I love my iPod — don’t get me wrong. It’s portable, it holds a crapton of songs (currently 3149, plus 13 videos and 109 photos), and it’s wearing a neat Japan-inspired skin.
But I really miss mixtapes.
It’s not like I got that many of them — Aaron gave me two notable ones, but I never really traded mixtapes like he did back in high school. I made a lot of them for my own use, though — mainly with incredibly cheesy or obvious titles like “Energy Mix” and “Mellow Mix” and “The 70’s: Selections from Mom’s Record Collection.”
There was just something about the linearity of the mixtape creation experience. I felt like I had to have a plan, or at least a vague idea of what kind of flow (or intentional lack thereof) I wanted to achieve. I had to assemble the source material, usually other cassettes or CDs, but occasionally vinyl. (I don’t think I ever sourced a mixtape from 8-track. And yes, I did have a working 8-track player in the ‘90s.) If I used a song from another tape, I had to cue it up to just the right place on the tape. And then I sat down for the next hour and a half and listened to my creation as I was creating it, hovering over the pause button, waiting for the song to finish fading out before pausing the tape and cueing up the next song. Usually, right after I put the next song in to record, I’d write the artist and title down on the J-card in ballpoint pen, then find something else to do for three minutes (probably reading a Star Trek novel, or doing homework). Then I’d get near the end of side A, and wonder if I had enough room for the next song, and squint into the little window on the front of the tape deck, and make a decision. Either I’d pick a short song (or amusing filler bit, like something from the Clerks soundtrack or Monty Python) and hope I’d make it, or I’d risk wrecking the flow and just fast-forward to side B.
Creating a mix CD or a playlist or what-have-you these days requires so much less time and effort, which has its pros and cons. You’re not required to listen to the masterpiece you’re creating. There’s less guesswork in how much music will fit: either you get a graphical representation of your 80-minute allotment; or, in the case of a playlist, the sky’s the limit. Rarely is a handwritten tracklist included with a mix CD; since you’re on your computer, anyway, you’d probably either type it and print it out, or e-mail the tracklist, or just have your application of choice create a CD insert for you from the filenames or ID3 tags. Not quite as personal.
I’ve almost seriously considered joining one of those Mix of the Month groups online, where everybody creates a mix CD, burns several copies with some art (or at least a tracklist), and gives it to everyone — but I think I’d rather do something like that with my friends. Maybe just for a while. And make it a real audio CD, not a collection of mp3s that we might listen to eventually. Then all of our friends would a.) have a reason to see each other at least once a month (except the long-distance ones, like Amy, who’d probably get a zip file and a jpg via e-mail); and b.) all be able to discuss successful mixes together. Like the legendary Fries mix from Aaron’s high school days. Or his Pixies tape. Or “Hüsker Whü?” (Though everyone would also be able to talk smack about everybody else’s musical taste, too I could see Heathbar doing an all-Billy Childish mix, or me giving out a poorly-received Emo mix.) We could even remaster those old legendary mixes onto CD — that might be fun.
And, no — despite all my nostalgia for the old days of tape trading, I wouldn’t give everybody Maxell XLII-90’s. Although, now that I think about it, I actually could record from my iPod to cassette