Mixtape Memories

In a world of mp3s and Spotify, I may be showing my age, but I’m still a sucker for a mix-tape.

It’s easy for us Gen X – Gen Y bods to be overly nostalgic. I know this.

I am not even the first to wax poetic over the nuance and romance of curated musical obsessions. Nick Horby captures a proto-hipster icon of this ilk almost perfectly in High Fidelity. Rob gives many a fabulous (self-obsessed, ridiculous, aggravating and amusing) monologue, one in particular about the art of mixtape as music-cum-personal-statement.

Mix taping, Rob says, (I quote the film version here),  “is a very subtle art: many dos and don’ts. First of all, you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel; this is a delicate thing. …It takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick it off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you gotta take it up a notch. But you don’t want to blow your wad. So then you gotta cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”

Molly Naylor, writer, creator, and all round funny lady (often observed at a good Literary Death Match) wrote a poem about it: This Mix Tape Will Make You Love Me. It’s pitch perfect, but you’ll have to take my word on that. I can’t find my copy. in the bluster of the move.

Tongue-in-cheek 30-something nerdisms aside, I actually have little interest in making a playlist for someone else most of the time.

For me, a good anthology is not a window into my soul, but a rabbithole into my past.

Back in the age of the dinosaurs and before mp3 players, it was impossible to travel with a lifetime soundtrack at your fingertips. On the road, I wouldn’t dream of taking my whole CD (or even cassette…) collection, so I’d make mixtapes to travel.

Unearthing them now they hold a peculiar, historical zeitgeist. Not only what music I was into at the time, but they are shaded by context: who was I travelling with? where was I headed? what mood was I in?

In The Purge, I have unearthed several of these tiny audio time capsules. They are fascinating, comforting and hilarious.

There is a playlist for our first party in our first apartment out of college. We were trying so hard, and so full of ebullient, rough chaos. (It rather unsurprisingly contains a serious overdose of the Black Eyed Peas and Outkast, remember them?)

There is an album made especially for my day-long journey through the Swiss Alps, from Milan to the Black Forest, in the summer of 2005. It is a lot of indy-guff, silly and too-cool-for-school, and sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful — not unlike the ostentatious Europe I have come to know and love since.

There is the go-to CD for my once regular schlep down highways and past corn fields from college town A (where I lived in undergrad) to college town B (where my family lived). It is chock full of girls with guitars dreaming of bigger lives and open skies.

There is one I made for that first roadtrip Bean and I took, before we started dating. It is so carefully designed – childhood favourites, modern classics, underground indy talking points. I see this assemblage of tracks and perhaps I am just as cheesy as Hornby and Naylor. Because I, too, equate music and personality, music and taste, music and style. It is a proclamation. A soapbox. A firestarter.

Through them all though, and I have found dozens of blanks CDs around the house, there is an underlying wistful, hopeful, world-weary cluelessness; which is so quintessentially twenty-something-Sara I hardly know where to begin. It makes me heart smile.

One has brought me particular joy. It’s a two-disc-er I made sometime in grad school. Probably for some roadtrip or other.

I don’t think I’ve heard any of these songs in what feels like a lifetime. As a set, they are a quirky, homespun, worldly, excited, angry, playful, insipid guddle, that captures my belated emancipation and nostalgia just perfectly. There is unabashed pop and old school rock and a weird array of in-the-moment indy hits.

I remember the girl who listened to this music.

I remember the ways she discovered these songs, and the people she has shared them with since. I remember writing about them, and talking about them, and dancing like a maniac to them. I remember hearing them on trains and buses and planes, in fields and by salty seas.

I remember each layer of listening, pasted over each other, into huge collage of memory and meaning.

And today, it’s the perfect soundtrack for saying goodbye, hello.

If you’ve got Pandora, Spotify, or any other audio interface, feel free to listen along!

Holiday     Madonna
Yardwork in November       Actual Tigers
Cecelia    Simon & Garfunkel
Folsom Prison Blues      Johnny Cash
Soak Up the Sun      Sheryl Crow
Rock With You        Michael Jackson
You and Me and the Bottle Make Three       Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
No Rain      Blind Melon
My Favorite Mistake        Sheryl Crow
The Boxer     Simon & Garfunkel
How Does She Know?       Amy Adams Enchanted
Man in the Mirror        Michael Jackson
Wild Child        Enya
Hound Dog        Elvis Presley
Turn, Turn, Turn       The Byrds
The Way You Love Me        Faith Hill
Cowboy Take Me Away        The Dixie Chicks
Clark Gable       The Postal Service

Lucky Number Nine    The Moldy Peaches
Powerless (Say What You Want)   Nelly Furtado
Silly Girl   Television Personalities
Your Time Has Come    Audioslave
Blame It On Cain    Elvis Costello
Fight Test    The Flaming Lips
Sweet Child O’ Mine     Guns ‘n Roses
Friday Night     The Darkness
Banquet     Bloc Party
Like A Virgin    Madonna
Toxic       Britney Spears
Karma       Alicia Keys
Like A Stone      Audioslave
Tourniquet        Evanescence
Elephant Love Medley       Moulin Rouge – Nicole Kidman & Ewan McGregor
Fit But You Know It      The Streets
Seven Nation Army      The White Stripes
Who’s Got the Crack        The Moldy Peaches

One Response to “Mixtape Memories”
  1. Kylie says:

    I still have a few mix tapes sitting around. I have nothing to play them on, but I can’t let them go.


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