Ah the lost art – and it certainly is an art – of making a mixtape is one lost on a generation that needs only drag and drop to make a mix. Where is the love, passion, blood, sweat, and tears in just moving a song from one digital file to another? Those “mixes” are just playlists held captive inside a computer.
Do you remember John Cusack in the movie “High Fidelity” describing the art of the “perfect mixtape”? Spending hours or even days to finish it? Naturally the amount of time we spent felt to us a perfect reflection of how strongly the message was we were trying to convey.
Now the songs had to have a theme (“You broke my heart into a million pieces I hate you” was as common a theme as “I would like to get to first base with you”) but it was not nearly good enough to just take a bunch of love songs and throw them on a tape. They had to tell a perfect story as though all these bands got together in the studio to make a concept album based solely on your feelings for the boy who sits behind you in science class.
I can picture myself in my room with albums strewn around me. I’d be spending painful minutes stopping and restarting a song in the hopes of hitting the red button at the perfect time to make sure there were no chunks or hisses. Or could the hiss become a part of the mix? The debate was: If there wasn’t enough space between songs did it feel too frantic or did it just symbolize the constant flow of passion you felt for the recipient? What about too much space? Was that slow and boring or a metaphoric symbol of the silence in your relationship? And of course there was the whole “Side A/Side B” element. Perhaps ending side A with a bit of melancholy only to put the infamous “recovery” song to bring your mood back up to start Side B (which subtly meant “there is hope yet my new love!”).
Remember when finished how you’d painstakingly, and in the neatest writing you could muster, write the track list on the impossibly small card that came with the cassette? You’d use your micro penmanship to squeeze in the long (yet awesome and so must be fully included) titles.
What about the perfect title for the entire mix? You didn’t want to give too much away which would spoil the joy of the recipient’s first listen but you needed to say enough to ensure your “deep” metaphors weren’t lost.
As my favourite blogger put it: “Does anyone put such loving, tender care into making an iTunes playlist? Will the youth 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 her saying something like “Wow, I had no idea you even owned any Genesis 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 thus, in sharing my little love story, I offer my hope that this new generation finds a way (aside from playlists and emoticons) to show someone how they feel and what time they would put into their expression of this feeling through music. Otherwise, I fear this forgotten art will go the way of the dinosaur…until perhaps one day my grandchild opens a dusty box from the attic, pulls out this now alien looking tangle of loose cassette tape and blurred penmanship and says: “What on earth is this Grandpa?” “Oh let me tell you” I’d say…“Let me tell you!”