Christmas, Music, and Commodore 64

One thing I love just as much as music is computers. In particular, I have a passion for the old Commodore 64. There’s one sitting on my desk right now.

Original Commodore 64, complete with a 1541 floppy drive, diskettes, game carts, game controller, and more. This C64 was made in 1983.

MY COMPUTER HISTORY
I first saw a computer in-person in 1978, when one of my school’s music teachers showed me how he could connect to a BBS.

He even played checkers with someone in Florida. This was no easy task, as he had to call the person to tell them to log in. Then he put the phone on the 300 BAUD modem, types in an initstring, and waited for it to connect.

Ever since then, I was hooked.

Our school got ONE computer in the library in 1982, at the start of my senior year. Few people knew it was there and nobody was using it. So I got on and started teaching myself programming with the help of a fellow student named Ted.

Ted came from a relatively wealthy family, so he had a computer and lots of knowledge. He taught me IF, THEN, and GOTO statements. I started working on a project.

The librarian caught me and told me the computer was for use with educational software only. And because of my horrible policy infraction, I was BANNED from the school library my senior year. Talk about American education, eh!

I did not let that stop me. In my first year of college, I spent some down-time in the computer lab, attempting to finish where I had left off. It was late in the middle of the night, and nobody was there.

A security guard asked to see my student ID. He asked my major. When I told him I was a Percussion Arts/Music major, he told me, “Sorry, but the computer lab is for Math and Science majors only.” Once again, I was banned.

In other words, I was actively denied access to computers throughout my formal education. It’s a very, VERY American thing.

BEYOND SCHOOL
In 1987, I got a job delivering computers for a small company in Southern California. We had lots of big-name clients. We also had lots of computers that weren’t getting rented, which I would take home and work on.

While here, I learned how to build computers, troubleshoot, install software, and more.

During this time, I ran a BBS [bulletin board] from the shop. There were some adult-oriented animated graphics, which are very crude by today’s standards. There was also an area to leave messages. I actually got to see people dating online in 1987. It was highly time-consuming and tedious, but it worked.

EARLY INTERNET
I got on as soon as the internet was made available to the general public on April 30, 1993. I used all of the regular services.

My computer at work did not have a modem, but the network downstairs had three. So I figured out how to dial the modem through the network and got online from my desk without anyone knowing. Well, anyone except for the IT manager. I stayed late and helped him with projects in exchange for him keeping that quiet.

WEB 2.0
Things took off, and I found myself working for companies like MySpace and LinkedIn. I used social networking for a long time, but have not been using it lately. There was a five year stretch where I used none at all.

For me, today’s social networking is too angry, divisive, and risky.

And that is what drove me back into the arms of my Commodore 64.

MORE THAN THAT
But it’s more than a case of negativity pushing me in a specific direction. I’ve always loved old computers. They challenge your mind and patience. I have one game that takes five minutes to load up.

It’s also a nostalgia for a time when I was passionate about something other than music. Up until 1982, music and drumming were my only true points of focus and passion.

A FUTURE WITH COMPUTERS?
I may end up doing some things with computers in the future. Unfortunately, most companies today engage in a great deal of ageism. They don’t want to hire people my age, and care more about building and worshipping a culture of youth.

No matter. I can still teach myself. I won’t spend money on school, but maybe a mentor.

UH, YOU MENTIONED CHRISTMAS?
Oh yes! I certainly did!

My Commodore 64 wasn’t always mine. For most of its life it belonged to a man who was part of a computing group called “CSUN.” No, not California State University Northridge. These were people who made a monthly diskette and shipped it to members. They communicated on their own BBS. They cracked games and associated with pirates like 1001 Crew.

My son and me, 30 years apart. Merry Xmas!

When I originally went through all of the diskettes I received with this unit over 5 years ago, I found the first-ever Christmas program [demo] that was made for the Commodore 64.

In America, it was played on the screens of Commodore 64 computers everywhere during the holidays. In the UK, it was available on a data tape called “The Very First.”

Yes, it was a marketing thing. Most of Christmas is all about marketing, pulling at heart strings, and encouraging excessive consumerism.

But for me, it’s a reminder of those simpler times, when we’d go to my grandparents’ home for a big dinner and singing songs while grandpa played the organ.

It was a time when my biggest problem revolved around whether or not I had enough gas in my car to pick up my girlfriend next weekend, or driving 20 miles round-trip to get a new set of guitar strings or drum sticks.

I could show you the demo on my screen, but someone did a better screen capture. That will be available below, at the end.

IN THE END
This Christmas is going to be rough for everyone. I don’t even want to speculate about how many people will suffer, die, or become permanently deformed by the pandemic, which will be accelerated by people engaging in Christmas traditions.

Most traditions for most people are simply not safe this year. It is during times like these that we turn toward the little things that matter. Calling your friends and loved ones, or having a video chat.

I know it’s not the same, even as I load up this program to watch it, hear it, and get taken back in time. It is during those desperate times when we have almost nothing, when we must acknowledge and be grateful for that which we do have.

Merry Xmas, happy holidays, and regardless of what you celebrate, please remain safe.

Commodore 64 Christmas demo from 1982.

Published by DrumWild

Writing about drums, music, and philosophy.

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