The lost art of making a mix tape
I’ve been hearing rumors that the cassette tape is making a comeback. First vinyl, now this. Can 8-tracks be far behind? Probably not. 8-tracks are like Betamax and ET for Atari: things that newer generations only know of as punchlines to jokes.
I can almost get behind a cassette comeback, for purely nostalgic purposes. Because if you’re like most people who spent any amount of time sticking pencils in the holes of a cassette to wind them up after the tape came loose, just looking at an old cassette can make you pine for the days of the mix tape.
The art – and make no mistake about it, it is an art - of making a mix tape is one lost on a generation that only has to drag and drop to complete a mix. There’s no love or passion involved in moving digital songs from one folder to another. Those “mixes” are just playlists held prison inside an iPod. There’s no blood, sweat and tears involved in making them.
There was a certain ritual to making a perfect mix tape, one that could take hours to finish. Maybe even days, depending on how much you wanted to impress the recipient. While the songs had to have a common theme (“I hate you and hope you die” was as common a theme as “I would like to get to first base with you”), it wasn’t good enough to just take a bunch of love songs and throw them on a tape. It was about so much more than grouping some tunes together. They had to segue. They had to flow into one another. Each song needed to be a continuation of the one before it, as if all these disparate bands got together and recorded a concept album based solely on your feelings for the guy who sits in front of you in English class.
There would be albums strewn about the room. There would be painful minutes spent starting and stopping and restarting a song in an attempt to hit the record button at just the right time so as to eliminate the clunks and hisses. But even if you didn’t time it so perfectly as to not have even a millisecond of space between “Don’t Cry” and “Jamie’s Crying” it was ok. That hiss became part of the mix. Upon the third listen, that sound would no longer be a piece of imperfection, but part of the flow of the tape; the two seconds of dead air was a metaphor for the silence in your relationship.
When the mix was completed, you’d sit back and admire your handiwork. You’d play it a couple of times, making sure the theme stayed intact, the segues were perfect, the message came through loud and clear. Then you’d painstakingly write the track list on the card provided with the cassette, squeezing in the long titles, making sure you got the artist’s name spelled right, obsessively checking over and over again that the track listing was correct. The next two hours would consist of you sitting on your bedroom floor staring at the tape while you tried to come up with a brilliant title, one that at once spoke of both the awesome music contained in the cassette and the feeling you were trying to convey. It didn’t matter if the cassette was a subtle gift to a would be lover, an offering of empathy to a newly single friend or a morose reminder to yourself of the dark abyss that was your life – you had to have the right title.
Does anyone put such loving, tender care into making a iTunes playlist? Will the kids of today ever know the pain and anguish of finishing a mix tape only to realize that the first song skipped and to record it over would ruin the entire tape? Will they ever know the fear and anxiety that comes when you slip a mix tape into a crush’s desk or the thrill when your phone rings later that night and it’s him saying something like “Wow, I had no idea you even owned any Yes albums. That’s totally cool.” They’ll never understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a mix tape, to run home and listen to it on your headphones trying to find the message within, anticipating the next track, swooning when a song about friendship segues into a song about friends falling in love and then dying a little bit of embarrassment when the last song is the crush himself singing Toto’s “Hold the Line” to you.
For the beauty of the mix tape alone, I’d love to see the cassette make a comeback. My days of crushes are long gone, but I do have a recipient in mind for the mix called “It would be nice if you called your mother once in a while.”
Brand New – Mix Tape