Back in 1985, I had a Walkman. It was a really cool one, with silver recessed buttons that looked like a jeweler had made them. It ran out of batteries, constantly, but I loved that thing because I did a lot of walking to my book publishing job in Manhattan, from the depths of Fort Greene to the subway, from the subway to the publishing house.
My cassette tape collection was not huge, but it was good. I had Talking Heads and Elvis Costello and B-52s tapes, but there was one tape I listened to more often than anything else. It was the soundtrack for my commute—Brahms’s 4th Symphony.
Its richness and somberness and building tension were a comical commentary on my slog to work—I’m crossing the Manhattan Bridge!—and sometimes the train was so loud that I couldn’t hear the quiet parts. But I listened to it so often that it augured into my brain, a deep memory of that time of my life.
In 1988, when Leonard Bernstein conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, Hubbo (at that time Not Yet Hubbo But Looking Like a Contender) and I sat in the balcony and heard this piece performed in all its glory. (I found the review, which hilariously calls out Bernstein for being a showboat. Of course he’s a showboat! He is an orchestra conductor! He has one job: to be a fabulous showboat!)
These days, I have a little drive to work each day, and I listen to the radio. (Really, my Toyota is a giant Walkman.) When the 4th Symphony floated into my car, I instantly burst into tears and navigated the potholes of I-440 with the magnificent music of Brahms returning me to those days of wearing sneakers with hose for my hike to work, making no money, and thinking I was going to preserve Literature for all time.
I hit Shazam to see what the performance was. It was the 1980 recording of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, with Carlos Kleiber as conductor. The performance that had lived in my Walkman. That’s it, up top.