hile sorting through my garage last week, I tripped over an old Converse shoebox for the bajillionth time1 and decided it was time to stop kicking the thing around the floor and just put it where it belongs. So, I picked it up and checked out the contents:
- Old pair of headphones
- Busted Sony "Walkman"
- Mix Tapes
In the '80s (and early '90s), I was a huge fan of the mix tape. Right now, two of those cassettes are sitting next to my laptop while I type: Pink Floyd, Van Halen, The Cure, Def Leppard, Asia, Cocteau Twins, Yes, Guns-n-Roses, Roxy Music, Jethro Tull, Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, U2, Poison, Echo & the Bunnymen, Information Society, Duran Duran, Whitesnake ... it was a great time to be a teenager.
I remember spending hours timing songs, adding up and rearranging them, and then recording them in just the right order in an attempt to build the perfect mix while using up every available second of a 90-minute TDK cassette. I even have a few that were recorded over the top of older mixes, and you can still catch a brief snippet of the older recordings in the spaces between the newer songs. Each mix had a feel, and each of my friends had a different way of selecting songs so that even now, a couple of decades later, I can still identify who mixed which tape.
There was, however, a downside to the mix tape, although we would never have admitted it at the time. Despite their coolness, they had the same effect as those "Top 40" Radio stations we complained about so much: missing out on a lot of great songs because they weren't in the mix. I have at least three mixes with "Piano Song"2 in them. That's a great song ... really ... but is it that much better than "Star" or "Crown of Thorns"?
Today, when we want a song, we just go online and download it. It's convenient and cheap, and we don't have to go to the mall. As an added bonus, we can do it in our pajamas. I had a lot more fun, though, standing in line next to that guy in leather pants at six in the morning waiting for MusicLand to open so I could be the first of my friends to own A Kind of Magic. Judging from the way he kind of wobbled while we talked, I doubt he remembers that morning - but I do.
Right now, I could turn on my digital doohicky and listen to it for just over three days without hearing the same song twice. I think that is a magnificent technological achievement, but it's not the same as that box of tapes and records I kept in the corner of my bedroom, and it's definitely not a mix tape. But it does make it very easy to find and listen to the whole album.