I came home from work tonight to a little package slip in my mailbox. As I went to the office to collect it, I had no idea what it could be. Thanks to teenage years spent writing to over 7 dozen pen pals, I don’t think I will ever tire of the thrill of getting something unexpected in the mailbox.
The package was a thick, padded envelope from my friend Fred in Colorado. Fred and I have a unique friendship – about a year ago, he left a comment here on one of my blog posts about an artist we both really like (okay, Fred really likes, I’m obsessed with…whatever). Since then, we’ve traded e-mails and music and stories about music…Kindred spirits across the miles. So it’s only appropriate that Fred’s belated Christmas gift to me, wrapped in that padded envelope, was a hard cover book entitled Cassette From My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Love. It’s a book full of short stories about relationships and the mix tapes they spawned. And it’s AWESOME. I’ve been reading it all night, engrossed in other people’s memories, love, heartbreak and music. And it got me to thinking about my own mix tapes.
Yes, I still have them. Actual cassette tapes. Several boxes, to be completely honest, buried at the bottom of my little storage unit. So what better time to dig them out than at 9 PM on a Wednesday night in January? Most of them are tapes that I made myself – for roadtrips, for lost loves, for periods of time in my life. But there are a handful made by others for me. More than a mix CD could ever be, a mix tape took work. You couldn’t make a playlist and listen to it on your iPod a few times before making it permanent. There was an art to it – planning, plotting, handwriting, naming it (the name was always a painstaking and extremely creative and witty aspect for me) designing a cover – usually by hand, because not everyone had a computer and printer in their house then. Oh, yes, getting a mix tape from someone was a big deal.
In my box of mix tapes, there are four that are in contention for the title of greatest mix tapes ever made. I’m going to take a page out of this fabulous book and write about these epic masterpieces…and even give you the track lists. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Feel free to share your favorite mix tape moments and track lists in the comments. I love to hear other people’s overly sentimental sides come out. 🙂
#4. M’s Mix for Krissie
I couldn’t wait to go to college. College, for me, represented a million worlds of promise, learning and writing (at the time, I fancied that I would someday be a famous novelist). So when I got my freshman year roommate assignment, the first thing I did was write to my roommates. Yes, as in old fashioned letter write – e-mail was yet to be released upon the world. I had two – and one of them, I’ll call her M., I knew would be an instant friend. How? She responded to my letter with a mix tape. The cover, now faded, was a brightly, multi-colored, bubble lettered version of my name, surrounded by red – a representation of her personality? The song list was even better, part 1992 frozen in time, part exotic – I’d been weaned on Springsteen and Bon Jovi – who was this Meatloaf person?, and part high expectation about the fun college would bring. And our freshman year did bring fun, loads of laughter, incessant crushes on boys, my first drinking experiences (I didn’t drink in high school), and my first real heartaches – both in breaking someone’s heart and having mine broken. M. was a very large part of that, and there were many mixes swapped during that year…the soundtrack to our first year of independence, in Minta Martin 413, will always be filled with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecelia” and KWS’s “Please Don’t Go” in my mind. But, that first mix tape, the one she sent before we ever met, will always be the most epic, and the songs will always represent the excitement about going away to school.
Epilogue: M and I were on and off close throughout college; she spent some time abroad, and left school for awhile. We stayed in touch up until a few years ago; I’ve tried to reconnect with her on Facebook without any luck. I guess some friendships are just meant to be in your life for short periods of time.
The track list: (My cassette player is buried in the closet outside, so I’ll have to apologize – I don’t know all of the artists) Side A: Something To Talk About – Bonnie Raitt / Can’t Stop This Thing – Bryan Adams / Let’s Go – ? /You Make My Dreams – Hall and Oates / Fool In the Rain – Led Zeppelin / I Want Action – Poison / Deeper Shade Of Soul – Urban Dance Squad / Move This – Technotronic / Jump – The Movement / Motown Philly – Boyz II Men / Everything About You – Ugly Kid Joe // Side B: Divine Thing – The Soup Dragons / To Be With You – Mr. Big / Paradise by the Dashboard Light – Meatloaf / Stand – REM / Cheeseburger in Paradise – Jimmy Buffet / Apron Strings – Everything But the Girl (?) / Better – ? / Signs – Tesla / Just One Look – ? / Total Eclipse of the Heart – Bonnie Tyler / Walk Away from Love – ?
