One of the plusses of going through all my moving boxes is finding crap I haven’t seen in many, many a year. Other than completely hilarious old pictures I really have to get into a scanner, my favorite find so far has been a box of old cassette tapes. More specifically, old MIX tapes.
Now, kids, gather ’round and let Granny Banshee tell you about mix tapes. Back right after the Ice Age and before the internet (I know!) when teen angst reared its ugly head, or when you were sooooooo in love, ohmygod, you made mix tapes. Some were for you, intricately composed of the songs that really SPOKE to you, man, this is the story of my LIFE, only Pearl Jam really UNDERSTANDS ME and my PAIN of being 14, man! Others were worn to a staticky thread after that amazing boy broke your heart, you don’t even LIKE that song, but oh, oh, you still love him, and once upon a time he loved you enough to make you a mix tape, so you listen to it over and over, carefully backing it up onto ANOTHER tape in case, horror of horrors, your Walkman ate the tape or you lost it on the bus. Liner notes were carefully and artistically fashioned and dated, and sometimes you were so proud of your efforts that you actually considered LAMINATING them, so deep was your passion for mix tapes.
Nothing can compare to the dedication needed to make a mix tape. CD mixes are okay, I GUESS, but nothing like the real thing. And forget iTunes. No. No passion there. A slight to the magic of the mix tape. No, the real deal involved sitting on your bed in a pile of cassettes, wearing your fingers to the bone carefully constructing your list, then, in an OCD act worthy of Howard Hughes, recording the tapes on your double-cassette boom box, re-playing and pausing for optimum editing. You worked that pause button like a SAFECRACKER, finding the one millisecond difference between a perfect segue and a disasterous cut-off of the last song. Tapes were also a very specific length, and let me tell you, if I had given a millionth of the obsessional time I took to make sure all the songs would fit on a 90 minute tape (45 minutes on each side, no leeway) to high school math, I would have been accepted to MIT. If you screwed up? You had to go back and do it ALL AGAIN. And don’t even THINK of recording at double speed to save time. The audio isn’t as good, and that would prove that your dedication to the mix tape was a SHAM. No, you sat there for hours until the tape was perfect, and then worked yourself into an absolute panic attack wondering if your music tastes were cool enough to be worthy of your high school paramour. (Hint: they never were. Such is the pain of pubescence.)
So I’ve been listening to my old tapes in my car. Yes, the only tape player left in my life is in my 2002 Kia, (don’t smirk, the Kia demands AWE and RESPECT.) It’s pretty amazing how music takes you back to specific times and places, with incredible emotional memory. I was playing an old tape my pal Mark gave me back in the day, and I swear, as soon as the grainy audio started, I was back walking down Amsterdam Avenue on a summer day. I still can’t listen to most Sarah McLachlan without remembering the walk across Boston Common from my dorm to the classroom buildings. And forget about the songs from the Soul Asylum Unplugged show, which I taped from the VCR to the boombox, to the mix tape. I mean ALL the mix tapes. Every single one from 1994. And I made a LOT of mix tapes in 1994.
I remember being out of my mind frantic when my Walkman was stolen during AIDS Walk 2000, not for the machine itself, but because it contained a mix tape that K-Bat had made for me. Don’t worry, K-Bat! I had made a backup tape! Banshee don’t PLAY when it comes to mix tapes.
At this point, I am seriously, seriously considering finding a way to burn all my tapes onto mp3s, because these cracked and worn tapes are only going to hold on for so long. But I’ll never, ever, throw them away. I wish I could make more. It makes me sad that angsty teenagers will never know the emotion of crouching over a boom box, thinking of that special person you are absolutely certain you will love forever and ever, spending insane numbers of hours constructing just for them, only for them, the perfect mix tape. Because that? Is love.