The Lost Art of the Mixtape


I never know why I mention this or what kind of importance it has but I’d like to say that I’m composing this post from my phone via the WordPress app. I think it’s because there are photos on my phone I want to use and reclining in the lounge chair is much more comfortable than sitting at the computer.

Anyway.

Now that I’m feeling better, I decided that I would be up at the crack of dawn to go for a nice run/walk. These days I’m not even concerned with my pace anymore; a reasonable distance makes me happy. (My goal was 9 miles but I ended up at 7.25 miles. Meh. Close enough.)

My usual route takes me down the block and around to the street that leads me to the park. Today was no exception. This route is my there’s-no-turning-back route; once I turn that corner I’ve committed to at least 6 miles.

But before I reached the Point of No Return, I came across a box of stuff that read “FREE” on the side. I gave it a quick gander and discovered it had some good stuff inside.

Hey, it’s not as bad as it sounds. We’ve scored some major goods that people were getting rid of: furniture, home decor, etc. And on the top of the box was a set of DaKine rack pads that are used for a car’s surfboard rack. A great find but I gave them to my neighbor down the street who is an avid surfer.

Once I saw there were more goodies inside, I sent a text to Ann to come pick it up. I had already started my run and was in the groove.

When I got home I had a chance to look in the box. There were some nice items but I, being the music lover, was more delighted by this:

  

A whole bunch of cassette tapes from a bygone era, some of them actually good. 

Come on. You know you love “Rush, Rush” by Paula Abdul. I didn’t care about her opinions regarding cold-hearted snakes or how opposites attracted but this song…this one I like. It took me back to the days when MTV still played music videos, and the one for this song featured a very young Keanu Reeves.

Funny thing about “My Heart Will Go On.” I told Ann yesterday that I wanted to take her to the local Titanic exhibit before it closes sometime next month. Talk about timing.

(The exhibit was really interesting but not as good as the one we saw at the Queen Mary years ago.)

Anyway, mixed in with those tapes was this one:

  
A TDK normal bias tape. Not even chrome. Oh man. If you grew up in the era of cassettes, you know your Case Logic cassette case was about 50% purchased music and 50% “Various” or mixtapes. Mine was more like 75% mixtape.

Being that I still often find myself stuck in the ’80s, I still have two functioning Sony Walkman players. Once I saw this tape I knew what I had to do: listen to it.

And while it wasn’t really much of a mix, I enjoyed just the same.

Most of the songs were Janet Jackson tracks like “Control,” “Nasty Boys,” “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” and “Let’s Wait Awhile.”

But interspersed with Ms. Jackson’s* songs were some by The Jets, everybody’s favorite pop band from Minnesota.

Boy, did those take me back. This song in particular which I listened to in its entirety and, yes, sang along with — loudly.

Ugh. My awkward teenage years. The outfits, the music, the prom, the fun we had without smartphones. You kids these days have absolutely no idea.

In listening to the tape I discovered a few things.

First, kids today will never know the joy of throwing together a mixtape. Making a playlist on your iPhone pales in comparison because there’s no work involved, just dragging and dropping. Plus your music is already on your device.

When we made tapes, we had to take into consideration the total time we had to work with. A 90-minute Maxell? That’s 45 minutes per side. Better make it good.  Then we had to collect which songs wanted on the tape, whether LP or CD (or in some cases, dubbed from the cassette single). Sure, we had that stupid three-digit counter on the cassette deck but it never gave us much help. We had to stare at the tape as it was recording the music and hope it didn’t run out.

Sometimes it did, and your tape was ruined. You had to go without that last song, the one that really tied the theme together. Madness, I tell you.

All of this, by the way, in real time. And if the song skipped? Gotta start it over again at the end of the previous song.

Also while listening to this stranger’s hard work, I heard hisses and pops. This mixtape was recorded from vinyl sources and I have to tell you that it sounded absolutely beautiful on a normal-bias cassette. 

Mixtapes were a lot of work. They were a test of patience but based on the sheer number of tapes we bought back then, it made no difference because they were more of a labor of love. I never found myself without blank tapes, usually 90-minute Maxell XL II, because I never knew when the urge to throw together a tape would hit me.

But when it did, it was pure magic.

*Does this mean I’m a nasty boy?

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