Please enjoy this selection from my Old Blog.
(Or, “I Was a Mix Tape Maniac”)
In between lit searches today I read this Salon story reviewing and commenting on a new book about the “demise” of the mixtape and “mixtape culture.”
I read this piece and my plush blue office chair immediately transformed into a way-back machine. Man-o-man…once was a time, I was a mix-tape maniac! I made mixtapes for all sorts of occasions: a three-month “going together” anniversary, my mother’s birthday, my sister’s high school graduation, a sampler for a high school buddy who had moved out to the west coast (to show her what music was jumping on the east coast).
And of course, for parties. And road trips. And for “archiving” my collection of LPs to the “new” cassette format.
…Maybe the golden age of mixtapes is over…
One of my all-time favorite recent albums (or, should I say “quote-unquote-albums” since I, of course, don’t own it on vinyl…) is Meshell Ndegeocello’s Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape. I remember the first time I listened to it, getting that same blast of nostalgia: the album (er, CD) cover design, the splices of spoken word, and of course the title. So excited was I about this CD that I mixed some selections of it to accompany a final seminar paper in a graduate course on qualitative methodology: a mixtape of a mixtape for a mixed-product project that included this mix, a poem adapted from my email correspondence with the course prof, an “autoethnography” of my own thinking/planning process (this was before my blog days), the final paper, and a micro-cassette tape of my original interviews for the study the paper was based on.
…So. Maybe, for me at least, the days of the mixtape never ended…
(Did I mention?) I was a mixtape maniac. There truly was no joy like what I experienced following a tense couple of minutes of watching the last few inches of spooling strand of shiny brown wind through my player’s works, hoping I would still see brown for the whole of the last cut’s fade-out—then: YAY! The last lingering whisper (heard over earphones with the volume pumped way up to make sure I truly have the ABSOLUTE LAST FEW SECONDS CAPTURED) of the song, followed a split second later by the clear non-recording segment of end-tape….then…CLICK! The tape would suddenly stop winding and the “PLAY” and “RECORD” buttons on the player would snap back in line with the other buttons.
By contrast, there was nothing so depressing as seeing that clear tape and hearing that loud, final CLICK! just a moment shy of the fade-out. (There are a couple songs that even as I hear them now I can remember the precise point where an old mixtape cut out on them because they were the too-long last cut.)
I don’t know if it was an urban legend or not, but my friends and I actually used to share info about brands of cassette tape that routinely (we asserted) packaged their tape reels with slightly more tape than the 45 minutes, or 60 minutes, or 90 minutes that they were labeled as containing. At the most geeky mixtape point in my life, it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend more for a specific brand of high-end audiophile quality, imported blank tape than for the commercially pre-recorded cassettes that I would eventually raid for content…
By contrast, the last blank CDs I purchased came in a package of 100 for less than I previously spent for a two-pack of those high end blank tapes back in the day!
…Maybe CD mixes are not the same, after all…
Anyway. By adulthood—well, who had time for mixtapes and such things. I did not.
Well, except for when my husband was stationed in Bosnia.
I would routinely make him mixtapes of my favorite selections from the latest CDs (for they were CDs now, not prerecorded cassette tapes) that I had purchased from the Army base’s PX or from one of the German record stores in downtown Bamberg. (I always used to get a kick out of one store’s section labeled, in English but all together, German style “Blackmusic.”)
I remember one particular masterpiece I made for him: It was an eclectic and rare mix of Prince slow jams–And with these carefully-chosen selections I even included extensive liner notes which I composed myself.
But, as I said, what adult has time for such things? On a regular basis? And once that adult has parenthood duties to take up her time?
Well, since the birth of my iPod a while back I have–joyfully–rediscovered the art of the mixtape. I have made custom playlists for my daughters: One includes such diverse selections as The Wiggles’ “Hot Potato,” Julie Andrews’ “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” The Friends of Distinction’s “Grazing in the Grass,” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” I have made mixtapes for my husband that include songs he requested, as well as my own favorites of the moment. I recently made a mixtape for my (newly) teenaged nephew’s birthday (and, in doing so, discovered the challenge of finding truly “clean” versions of the latest songs).
And of course I have made mixtapes for myself.
Note that I am calling these playlists “mixtapes.” Unlike the more snob-ish author of the Salon piece, I see my iPod playlists as functionally equivalent to my mixtapes of old. For that matter, I see my cassette mixtapes of old as functionally equivalent to my father’s reel-to-reel party tapes from the early 70s—large, movie film-looking spools of tape on which he had recorded everything from Bill Withers to James Taylor to J. S. Bach.
Were my 80’s-era mixtapes any less labors of love because I never had to physically thread the tape over, under, and through a maze of drums and levers on my machine? Or use a razor to splice two ends of tape to make a longer piece? No.
Are my current iPod playlists any less labors of love because each cut was “recorded” with just a mouseclick or two? Anyone who thinks so obviously has not experienced the joy of wading through bytes and bytes of digital music to find that one elusive selection by that one band you might have heard on NPR or maybe on a BMW commercial or maybe from an album (a real one) you used to own 20 years ago…
…Or outsmarted the algorithmic random “shuffle” program to manually create the absolute most sublime order of songs on a playlist…
…Or played music producer and re-arranged the selections on a classic CD to the order it should have been all along…
No, mixtape culture is not “dead.” It’s alive, and well. Different—but alive and well. And perfectly suited to the lives of grown-up adults with jobs and kids and lives.
And with not nearly enough time to sit for hours and watch the spooling motion of inches and inches of tan magnetic tape.