TV listings that Super Channel, formerly known as Music Box, was going to air Bryan Adams’s “Reckless”, a video novella that tells Mr. Adams’s love story with “Natalie” by stitching together six of his songs.

I got excited. I stood up. I realized I didn’t have Super Channel and got depressed. I sat down. I became obsessed. I stood up, then sat down again, trying to come up with a plan, fully aware of the fact that I had less than 24 hours to do it. My first instinct was to hack the cable feed somehow. I was convinced that I actually had Super Channel, only the feed was scrambled. All I had to do was find a way to unscramble it. I went through the channel search on my TV, twice, but didn’t find Super Channel or anything else to unscramble.

Also, I didn’t really know how to hack anything. It’s just that my first solution to everything is always to do it myself. (Oddly enough, that applies even to home repairs, which I can’t do, nor do I even want to. But the instinct’s there).

My second instinct? Dad. Maybe Dad had Super Channel in his store? It wasn’t a far-fetched idea since it was an appliance store, and they sold TV sets and stereos, even though I knew they hadn’t had Super Channel two weeks earlier when I had been there.

I called Dad.

“Hey, do you have Super Channel?” I asked him.

“What? No.”

“Not even at the store?”

“Nope, not even at the store,” he said.

“That’s a bummer. There’s a show tonight that I’d really like to see.”

“What’s the show?”

“Oh, it’s a Bryan Adams video novella,” I said.

“Interesting, I did not know that he had made a video novella. That’s an interesting idea. Surely it’s based on his Reckless album. I always thought it had a good narrative,” is what he meant but did not say because he didn’t know who Bryan Adams was.

Instead, he said what he always says:

“Let me see if I know someone.”

We hung up, I put down the phone and punched the air with my fist. Dad always knows someone, or at least someone who knows someone, and that time was no exception. He called me a couple of hours later to tell me a guy on his oldtimers hockey team had Super Channel and that he had promised to tape the show for me.

The following week, I got a padded envelope in the mail, with the VHS tape in it.

I still have it.

(And that, kids, is why you never complain about lagging YouTube videos.)

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