Tuesday, June 23, 2009

'Hey, um, so, I made you a mix tape...'

So the faithful Subaru is off at the panel-beaters' for a few weeks getting repaired from teen driver trauma, but they were kind enough to give us a loaner vehicle to use in the meantime. I ain't car-picky, so as long as it gets us around, fine, but I was a bit aback to realize it lacked a CD player. I do need my music to drive; without the sounds of Bowie and Neil and Wilco and the like I cannot navigate, it's a proven fact. But the loaner does have a tape deck, so I reeled into the way-back machine and dug my box of cassettes out of the garage to hold me over. Took me a while to remember the whole rewinding-fast forwarding business, but it all came back.

PhotobucketStrange, to go back to a medium that was once so ubiquitous, but has been gone a good 10-12 years now. I grew up on cassettes, rather than vinyl; clunky and awkward and prone to breakage a medium as tapes were, they were the first sound to me. What I have left of my tape collection now as the clock nears the year of 2010 isn't much, about 30 "mix tapes" and a dozen or so bizarre comedy tapes friends and I made as teenagers. The mix tapes haven't been played in several years now, but through the 1990s the mix tape was where it was at, brothers and sisters. I'm in weird time warp as I drive around a country I never imagined I'd be living in when I made most of these tapes, listening to the music I loved in '92 and '95 and so forth.

I doled out many a mix tape to girls and women I adored, like any sensitive '80s/'90s lad. Most disappeared into the void of vanished hopes, although heck, I've still got quite a few tapes I made for my darling wife, shipped all the way from Mississippi to New Zealand back in the day. I'm glad now of the ones I remembered to keep copies of. Mix tapes were great because you turned them into found art, customizing the labels and carefully parsing the song mix for the proper effect (should I segue from Peter Gabriel into Concrete Blonde or the other way around?).

PhotobucketRevisited today from the perspective of a *cough cough* nearly-40 something dad, it's weird to hear these little time capsules of my musical taste. In the 1990s I was heavy into Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Everclear, Sebadoh, Jane's Addiction and the like. Certain songs tended to pop up a lot on different tapes; you can use Elvis Presley's "Hurt" for anything, darn it! But there's also at least one tape with an embarrassing amount of Phil Collins-era Genesis. One of my prized tapes is from a long-since vanished high school love, who gave me a mix of Crowded House and Roy Orbison songs that still kind of tingle with an strange and nostalgic energy. The girl is gone, and where I'm at is great, but it's fine to have a little piece of gone history to listen to now and then. I even made a few mix tapes for my male friends, which might indeed have taken the concept of "bromance" a hair too far, now that I think about it.

You can make mix CDs now with the click of a few buttons and I've done that, but the tape had a tactile, creative thrill that was its own, the pushing of stop and start recording buttons, the clipping out of collage art to make quirky covers. The car accident kind of sucked, but it's good to have a reason to dig my mix tapes out of oblivion for a spell.

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