The Greatest Mix Tapes Ever Made (?)

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.

Rob Fleming, where are you?

There’s a scene in the novel High Fidelity, written by the ever-brilliant Nick Hornby, where the main character, Rob Fleming, is talking about making a mix tape for Laura, his at the time ex-girlfriend, at the very beginning of their relationship. It’s a fabulous scene, and as a maker of many, many mixes, I always get a giggle out of reading it. Because for those of us who take mix-making seriously, there are definite rules…

I spent hours putting that cassette together. To me, making a tape is like writing a letter – there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and stating again, and I wanted it to be a good one, because…to be honest, because I hadn’t met anyone as promising as Laura since I’d started the DJ-ing, and meeting promising women was partly what the DJ-ing was supposed to be about. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with “Got to Get You Off My Mind,” but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artists side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs, and…oh, there are loads of rules.”

I love making mix CDs. Truly love it. I wish there was a job that involved making mix CDs for a living (oh, who am I kidding, there probably is). Figuring out how songs fit together, how they match up – and how they don’t – is magical for me. That’s part of the reason I do my seasonal mixes for my friends; hate to burst the bubble of the 75 or so of you who get the Krissie, but it really is a rather selfish endeavor. True, I like to help the artists out by introducing them to new people, but even more, I love the process of putting the mix together. There’s nothing like feeling like you’ve made a great mix. There’s a definite sense of accomplishment to it. When I make mixes, I make a playlist and dump songs into it as I build the mix. Then I listen to it in the car. Over and over again. And I know when I’ve got a winner when I keep wanting to repeat sections just to hear the way songs ebb and flow into one another. On a Krissie Mix, I always have a favorite “section” where it’s perfect to me. Rarely do I make a whole mix that I love all the way through, but there are occasions.

I spent a good chunk of today listening to a mix CD made by my best friend, Christy. Christy is an artist with mix CDs. Getting them in the mail from her is like Christmas every time. Christy’s getting married in the spring, and to me, it’s obvious that she’s madly in love when I listen to this most recent mix. There are songs about being in love, and being part of something, and traveling across the ocean (her fiance lives in Ireland; she lives in Georgia). I’m sure she was thinking about Andrew the whole time she was making it, and that makes it adorable.

When I was in college, my best friend from home and I used to make crazy numbers of mix tapes for one another. Thing was, I was madly in love with him; I’d like to think the feeling was mutual. I spent HOURS working on mixes for him. Choosing every song carefully, because the lyrics reminded me of him or because I thought something in the song would make him laugh or smile. And as much as I loved making mixes for him, the best part was getting his mixes. They were always so full of him, funny and eclectic. Because he hid messages in them, I knew, for me, just like I did for him. And there was a certain kind of joy in discovering them, one that sent my heart fluttering every time. Even after college, I’d occasionally get a mix CD from him. I still have every single mix he ever made me. And I’ll probably always keep them. They mean the world to me, knowing that he thought about me enough to sit down and make me a mix. I make a lot of mix CDs, but it’s been a long time since I’ve made one for someone because I was falling for them or because I loved them. Is there anything more romantic?

I so need a Rob Fleming in my life. I think I’ll start taking applications….

Love and Art

“What’s the use, in pushing through, I’m already dead to you…” – Matthew Mayfield, “Dead to You”

I’m currently reading Linchpin by Seth Godin. It’s my first foray into Godin’s writing, other than the occasional flip through a column here and there that he’s written – and I’m utterly fascinated by his perspective. The book is about people in business who are integral players – those who innovate, break the rules when necessary, and basically set their own course. These people, by nature of their ability to envision things, become turnkey to the business – linchpins that are the “essential building blocks of the organization.”

As a critical part of this theory, Godin stresses that in each of us, there is an artist. The artist has a gift, and therefore has the ability to envision, to create, to inspire, to build. It is up to each of us to identify our gifts and put in the work to bring them to fruition. It’s easy to see how this applies to business – for example, I love writing. I’m a damn good writer. Therefore, it’s up to me to put myself into a situation that allows me to write, and then, to work at my writing, take chances, and…to quote Lloyd Dobler, find a “dare to be great situation.”

“Most of all, art involves labor. Not the labor of lifting a brush or typing a sentence, but the emotional labor of doing something difficult, taking a risk and extending yourself.

It’s entirely possible that you’re an artist.

Sometimes, though, caught up in the endless cycle of commerce, we forget about the gift nature of art, we fail to do the hard work of emotional labor, and we cease to be artists.”

– Seth Godin in Linchpin

In a conversation with a friend today, I told her that I thought I was dead inside when it came to relationships. I have effectively given up even trying to date. I’ve been burned too many times, disappointed more times than I care to admit, and have grown tired of having faith in people only to be let down. So, rather than invest myself in any further relationships, I have walled off my heart. It’s just easier to be by myself.

But it’s not better.

Last week, someone that I don’t know very well called me jaded. It upset me more than I wanted it to…because I think it’s true more than it isn’t. And it’s sad. Because I was once a girl who, like Carrie Bradshaw, wanted the fairy tale. And I am lucky that I inherited my Mom’s huge heart – there is a part of me that wants to give endlessly. I firmly believe that I am a better person when I’m in a relationship. I’m complete on my own, but I’m MORE when I’m with someone that I love.

I’ve stopped being an artist in my own love life. Because rather than put the work in, rather than risk getting hurt, I’ve just stepped away. Put no emotional labor in, you get nothing out. And in cutting myself off, I’ve just made myself more bitter and angry.

I’m not sure what the first step is to try to be an artist again. I don’t know if I can figure it out. But I am vowing to myself that I will try.

Thanks for the inspiration, Seth.

Ah, single girl moments…

As a single gal, I can say with some confidence that there are definitely moments that make you feel your singlehood more than others. Ordering Chinese take out for one is ALWAYS one of them.

I never watched “Sex in the City” in real time. I tend to buck major pop culture trends (I have yet to read any of the Harry Potter books or see any of the movies, for example), so when every one of my girlfriends, and my roommate at the time, was obsessed with the TV show, I avoided it.

It wasn’t until TBS picked it up that I started watching it, and I will readily admit now that it was a flipping brilliant show. I think most single girls can probably find a little piece of themselves in Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha – and you can certainly identify with moments that the show played up.

Today, I had a single girl, “Sex in the City” moment today. Worth sharing…

I’ve not had the best few days. A discussion with a close friend yesterday left me feeling pretty beat up and questioning a lot of things. I’m drowning at work, not sure of my role or my worth. I haven’t been able to get out and start training for my half marathon, and that’s got me stressed. And…Valentine’s Day is this weekend. Depressing.

I woke up late this morning, so I didn’t eat breakfast. Worked through the day today without taking lunch, managed to grab a Fiber One bar out of the vending machine at about 1 PM, but by the time 5:30 rolled around, I was starving.

So, to make myself feel better (and yet, somehow, worse at the same time), I ordered Chinese take out for dinner from my favorite place. It’s cheap, it’s fast and it’s delicious. The place is family run and pretty consistent on who answers the phones, but today, there was a voice I didn’t recognize. And if you’re familiar with “Sex in the City,” you’ll understand this…it was the happy, giggly Chinese takeout girl that Miranda nearly confronts. I nearly hung up the phone.

But I was too hungry and now craving Chinese food. So I placed my order and then headed over to pick it up. I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time, even as this sweet girl was handing me my receipt with two hands and over-smiling.

First time I laughed all day.

Thank goodness for single girl moments.