The art of the mixtape

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 choir.

By high school, mixes contained pre-requisite cool tracks like, "Moonlight Drive" by The Doors and The Replacements' "Alex Chilton." (Side-note: the lyrics of "Alex Chilton" were about the band's favorite music to listen to on its tour bus, "I never travel far without a little Big Star!")

All music lovers feel the need to make our own soundtracks for various moments of our lives. We make mixes to soothe us in the face of mounting pressures at work, mixes that rail against loneliness and 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.

Like John Cusack's character in the movie "High Fidelity," we 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. Of course, I am dating myself with the word "mixtape." Feel free to substitute "playlist," or don't -- tapes are making a comeback.  

How diligently I crafted my collections of songs to send just the right message to the girl 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!) 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."

Here's the part where I sound like an old man: My friends and I use apps like Spotify these days, but it's not the same. When I popped a tape into the tape deck of my old Monte Carlo, there was more of a commitment and I listened through its sides, carried the cassettes in and out of the hot or cold each night. When it comes to digital consumption, there's nothing to lose, as such, they don't quite feel like something gained either.

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