Friday, May 14, 2010

Sir Mix Tapes A Lot

My best friend and I, in high school, used to make mixed tapes for each other all the time. Admittedly, mine were way less varied than hers, since I accidentally put "Brick House" on every single compilation I ever produced. "This is totally, 100% new music," I would promise her, and she would dutifully pop it in, straining for the alleged new music...and then the words "She's a brick...hooouse" would come blaring out of her speakers. Cue the eye roll. To her credit, she didn't point out that I was musically monotonous until years later, when it was too late to do anything except turn it into a punch line.

I love a good mix tape. My uncles make them all the time, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to awesome bands like 2 Men, A Drum Machine And A Trumpet (which I loved when I was eleven) and Midlake and Antony and the Johnsons. When I was in middle and high school, they were actual mixed tape - as in cassettes, as in ancient stuff these days, since they've graduated to compact discs. Which is equally good, since I can now rock out to mixes on the MP3 tip. Love that!

I used to say that if people wanted to woo me, all they had to do was show up with a few cases of Diet Coke, but mix tapes are a game changer. Even if the relationship goes south, you're left with a legacy: someone made something for you. The first time I got a mix from a suitor, it totally blew me away. It was an actual mix tape, too, which, like, double points. Here was a dude who had crafted a cute little indie blend of Sloan and The Postal Service...and then, to top it off, he tacked on the legendary quote from Back to the Future, which made me want to tear his clothes off in the diner. As a courtship tactic, it was a rousing success. Who doesn't love Back to the Future? Stupid people, that's who.

I think it goes back to my early love of soundtracks. I love movie music - not scores, but pop music - because it plays to the very appealing idea that your life is fancy and therefor deserves a soundtrack of its own. I mean, if I got a montage every time I had to get dressed or pack my apartment, I would be a much happier lady. And soundtracks reinforce the idea that our lives need musical punctuation: we like it when we have a song to graft our emotions onto. I mean, it's all a little High Fidelity (which, like, a movie [with a soundtrack] about pop music as the soundtrack for our lives...meta!) for reality, but pop songs give structure to our lives. We get to sing along and mean the lyrics with all our hearts. Even if we didn't make the music in the first place, we get to own a piece of it.

A well-crafted mix can be a hipster badge of honour - I remember a few mixes I made that I got cocky about, thinking to myself, "I am so good at this, I should make soundtracks," which is just blatantly and hilariously false. Because it shows you're into music, into the esoteric and the popular, and that you listen...all highly desirable traits during the hipster mating ritual. (Sidebar: I sometimes forget the name of this blog, and devolve into blathering about cupcakes or whatever. Sorry, hipsters!) But there's the other part of a good mix, which is just that good music is timeless and transcends ridiculous posturing, and becomes accessible and fun, easy and pleasing. I got a superb and much-appreciated mix earlier this week and have been using it as both packing music (stomping around to Amanda Palmer) and as a bridge into this long-awaited summer (grooving on Joe Strummer).

I sometimes think about the mix tapes, the ones with "Brick House" all over them like a freaking rash. I still listen to the same songs over and over again - maybe they're like chapter headings in my life, or musical security blankets - but now I know more songs, and I love more songs, and I belt out more songs like a lunatic (and I never do this, but right now, I'm obsessed with both the original song and the fantastic "cover" behind that link, so click it, please) at the top of my lungs. Especially in the shower. Thanks, in part, to the fantastic mixes I've received over the years. We may not need roads where we're going, but it'd be nice to have some mix tapes for the ride there.

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