Monday, March 21, 2005

an ode to the mix tape

I am currently listening to a mix CD a friend made for me. The current track is called 'Standing' from the band VNV Nation. It begins with a very dance club, come-down, electronic cascade before launching into a military marching beat. The vocals kick in and are sorta New Order-ish. Why was this track chosen as track 2? That's part of the fun in making mix tapes. Track order! Picking the songs you plan to use can be easy. But the order inwhich to play them can make or break a mix tape. Let's go to Rob from 'High Fidelity' for the perfect quote:

"The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don't wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules."

In this CD age, the only time I really miss the tape cassette is when it comes to mix tapes. Anyone can keep loading songs onto a CD-R with a burning program, figure out how much time they have left, add and subtract, and BA-BOOM! Not so with the analog tape. One must be careful and precise. I was the master of these bastards back in the day. Armed with a boom box, a pencil, some paper, and a calculator, I would sit there for hours making these damn things. Rearranging the track lists, cutting corners, only choosing PART of a song. It was always fun and expressive. Because you always need to start off by saying: "What am I trying to say with this mix tape?"

Not that every mix tape/CD needs a message. Sometimes its as simple as: "You should really check out these bands, they are great." But in my case, usually when a girl was involved, the mix tape/CD takes on deeper meanings, filled with subtle messages. Sure, there would be a good share of quality songs. But always sprinkled in-between the catchy shit was the message! Always the message! I'm not sure how many of those ladies actually ever listened to the CD's...and if they did, did they even notice the lyrics? Probably not. People like big red signs and lights, not subtlety.

Of course, secret messages are just part of the mix tape's charm. They can be journeys and adventures. Or a chronological record of a certain time in your life. I used to save my old track lists on my computer. You never know when that battered CD-R gets worn out and you need to make a new one. In the end, I don't think the mix tape/CD is usually appreciated as much by the person who receives it as much as by the one who made it. But isn't that the way of life? And I don't think it subtracts from the joy one bit.

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