Saturday, January 21, 2012

Forget the Alamo: Remember the Mix Tape!!!!

I don't know how many people took the time to make mixtapes back in the hey day of the cassette players, but I know that I was fairly addicted to the practice. The assembling of music in such a way that it conveys how you feel to another human being is special. Well, it is to me anyhow. I've given them as gifts before, because that's exactly how I saw a mixtape that I compiled for someone.....a gift. An expression of my feelings for them in a way that I couldn't create organically.

I remember digging through my dad's records (all of which are now mine....thanks dad) and writing down what songs I wanted to put together. I would write them down, file the records in order and then look at the list again to make sure it was just how I wanted it to be. When making them for myself, I was a bit more forgiving on how rigid I would be with my criteria. There seemed to be one or two songs that found their way on to almost every mix tape I made for myself, that just didn't fit.  If I were taking the time to make a mix for someone I knew, the criteria became much more clear and the rules got a bit more unforgiving. 

I am of the belief that you should use a 60 minute cassette. An hour is a good amount of time to invest in music without thinking it's sucking the usefulness out of your day. The 90 minute cassette was a blessing for my own mixes, but when making one for another person, I tried to stick with 60 minutes. Didn't want to wear out my welcome. Plus, the more songs you add, as I mentioned before, the higher the chances that you put one or two songs on there that you wish you hadn't. That shit can haunt you!

Creating a mixtape was always kind of cathartic for me. If I were having some troubles or needed to feel a certain way, I would fall back on my favorite songs to get my mind right. Or, sometimes, I'd just roll around in my own misery or discontent and make a mix tape that heightened my emotions. I saw, and still do see, a well planned out mixtape (mix CD now....blah) as an extension of who I was. I would take someone else's art and fashion it into something that made me feel a certain way. How many things in life can we do that with now? How many people slow down to actually put together a piece of "pleasure" for themselves or someone else? Sure, it's easy to burn a playlist, but I'm talking about compiling some songs and listening to them as you do so. There was a bit of magic to it. For those of you who do not understand, that's just missed out. Or, perhaps you were out partying, working on your future, or getting laid, while I was sitting in front of a stereo system surrounded by tapes, records, pens, and pieces of notebook paper. That kind of paints a sad vision of my mid-teenage years, right?

I could write quite a bit more on this, but I think I'll stop here. I could go into the little rules that people like me made up. It was almost an art. Here's an example; always start out with an attention grabber and then one just a bit better than the first. After that you can slide back down and settle into a stream of good tunes that hold to a theme. Never end a side or a tape with a throw away song. Begin and end with songs that best convey your intentions with the tape. OK, so I didn't quite stop....but as you can see, there is a little bit more to it than what meets the eye of a person who doesn't get the concept. 

If you want to see a truly terrific film about romantic relationships, friendships, unfinished business, and how music connects those things for many people, check out "High Fidelity", starring John Cusak. It's based on a novel by Nick Hornby and has some great scenes involving how music makes us feel and how we can take that music and turn it into a love letter, a break up letter, personal manifesto, or just a thread of songs that can make your time driving in your car more enjoyable.

Here's a great scene of "Rob" creating a mixtape for a female journalist he met. She wants to do an interview and talk about his "Top 5" songs (which is another blog entirely....the "Top 5"'s what we media geeks do) and he knows the best way to do that is to make her a tape. It's a really good movie. I highly recommend it. I'm pretty sure it's the first thing (and best thing IMO) that Jack Black was in. 

Well, there that is. I don't suppose there is much entertainment value for anyone to read. I do feel like the more nostalgic among us may get the itch to visit an old mix tape they have thrown in a box or in their sock drawer. So, if nothing else, perhaps I've sparked something in one of you that will lead you to either re-visit an old tape or maybe make a new one for yourself, a friend, or a loved one! Remember, you are making personal art out of someone else's personal art. Be respectful of the process! 


  1. "Or, perhaps you were out partying, working on your future, or getting laid, while I was sitting in front of a stereo system surrounded by tapes, records, pens, and pieces of notebook paper. That kind of paints a sad vision of my mid-teenage years, right?"

    Freddy, we are more alike than you know, ha ha!

  2. I think that's why we have sort of stayed in touch all these years. I feel a kinship to you, despite never having met you personally. Hell, I need to get your addy again so I can send you a new mix of stuff I've been listening to!