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sad fate of the mix tape by Willow

Posted on: May 6, 2005 6:03 PM


There are plenty of technological artifacts that I am nostalgic for- the purr and staccato of the electric typewriter, raging Bubble Bobble and Marble Madness on the first Nintendo, slideshows for crying out loud!- but the loss that I've spent the most time mourning is that of the Mix Tape. Oh, the Mix Tape. Born in the humid bedrooms of our adolescence, the Mix Tape was a carefully crafted declaration- the sonnet of our time. I mean, remember? Remember how you agonized over the song list? How three or four songs would topple over each other- they were so perfect you would add their titles to the song list (in pen!) before you'd even hit the record button? But then you'd get stuck on the last five minutes of Side A. Do you cram in two short songs, or trust your gut and let that Mazzy Star gem ride with fifty seconds of silence tailing behind? You go with Mazzy, because you know that the silence is part of the glory, the delicious waiting for the shivers of Side B.
My friends and I were Mix Tape obsessives. We would make a Tape for any occasion. Birthdays. Road Trips. Break Ups. We memorized the contents of each other's Tapes, and shouted requests even before calling shotgun. There were certain songs that made the rounds on all of our Tapes. Look at any Mix from the summer of 1998 and you will find the song "Dear Josie" by a band called Sarge. It starts with spoken word, "Dear Josie, when you read these words I will be far from here. I'm sorry for the things I let you put me through, and though I loved you dear, I think it's time I made it clear that this will be the last time that I ever think of you..." I never heard any of the other songs on that album, because I simply copied it from other mixes whose crafters had done the same. John Shoe was the one who discovered "Dear Josie," and put it on a tape for Liz, but he didn't really like it that much.

I think the first Mix I made was for Nick Register, when I was 11 or 12. I think it was mostly Beatles and REM songs, but the (horribly embarrassing) highlight was me singing an acapella rendition of Bette Midler's "The Rose" at the end of Side B. (Did I just admit that on live television? Oh dear.) My only hope is that the rest of the tape was so boring, he never made it to that pot o' gold.

Which brings me to the Ultimate Manifestation of the Mix Tape- a tool of courtship. There was nothing sexier or more maddening that receiving a Mix from a crush, and trying to guess his intent. Is there meaning in that Ween song? ("It's gonna be alright, baby. It's gonna be alright, now.") Or did it just sound right after Billy Joel's "She's Got a Way?" Did I tell him That Dog was my favorite, or did he do some investigating to find out? Oh the hours spent deliriously wondering, as the tape looped over and over in the stereo of my Dodge Colt.

Mix CDs never really lived up to the glory of the Mix Tape. They were too sterile, too easy. They were the wrong shape. You couldn't feel that amazing weight in your hand, fold your fingers over the rounded edges of the case, give a little shake, and sense the cassette shimmy inside. If you spill a Coke on a CD, you're done for; with a tape you have a fifty-fifty chance of recovery, at least. I've had a few fancy boyfriends try to woo me with a Mix CD, and while the effort was appreciated, I'm afraid my response was a little lackluster. You can't carry a CD around in your back pocket, you know? How am I supposed to feel close to a man who's music can't be pressed up against me in that oh-so-intimate way?

After six years without a car, I am finally behind the wheel again. My employers have provided me with a brick red 1991 Volvo station wagon, and lo! it has a tape player. For a few unsatisfying months I tried to fulfill my musical needs with a Discman + car adapter. It was totally annoying, and I ended up listening to way too much bad radio before deciding to round up my old Mix Tapes, and put them back into circulation. Half of them were on indefinite loan to my friend Heather, and the rest were buried at my mother's house in Denver. I made some calls, and I finally have my precious treasures secured in an "I Heart Music" bag in the backseat. It's a thrill to revisit them, even the handwriting on the liners bring me back. Here is a list of my best-titled Mixes:
*Emo Coast to Coast
*Sound Affects
*I Don't Hate Your Guts
*Series: Peter, Edition: Willow
*Do You Want Me To?
*Cool Songs for Cool Girls
*Get in the Ring

