Monday, April 21, 2008

Raiders of the Lost Art

Kids today have no idea what hard work really means. I'm not talking about walking-five-miles-uphill-barefoot-in-the-snow-to-get-to-school hard work - I'm talking about making a mix tape.

That's right, the mix tape, a now-defunct art form that literally took hours of careful thought and planning to execute. Kids today can just download songs and burn them to a CD. (Burn? Download? What is this new-fangled nonsense?) A burned CD of downloaded songs is the equivalent of picking your date a bouquet from her flower bed - there's no real work behind it, rendering it somewhat meaningless.

Back in the mix tape days, you had to actually own the music you wanted to put on the tape. If you did not own a cassette with your chosen song, you had to tape it off the radio. This required countless hours of holing up in your bedroom listening to lame radio shows with your finger poised over the "record" button only to hit the button ten seconds too late or have the last twenty seconds of the song spoken over by the DJ.

Not that taping songs off other cassettes was much easier - you had to cue it up to the right song and you had to have a dual cassette player (more than one mix tape failed in its purpose due to the fact that the maker simply tried to put one cassette player facing another one - the song sounds really far away and you would inevitably have the maker's mom in the background asking "What are you doing, honey?")

Even when CDs caught on and CD/cassette players made the recording process easier, you still had to own the songs you wanted to put on the mix tape. The likelihood that you owned 13 or 14 songs fitting one theme was not high, so sometimes you would end up with four of five themed songs and nine or ten that served as filler.

Mix tapes seemed to hit the high point for my class our junior year, when most of us had cars with cassette players to listen to them. (Some of us lucky people had portable CD players that had to be plugged into the cassette deck.) My friends and I made and swapped quite a few mix tapes. They weren't strictly a romantic thing - in our case, they really weren't a romantic thing at all because, let's just be honest here, my friends and I were not the group of girls that most YHS boys circa 1995-1999 were clamoring to date.

I received several quality mix tapes that year. Among my favorites:

1. The three-tape "Cool Tape" series mixed by Brandon Louthan. The inscription from the original "Cool Tape" appears below. This tape was mixed at the end of tenth grade and included songs such as "Runaway" by Del Shannon, "Louie, Louie", and several original songs by Brandon's band, Flotilla. The Cool Tape II and Cool Tape III contained some Weird Al Star Wars parodies and a pretty sweet punk version of "Build Me Up Buttercup" - but sadly, they never lived up to the promise of the original.

(Also, for those who can read the inscription and are wondering, I sadly did NOT call Brandon when Men in Black came out - I saw it with Jen Campbell instead.)

2. "Ray's Cool Tape" mixed by Ray Burg.
After seeing the Cool Tape I in typing class, Ray decided that it was NOT cool and the very next day brought me his own version of a cool tape. His tape had automatic coolness cred because he recorded all of his songs off actual records. Ray's Cool Tape contained a lot of obscure Beatles, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix.

3. "Amy's Ghetto Fabulous Mix Tape Boo Ya!" mixed by Chareen Goven.
This tape was actually made senior year. One side was pretty much devoted to Marvin Gaye, an homage to Chareen's dad, Don. The other side, however, was filled with DMX, Tupac, and other rap music that I didn't listen to very much on my own but was more than happy to blare in the Tempo with Chareen in the passenger seat while we cruised Washtenaw Avenue or rolled up to soccer games in the middle of nowhere.

4. "Amy's Really Super Tape" mixed by Tim Schreiber. If there was ever a tape made of music I never would have discovered on my own, this was it. Some of it was fairly mainstream (Beck) but most of it I had never heard of (Ween, Meat Puppets, T. Rex). I am including the song list below, if you can read it:

As you can see, Tim illustrated the cassette jacket himself, in crayon. The best part was the cover of the Really Super Tape, where he included an illustration of my neighbor Marshall, who at the time thought himself to be black:

Marshall didn't have anything to do with the tape; Tim had just met him at the Heritage Festival and thought cover art was a good opportunity to showcase his interpretation.

These days (how old lady of me), all kids have to do is go on the internet and download all the songs they want. They burn them to a CD and can even print out a fancy label. The whole thing takes maybe 15 minutes, max. Some of those CDs might even contain great and meaningful songs...but if you want a real display of affection, you need look no further than a good old-fashioned mix tape.


John said...

Hey Amy, found your blog. It's JLF by the way. But don't ever call me that! Anyway, loved the post. Even when we moved on to mix CDs, I'd put in the extra effort to make KLF's mixes by creating the custom art work and sleeves for the jewel cases. But I'll never forget the hours spent listening to the classic rock station out of Providence to create the perfect mix tape to go in my first car. Good times! You can get to my blog through my profile. Take it easy!

Alexis said...

Yes, "I made you a rockin' playlist" just doesn't have the same overtone of elbow grease and love.

In fairness to the CD, though, a mix CD does NOT take 15 minutes if you do it properly. You have to carefully select the songs, establish a thoughtful order and flow, listen and relisten, fight with your software to try to get the transitions right, write out the song names, give it to your friend, and pray they won't just dump all your hard work onto their iPod.

I like the new blog title.

Jennifer Campbell said...

I remember I spent an insane amount of time making a tape. When I was finished I went to listen to it and in the background I could hear Spanish. Yeah, I used a tape from my Spanish class and it did not delete the original recording, just taped over it!! *sigh*

I really had forgotten about the hours of listening to the radio just to tape a song. I think I started to get smart and recorded the countdowns;-)

Stacey E said...

I love it. I miss high school.