# 3. [Whited Out Title]
Perhaps the most infuriatingly titled mix CD ever, given to me by my ex-senior in high school love interest, at-the-time-recently-reacquired-friend (we’ll call him BFF) and not-so-secret crush during “our summer.” The title was literally whited out, leaving me to wonder if he’d named it something and whited it out to make me insane with wonder or if it had just been the only tape he’d had lying around and it already had something on the title space. I shall never know. BFF was, and remains to this day, the most interesting person I know. He’s ridiculously creative (later CD mix covers would be elaborate displays of his graphic design schooling), peaceably rebellious, has a bizarre and eclectic musical taste – this is the man whose favorite band was Queen long before Wayne and Garth made it cool, who practically forced Hootie and the Blowfish down my throat before they were cool, and who loves rap, punk and strange German house music, and who loved to torture me with our not-so-subtle infatuations with each other. We spent the entire summer between my sophomore and junior years together, rather inseparable; when we weren’t at work, we were together (and sometimes, one of us was hanging out at the place where the other worked), and we spent many nights driving aimlessly around in our boring little county, doing nothing but talking and wasting perfectly good .89 cent-a-gallon gas in my 1983 Toyota Tercel, eating the same exact things at least three times a week at our local 24-hour diner, or just sitting in one driveway or another talking. This was the first of two mix tapes from that summer – and it is a perfect reflection of BFF, with just enough buried message in the lyrics that made me fall even further in love with him. I played it so much that the last time I listened to it a few years ago, the tape was so worn that it got caught up in the heads ever few minutes and I had to stop it and rewind it manually with a pencil.
Epilogue: See #1.
Track List: Side A: Intro – (Cryptically titled Guess Who on the track list) Snoop Dogg / Close to You – Saigon Kick / It’s Like That – US3 / Calling You – George Michael / Connected – The Stereo MCs / Dust in the Wind – Kansas / Until I Fall Away – The Gin Blossoms / Interstate Love Song – Stone Temple Pilots / Being Around – The Lemonheads / Push Th’ Little Daisies – Ween / Light – KMFDM / She’s A Beauty – The Tubes / Bijou – Queen // Side B: Last Acoustic Remains – Hollywood Basics / Speed – Alpha Team / One for the Road – House of Pain / Epic – Faith No More / Silvergun Superman – Stone Temple Pilots / Too Much Love Will Kill You – Brian May / Dinner Bell – They Might Be Giants / No Reply At All – Genesis / Gin & Juice – Snoop Dogg / Nevermore – Queen / The March of the Black Queen – Queen / Sabotage – The Beastie Boys / Ode to Tipper Gore – Warrant
#2. Time Stand Still (With a Little 70s Retro)
Enter the Internet. At the end of my sophomore year, I struck up what would be the first of many online friendships with guys at military schools. What can I say, I am a sucker for a man in a military uniform. WC was a little ahead of its time with internet access, and I was (and until very recently, still had) a profile on the ISCA BBS, one of the first real active bulletin board systems (an early advent of a chat room). Soldier Boy (SB), as we’ll call him, and I struck up a conversation one late night and chatted until the wee hours in the morning. He was a cadet at West Point. That summer, we wrote letters back and forth as he was away at some training or another. Our online friendship continued into my junior year and became increasingly flirtatious. It culminated in a sorority sister and I making a roadtrip to West Point one weekend for a football game, where we spent a weekend hanging out with SB and one of his friends who were on liberty or whatever you wanted to call it. The attraction between SB and I was obvious, and we continued a relationship for several months, with him coming to visit me at school, and us meeting up at the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia for a weekend. Our visits were intense and fueled by a steady diet of overly-sappy hair metal ballads. The mix, which he gave me during our weekend in Philly, and which we played over and over again (it would turn out to be the last time I saw him), has a hastily scrawled note inside the cover that says, “This is pretty random! Time Stand Still has the best lyrics. Listen…It’s so true! The innocence slips away… – SB.” Truer words were never spoken.
