Thursday, August 30, 2018

Mix tape memories

Earlier this summer, Ashar got the notion that he wanted one of those old-timey boomboxes, along with some of those "cassette tapes" they used to play music. This made me feel very old.

So we went to an antique store in Harrisburg called Atomic Warehouse to find one. This also made me feel very old.

In addition to finding a proper boombox, we searched through endless stockpiles of used cassette tapes to find some music that he was interested in, finally settling upon Wham!'s Make It Big, Alice Cooper's School's Out and Genesis' Invisible Touch. While sorting through those tapes — the endless accumulations of Depeche Mode, Donna Summer and Rick Astley albums — I stumbled upon someone's old mix tape (pictured above).

I bought it just so I could write about it on Papergreat. Because I'm here for you.

There are no legitimate surveys or statistics, but I have to think 75% of us who were American teenagers in the 1980s made a personal mix tape at some point, right?

(By the way, the editor in me is going with "mix tape" on this one, as opposed to "mixtape." I think there is an argument for either, though. And I'll use mixtape as one word when quoting other material.)

In a December 2012 Forbes article titled "The Lost Art of the Mixtape," Michele Catalano wrote:
"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 a device. 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."

In 2005, Thurston Moore published a short and well-received book titled Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture. In the book's introduction, which was excerpted that year on NPR's website, he writes about the early history of mix tapes:
"The first time I'd ever heard of someone making a mix tape was in 1978. Robert Christagau, the 'Dean of Rock Critics,' was writing in the Village Voice about his favorite Clash record, which just happened to be the one he made himself: a tape of all the non-LP b-sides by the band. The Clash made great singles, and they made great LPs, and they would usually put the singles on the LPs but not the b-side of the singles. This was a great idea to my rock critic-reading mind. And one aspect really struck me: Mr. Christgau said it was a tape he made to give to friends. He had made his own personalized Clash record and was handing it out as a memento of his rock 'n' roll devotion."
This old tape I came across is labeled "Dance Mix" on the side. On the tape itself, one side is labeled "ECHO" and the other side is "X—THE SAM." As you can see from the handwritten list of tracks on the cassette — a staple of mix tapes — it included a gnarly 1980s mix including "It's Raining Men," "She Blinded Me With Science," and, of course, "White Wedding" by Billy Idol.

So, if you're wondering, I did make a few mix tapes back in the day. I think I even made one for my sister, as a gift. They weren't very slick or professional, but that probably lumps them in with the majority of the tapes that were produced. Some of my stuff was recorded off the radio, rather than being made via vinyl-to-cassette or cassette-to-cassette. That made them even less slick, because the timing was impossible to nail.

The mix tape I remember best — and I can't believe I'm sharing this — was titled "Jogging with the Boys." I listened to it so much on my Walkman while running that I probably could have quoted the entire track listing to you, in order, if you had asked 15 years ago. Now, I can only recall parts of it with certainty.

  • Live version of Genesis' "Land of Confusion"
  • The Cars' "Drive"
  • Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark"
  • A couple songs by Peter Gabriel — probably "Shock the Monkey" and "Solsbury Hill"
  • Much more by Genesis, including "Abacab" and "Afterglow"

I sort of wish I still had that cassette tape, but the only way I'd be able to play it is by borrowing my son's antique boombox.

1 comment:

  1. I was never hip to trends, so when my friend sent me a mix tape back in the 80's, I had no idea what it was all about. After listening to it, I still wasn't sure what I was supposed to get out of it. Was it a personal message to me? Was it his thoughts? At the risk of not sounding hip, I never did ask him.