Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ah mix tapes, how I miss you...

Anyone remember Mix tapes? If you're under 30, you probably don't. You're thinking mix CDs. If you're under 25 not even that. You think in terms of "Playlists," don't you? I, however, am eld. And I remember the mix tapes.

Time was we laughed scornfully at the 8 tracks because we had the ultimate in HiFi technology - the cassette tape. Yes, 90 minutes of High Quality blank cassette, combined with a dual cassette tape deck and a CD player, and a decent tape/CD collection, could create endless combinations of music. And it was good.

Back in The Day, making a mix tape was a big deal. You had to plan the things. You had to think about which of your albums, actual physical albums, you would select from, and what order, and what would fit on Side 1 and what woudl fit on Side 2. There was always a bit of guess work involved. And then you had to monitor the recording levels to make sure you didn't have some songs blasting and others whispering. If you were fancy you had to work on fading in and out between songs. But most important, you had to have the right mix of tunes. Of all your favorite songs, which ones best fit the mood you were in right now, or the mood you wanted to create in the tape, and which ones best fit together? Yes, this was the kind of thing you pondered. When it worked, it was awesome. You had this one tape of all the songs you wanted to hear at that moment just right there, ready to play in your room, your car, with your friends, whatever! When it didn't work, well, you just blew $3 worth of tape, my friend.

Let me give you an example of what this was like. My sister and I had this friend named Mike, right, and he had a nice tape deck and CD player. And I had a nice tape deck and CD player, so we loaded up my system and took it, along with a ton of music from my collection and my sister's, to his house and we spent an afternoon crafting the mix, with songs from all three of our collections, using this amalgamation of equipment. Then we ran a bunch of copies for our friends and our selves. Actually, I didn't like the resulting mix all that much (too boppy for me) but the process, that's what I'm talking about. This was a day's effort, and none of us thought twice about it - that's what the mix tape thing was.

I can still remember some of my favorite mixes. My number one all time mix tape was called "Homesick on the Borderlands" which I thought was an awesome title. It's first song was, in fact, Homesick by the Cure, and it had a New Model Army song about the boderlands (can't remember which right now, to my shame), and the songs blended together just perfectly, and all built on each other, and had the right mood. It had Sisters of Mercy, Cure, NMA, all my favorites at the time. I played that thing probably hundreds of times. When I hear one song from it, say on the radio or on a playlist today, I automatically expect to hear the next song from the mix. And then there were the mixes you made for other people. People you were good friends with, or people you wanted to be good friends with (i.e., wanted to date), and all that. And the tape was like a book you were writing - it had a story to it.

Nick Hornby actually wrote about it in his book High Fidelity: "I spent ours putting that cassette together. To me, makign a tape is like writing a litter - there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again, and I wanted it to be a good one ... You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention and then you've got to up it a nothc, or cool it a notch, and ... there are loads of rules." If you've seen the movie, you've seen John Cusack talking through a similar speech (quite well, actually).

So I guess the whole point of this post is that, well, those mix tapes (and the later CDs) are going going gone. These days it's all ipods and track lists. You don't have 90 minutes to play with, you've got 4 gigabytes. You've got a whole hard drive. And putting together the mix is as easy as drag and drop. I put a new mix together every few weeks for my running. Totally different feel. And I love the technology, and all the cool stuff we can do now, and the freedom of it. But I do really miss those mix tapes.

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