In an age when everyone has their whole musical collection at their fingertips, the mixtape is a lost art, one that I greatly mourn. I come from the era of kids who would hold a tape deck up to the radio after waiting for 3 hours for that perfect song to come on to complete my mix. While the quality of musical gifts has so greatly improved that I guarantee that there is no kid shushing 5 of her friends in the background of a song, there is no gift more personal than a mixtape.
A mixtape can send several messages: They can just be a grouping of songs that someone thinks you’ll like, or a look into a new genre of music. They can be a glimpse into how someone really feels about you or they can tell a story, they can have narrative, tonal and emotional arcs. No matter what the message of a mixtape is, they all have one common, simple message, which is that someone cares enough to craft and lovingly curate a personal selection just for you. By carefully selecting and ordering their choices, often times something is created that is greater than the sum of its individual songs.
I personally miss the mixtape culture all the time and still frequently make mixes for friends. I still remember some of my best mixes. Every time I hear ‘Fast Car’ by Tracy Chapman I’m always waiting for ‘Here’s to the Night’ by Eve 6 to immediately follow it because that was its order on one of my most favorite CD’s, a silver maxell disc with white-out writing on the front, declaring that this was ‘Teresa’s Ultimate Summer Mix’. That’s just one example, so many mixes are burned into my brain that they have permanently altered the order of my songs. I always found it so much easier to use mixtapes to express my feelings, I embarrassingly gave away so many custom CD’s to guys in high school that I had a crush on. Recently I found a cassette mix from high school that a guy made me and was immediately flooded with so much love for every song on it (once I found a cassette deck to play it in, that is).
Today, I’m making mixtapes for a few friends. I make them for my best friends truck, he has a long commute to work and isn’t online much so he’s not exposed to a lot of new music. I’m making one called ‘Baby Making Music’ for a friend and her husband who have decided they’re ready for kids (Are y’all crazy?) and another for a friend going through some rough changes. I’ll probably never give up this dying art. The first song I’ll be putting on several of these mixes today is Airwaves by Ray LaMontagne, from his latest album ‘Supernova’. It’s the perfect sexy, breezy summer song that’s complete with Ray’s smoky voice, it makes me want to lay on a beach, have a nap with my boyfriend and drive down a hot highway, all at the same time. Here’s your homework, dear readers: Thank your lucky stars that you get to have millions of songs at your fingertips (without having to wait for some annoying DJ to play the one you want), put together a great selection of songs that tell your story and make somebody a mixtape today.