Ah the mix-tape.
Once upon a time (before the internet of course) the best way to understand your friends, or have your friends get to know you, was by passing around a mix-tape. It revealed the compiler to the listener, showed who they were in that moment of their lives with song. It was fun. It was abstract. It never made me want to “unfriend” anyone. It was about something deeply personal and honest and without an agenda (except the ones meant to woo you or seduce you…yes, there were those..and they were fantastic fun).
And mix-tapes had the bonus cache of having taken time to create. There were technical considerations. Dual tape deck systems; vinyl to tape efforts; waiting to catch that specific song then hitting record during America’s Top 40 with Casey Kasem’s; staying quiet during the recording; hitting stop at just the right place for smooth transitions. Wondering if you had enough room at the end of the tape for one more song or else better to leave a two minute gap of blank space at the end. One mistake and you were fucked. You had to start again or live with it. Even your mistakes could be telling. When someone gave you a mix-tape they’d spent time and effort to share something with you. Until you’ve spent half the day on the floor pressing record, stop, record, rewind, record, stop etc, you haven’t really tried expressing yourself.
One of my most cherished mix-tapes was created by my step brother, Rob. He gave it the title “Where Have I Been?” He was, at that time, recovering from a bad marriage and was back “on the scene” as it were. It was the early ’90s so the songs had that whole Seattle thing going (reminiscent of the Singles soundtrack). The tape was one he created for himself but left it in the tape deck of my VW Rabbit (convertible of course). I loved it too much to return it. I always think of him when I hear the song Busy Bee by Ugly Kid Joe. Which is a fuck load better than thinking of someone every time you see a duck. I really wish I’d kept all of my mix-tapes from friends but sadly they’re mostly all gone.
Now we live in this magical time of digital media. We can keep list, conceivably, forever. We can create mix-tapes so effortlessly it’s mind blowing. My mix-tape arena of choice is Spotify. I find myself increasingly addicted to creating “playlist” (the new name for mix-tape). These have the feel of the old mix-tape world, yet I don’t necessarily share them and I don’t know anyone passing along playlists (though I’m sure others do, I don’t know). They also can be easily edited and go on and on without limit, so there is something lost in having to make careful selections. Since the playlists I create seem to be just for me, I don’t go about them in quite the same way I would if, say, I were making it for a friend in an effort to communicate something. These are more general list, more like collecting or categorizing. More like a music library. I have one called Mel’s Obsessions, which catalogs every song I can remember being so obsessed with I had to play it over and over and over. It’s like my music autobiography. It’s revealing of my age and taste. Currently it has 232 songs (which I’m thinking maybe means it’s too large and needs regrouping)…I’m sure there are songs I’ve forgotten that also need to go on the list. There’s a “Dub Step” list; a “Christmas Songs” list; a “Goyte-Dennen” (Brett Dennen) list (not sure why combined).
But the more I play with the lists, the closer I get to the aesthetics of the good ole mix-tape. I’m starting to think along the lines of themes. I’m anxious to share playlists as a way to know friends. Along these lines I’ve created a list I call, “Down by the Water.” It’s a list of carefully selected songs that capture a certain emotional resonance, sparks something specific in my imagination that I can’t quite define. It draws a musical picture of where I live, where I have been, the vibe of that weird subterranean mental landscape behind everything and what I’d want a friend to plug into. Sadly this list has, so far, only 9 songs. I wait patiently for that certain something in a song that fits the theme and I just don’t know it until I hear it…As the list evolves, I start to have second thoughts about some of the previous choices. As it grows it fine tunes itself. It redefines. The idea sharpens. So I share this mix-tape with you, my internet friends and simply want to know, will you got to prom with me?
The list so far:
- Down by the Water (hence the title of the list) by The Decemberist
- Disappear by Emily Barker
- Fields of June by Emily Barker
- Something Good Coming by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- Room At the Top by Tom Petty
- Far From Any Road by The Handsome Family (You might know it as the True Detective theme song)
- You Can’t Outrun ‘Em by Jenny Lewis
- The Air That I Breathe by The Hollies
- Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene by Hozier