I'm hoping that there will be a Mix Tape Renaissance. I've noticed there has been a small revival, at least. My friend Calvin has utilized his epic record collection to make the most radical Mix Tape series you ever saw, and he sells them when he's on tour. There is also a Mix Tape club in Denver that meets every other Monday. They each make a Tape and put it in a bag at the beginning of the party. At the end of the night everyone reaches in and grabs one, like a key party, but hotter. (Some of the members get awfully fancy with their fun. At a session I attended a while back the tape I pulled out was devoted to color. Every song had a color in the title, and the case was painted in brilliant acrylic squares.) I like the idea of Mix Tape chain letters. It would be the Ultimate Joy of my life to be at the top of a Mix Tape Pyramid. (After, of course, the Ultimate Joy of being crowned the Ultimate Blogger!)

Even as I pray for a Renaissance, I feel in my heart that the Age of the Mix Tape is over. Driving around, listening to Le Tigre fade into the Halo Benders, then gloriously to an early Dear Nora track before sighing to a stop with Heatmiser (I'm referencing a Tape made by my awesome friend Nicole here), I have become a dinosaur. The sun has set on the Mix Tape, and I am listening in the dark.

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Willow! This is a great, great piece! You totally capture the adolescent angsty excitement of agonizing over the mix; the leap your heart makes when that guy, the one you thought was just a friend, hands you a tape he made just for you; the unbelievable care we put into transitions and song lengths and collage covers...I totally feel you.

Here is a mix tape story about my first boyfriend.

I made some pretty terrible mix tapes in my time.

Posted by: freddy at May 6, 2005 6:07 PM

Required Reading:
Mix Tape : The Art of Cassette Culture
by Thurston Moore

Posted by: Luke at May 6, 2005 6:45 PM

Great article. It's amazing how quickly mix tapes have been made obsolete by first the CD burner and then the MP3 player. Somewhere, Nick Hornsby smiles at your prose, and then weeps for the death of the mixtape.

Posted by: Craig at May 6, 2005 6:53 PM

Mix tapes aren't dead! I make them often. In fact I just bought a cassette player off someone so I can make tapes off my boyfriend's 200 disc mega CD changer. You know, if anything they've gone back underground. Obsolete technology is one of the few remaining hallmarks of underground culture that can remain so without fear of them being perverted by coporate america.

You picked the first topic that I probably would have written about, had I faced the same challenge.

I hope you don't get voted off anytime soon; I look forward to reading more of your posts.

Posted by: karina at May 6, 2005 10:28 PM

Wow...great post. I found myself with a huge smile across my face the whole time I was reading it.

Posted by: Sonny at May 6, 2005 10:52 PM

Sounds too much like the whole scene in High Fidelity to me. Not enough originality.

Posted by: Ron at May 7, 2005 3:37 PM

i disagree... i don't like the idea that no body can mention mixed tapes without someone bringing up that movie. i think i am going to avoid reading the book simply because of this. anyhow... i miss the days when music was heavy, nearly indestructible, and easier to decorate.

Posted by: james at May 7, 2005 4:27 PM

Awesome entry! The mixtape is my favorite lost technology, thanks to your convincing.

Posted by: Rebecca at May 7, 2005 6:42 PM

Have you read/listened to that essay by Sarah Vowell from This American Life? That's immediately what I was reminded of.

Don't get me wrong, I loved your post! You should check out that essay- you'd get a kick out of it. Plus, Sarah Vowell is awesome.

Posted by: Sarah at May 7, 2005 10:44 PM

Thanks for he tip Sarah!
I love Sarah Vowell too- in fact I recently saw her read at this event called Wordstock. I've never heard the essay you are referencing, though This American Life is part of my Sunday ritual. I will check it out...

Posted by: willow at May 8, 2005 11:44 AM

Wurd Willow. You are super fantastic. Thank you for that very wonderful piece.

Posted by: Renee at May 8, 2005 5:14 PM