As I was driving home tonight, I heard a song on the radio and thought “that song would be perfect for a mix tape.” That thought was immediately followed by “I haven’t made or listened to a mix tape in almost 20 years.”
You remember the mix tape. You made one for your girlfriend or boyfriend. Maybe you made one for your best friends that recalled your last summer together before you all went to separate colleges. People made them for you. They were party souvenirs.
Back in the day, I had a gazillion cassettes, but the ones that have stood the test of time and a dozen moves since high school are my mix tapes. I don’t have any of my Pet Shop Boys or Outfield or even Bon Jovi cassettes anymore, but I still have almost two dozen mix tapes. They span a full decade of my life, from 1984 through 1994, and represent long lost loves, forever friend, parties, vacations, my favorite workout music, and much more.
The first mix tape I ever received was from my high school boyfriend. He gave it to me just before I left for Watervale and I’m sure I spent all 6 hours in the car listening to it on my cassette Walkman. It was full of the music we loved, and listening to it, I knew without a doubt exactly how he felt about me. Unfortunately, that tape died a merciless death at the controls of my tape deck. I listened to it until it wore out.
My favorite mix tape was a surprise from my friend Kirsten in the Fall of 1991. She was studying in Hong Kong and I was back at Lake Forest College, after having spent the summer at Watervale. The tape, called "Jess's Hong Kong Express," was a mix of songs, quotes, poems, and stories of her adventures overseas and the day it appeared in my mailbox, I ran all the way back to Deerpath Hall to listen to it before even cracking a page of homework.
A couple of years ago, I was packing for a romantic getaway and I wanted a soundtrack of music to help set the mood and say the things I couldn’t. I spent a couple of hours putting together a playlist on my iPod, but then when we reached our destination, we realized we didn’t have a docking station. So much for technology. I'm not sure that playlist survived moving to a new laptop and resetting my iPod.
Getting back to my drive home tonight, I began to wonder, how do people in love express their emotions through music in the day of digital downloads? Pandora sort of creates playlists, but they're not fully customizable because Pandora chooses the music for you. Do you “borrow” your lover’s iPod or iPhone and download a custom playlist? That’s sort of romantic, but playlists can easily get deleted. And you can’t exactly create custom artwork on the cover of a playlist the way you can on a cassette. Sure, tapes wear out, melt in your car (assuming you have a cassette player), and get lost, plus the sound quality is no where near as good as today's digital downloads, but there's something really wonderful about holding a tape and knowing the hours of effort that went into making it.
I miss mix tapes and can't help but wonder if, in spite of all the wonderful technological innovations we've had in the last twenty years, maybe we haven't lost one of life's great joys. What do you think?