a eulogy for the mix tape

I had a stream of thoughts after reading this essay by Claudia Gonson today about mix tapes she received from Stephin Merritt and her ex-boyfriend, John, in high school.

I guess I'm kind of lucky to have had my musical coming of age in a time of mix-tapes. I used to have this old cassette recorder that would record my voice, and I'd make these tapes with recordings of my own songs, some of others, and trade them with my friends. It's pretty funny to think that there is this whole canon of music that I made floating around out there somewhere (probably in a landfill) and that I will never get it back.

The mix CDs that I spent my high school years making were terrible. No one knew how to do anything with digital music back then. It was before iPods even really existed, so no one thought to rip music onto their computers. And it was when internet was still mostly dialup, so there wasn't as much file-sharing as there was in the 2-3 years following it. Usually, nostalgic sentiments about a simpler past make me want to vomit, but I can't help but feel pangs of longing for the days when my sources of music were a Walkman, some really bad headphones, and a really old radio/cassette deck my parents had kept since college.

There is a whole generation of people whose first cassette was Ace of Base's The Sign, who shared the experience of putting "Smells like Teen Spirit" on every mix tape ever, and who first heard Neutral Milk Hotel through worn tapes being passed around their friends. Somehow, I am on the cusp of this generation and another with purely digital fixations. Even household-marketed turntables now have USB drives in them. And you can't even find tapes anywhere. I can think of one record store in the whole city that sells cassette tape accessories and they are all dusty because no one has thought about them for years.

This makes me sad. We should resurrect them, or at the very least find our old cassette players and boxes of tapes, experience the rewinding and fast-forwarding, and think about the care and work that was put into those things. I realize that technology has become faster and more efficient, but the whole experience of it has changed. My iPod lets me listen to whatever I want; my life has a self-created soundtrack of complete albums from start to finish or of playlists I've created haphazardly through a right-click. No one makes me mixes anymore; no one thinks critically about what it means to order and combine music anymore.

That is my rant about that. Back to paper writing. *Sigh*


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