The Lost Art of the Mixtape
The birth of the iPod era was definitely a great day for music lovers everywhere, but the non-linear, random-accessible freedom it gave listeners also brought about the death of something beloved by many -- the mixtape. Traded between friends but most often between lovers (and singles pining for it), the act of making and giving a mixtape became a symbol for the awkward affection of a generation. Found magazine co-creator Jason Bitner's new book, Cassette From My Ex, is a wistful look back at the art and craft of mixtape making -- and the stories behind them, as told by a bevy of noted writers, artists and musicians -- all, at one time or another, mixtape recipients. I have to admit, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing -- I get nostalgic just thinking about all those dusty old tapes in my closet back home. Here's a clip of Jason explaining how the project came about:
Radar Three - Cassettes From My Ex - Click here for funny video clips
To give you a taste of the stories in the book, here's one from Claudia Gonson, of the Magnetic Fields, about a tape from her boyfriend, circa 1986. (You can hear the songs on the tape here, by the way.)
John was my boyfriend from age 15-19 or so, ie: my entire high school career. These of course are the years where music leaves a passionate, indelible mark on the core of your being. It's hard for me to comment on these songs (or some of them, anyway) without wanting to shout "oh my god, this is the most amazing song EVER!!"
Which is why I am so grateful to John. I met John in the summer of 1983. I had just turned 15. A few days later, I introduced him to Stephin, my bandmate and best friend. They were both older than me, and musically precocious. I was a little doe-eyed kid who had only heard of the Beatles. The day they met, they immediately had an argument over which Lindsay Buckingham solo album was the best. I was scared they hated one another, but it turned out this is how some boys show how much they like one another.
The conversation then turned to Yoko Ono, and it went on, for months, years"¦ Who got the latest single from Flying Nun, or Rough Trade, or Cherry Red? Who had the cool newest solo project from David Roback of the Rain Parade? (see the "Clay Allison" track below. They were then renamed Opal, and eventually morphed into Mazzy Star). We got fake IDs in Times Square, and went to see our favorite bands live, including the Bangles, Game Theory, the Chills, and The Three O'Clock.
It was clear to me that I needed lessons: "what's the difference between the Rain Parade, The Raincoats, and Rainy Day"? These two men infused me with more information in a month than I could have gotten in years by myself. John would buy the first three Bee Gees albums and then make me a mix-tape of the best songs. All I think I discovered for him during our years together was the Smiths and REM.
Anyway, I am grateful beyond words for John and his mix tapes (and Stephin too of course). I am certain I would not be the person I am today had I not had this orthodox musical education. I'd probably be a banker or something.
John also showed me how to listen to production. He sat me down on the bed one day and put on the Archies "Sugar Sugar". "Listen," he said, "to the first verse. What instruments do you hear? Do you hear that tambourine coming in on the second verse? That tambourine on the second verse is the first rule of classic bubblegum production!"
Like many mix-tape artists, John worked hard to time out each song so that the tape wouldn't have any remaining space at the end. He also began and ended the A-side of this particular tape with a song featuring the chimes of Big Ben (the Chills and Cheap Trick).
So many of these songs have stories and memories connected to them, I could write a story for each (in fact, John sent me a marvelous email in which he did just that). And, while I don't want to sound like that person"¦ but what the hell, I will- some of these songs are the BEST SONGS ON EARTH. EVER EVER EVER.