Epilogue: SB and I actually stayed in random touch on and off over the years, usually when one of us was lonely and searching for someone to tell us we were special. In 2004 (or around there) he got married and invited me to the wedding – not sure if it was a “thanks for being a friend” invite or a “ha ha, I’m getting married and you aren’t.” Whichever it was, I could never have mustered the nerve to go. I’ve heard from him maybe two times since then and we may or may not be friends on Facebook.
Track List: Side A: Time Stand Still – Rush / You Learn – Alanis Morrisette / Love Hurts – Nazareth / Don’t Cry – Seal / How Deep Is Your Love – The Bee Gees / Forbidden Love – Madonna & Babyface / Naked – Goo Goo Dolls // Side B: Can’t Fight This Feeling – REO Speedwagon / Wonderwall – Oasis / Slow Ride – Foghat / Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand – Primitive Radio Gods / Broken Wings – Mr. Mister / The Night Is Still Young – Billy Joel / Have You Ever Needed Somebody – Def Leppard
# 1. Moths & Flies: The Hits
Oh, BFF. Back to our summer. It was a strange summer. While we spent a lot of time together, he did have a girlfriend back at school, and I spent the summer dating a random assortment of guys. He made a comment one night, when I said I was going out with one of them, that I was like Motel 6 – I left a light on and attracted moths. And although he had a girlfriend, there was always some girl interested in him, so I responded that if that were me, he had to be a fly strip. It was a silly analogy, but it stuck, and so was aptly named the end-of-summer mix he gave me. In a completely romantic teen-comedy angst inspired ending, he kissed me in my front yard the night before I left to go back to school, and then used our high school secret one-ring “call me back” code later that night – and I didn’t call him back (in my defense: he hadn’t used it all summer, and I was sure it was a wrong number). For the next several months, this tape got played over and over – alternating with Hootie & The Blowfish’s record, which I also played incessantly – while I was back at school, not-so-subtly pining away over him (there were many alcohol-fueled answering machine messages of love left that fall), and overanalyzing the “coded messages” in the songs, the lyrics, whatever. I’m a girl, what can I say.
Epilogue: BFF and I never have gotten together, although we’ve had on-and-off moments over the years where I think we have both contemplated the idea, but none too recently. He’s been way more successful on the relationship front then I have. When I’m sad and lonely, I write him and bemoan my single status, and he tells me to get over it, and I remind him that he is my model for the type of guy I want in my life. I think this alternately flatters him and scares the bejesus out of him. We remain friends, even if we don’t talk that often.
Track List: Side A: Vasoline – Stone Temple Pilots / Thunder Kiss ’65 (Remix) – White Zombie / B-Boys Makin’ With the Freak – Beastie Boys / Selfish – Ned’s Atomic Dustbin / Alison’s Starting to Happen – The Lemonheads / O-o-h Child – The Posies / Dear Friends – Queen / Pump Pump – Snoop Doggy Dogg / Who Was In My Room Last Night – The Butthole Surfers / I Wanna Be Sedated – The Ramones / What I Like About You – The Romantics / Apart – The Cure / Love U More – Sun Screem / She’s Actual Size – They Might Be Giants // Side B: Mary Jane’s Last Dance – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers / A Drug Against War – KMFDM / Feels So Good – Chuck Mangione / The More You Ignore Me – Morissey / Jump – The Movement / Plush (Acoustic) – Stone Temple Pilots / Break ‘Em Off Some – Cypress Hill / President Garfield – Julianna Hatfield 3/ Liebeslied – KMFDM / Satellite – Elvis Costello
Whew. That was a trip down memory lane. I’m plum worn out now, but smiling. I may be a sentimental fool, but it’s good to know that there are enough other sentimental fools out there, and ones that love music at that, to compile a whole book on the subject. And, to the Ms, SBs and BFFs of the world, thanks for caring enough to make the mix tapes. You have probably long since forgotten them, but they will live on – in my storage unit and in my memory – for eternity.