Pocket Transistor

Alma Cogan was a British pop singer. She performed around 1960 which is basically ancient history at this point. Time flies. In Japanese, the name “Cogan” sounds the same as the word for “rosy cheeks,” so the Japanese saying “rosy cheeks in the morning, a pile of bones by night” pops into my head whenever her name comes up.

The saying means that even the most lively young people in the “morning” of their lives will become skeletons by “nightfall.” There’s no predicting when someone will die. So the thing is, “Cogan” also sounds like the Japanese word for “testicles,” so if you hear the phrase somewhere please don’t ask if it means you’ve got bones in your balls, ok? It means rosy cheeks. Balls don’t have bones. I’m pretty sure.

I went off on a tangent there, but what I’m talking about today is Alma Cogan. Her song “Just Couldn’t Resist Her With Her Pocket Transistor” was a big hit in Japan. It’s about how she’s visited by this guy every night so they can listen to “Hit Parade” together on her little pocket transistor radio. They get married and never stop listening to music together. This was back when transistor radios were rare and expensive. The word “transistor” itself felt fresh and inspired the term “transistor glamour.” It referred to a sexy woman who was small and glamorous.

It was just some light pop song, but I still remember all the words. I had a pocket transistor that I was obsessed with around the same time that the song came out, and I also listened to “Hit Parade” on it all the time. I’d turn it on and Ricky Nelson or Elvis Presley would start playing. The audio was terrible but it was small enough to fit in your hand and take everywhere to play your own personal soundtrack. It was so much fun. I felt like, if I had my music, I didn’t need anything else.

Music has continued to be an important part of my life, but the pocket transistor itself was just the jumping off point. Audio devices have continued to improve, and what I like to listen to, from Miles Davies to Bach to Red Hot Chili Peppers, has expanded steadily (or should I say uncontrollably). But that little radio still has a special place in my heart. I vividly remember the smell of its black leather case. Hearing Alma Cogan’s old songs takes me back to my days as an 11 year old boy: the way the wind blew against my face, the sweet smell of the leather case, and the nights that never seemed to end.

Music’s great. Songs contain stories that go beyond normal logic and reason, stories which we form a deep, pleasant, personal connections with. Without music, our lives (and that is to say, all the stuff we go through till we become skeletons) would be much more difficult to bear.