As far back as I can remember, I cherished any opportunity to make a mixtape. As a kid in the 70s, my earliest mixes contained such classics as the Tavares’ “A Penny for Your Thoughts” and “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?),” sung by a Star Wars robot chorus.
By high school, mixes contained pre-requisite cool tracks like, “Moonlight Drive” by The Doors and The Replacements’ “Alex Chilton.” (Of course the lyrics of “Alex Chilton” were about the band name-checking one of its own favorite bands to listen to on its tour bus, “I never travel far without a little Big Star!”)
It seems all music lovers feel the need to compile our own soundtracks for various moments of our lives, whether they be momentous moments or not.
We make mixes to soothe us in the face of mounting pressures at work, mixes that rail against loneliness, mixes that revel in loneliness.
There are triumphant, car-blasting mixes, midnight mixes and mixes for missed opportunities. Some mixes are meant to frame our lives at any given moment and some mixes are about the lives we could have lived or choices we didn’t make.
We can chart our growth by our mixes. (“I used to love Billy Joel, but now I’m into Thelonius Monk. Now THAT is a piano player!”) Like John Cusack’s character in the movie “High Fidelity,” we can even grow and figure out our feelings about people and events in our lives while making and listening to mixtapes. I made mix after mix for girls in high school and college.
I crafted collections of songs to ever so subtly send just the right message to the girl that worked at the laundromat, the library or the office down the hall. (Thinking back, I’ll bet they were as subtle as a ton of bricks!) Through the songs they contained, the tapes spoke on my behalf.
They said, “Here are things that I like. Do you like them too?” or “I’ll bet you didn’t know this about me!” or “This is how versatile/worldly/caring I am.”
But mixtapes weren’t made just for girls. My buddies and I would send tapes we made back and forth to school each other, trounce and trump each other with crash courses in jazz and the blues. If I sent my buddy, Tim, a mix called “An Education in the Blues,” he’d mail back a tape entitled “Blues University for G.”
Of course times have changed and the word “mixtape” is already anachronistic. But I have to say, it’s been replaced by an even more beautiful thing, the playlist.