I worry about kids these days. I worry that parents are too lenient and indulgent and have cultivated a huge sense of entitlement in their children. I worry that the kids of today will have to deal with messes left behind by previous generations, like crippling national debt, climate change, and “islands” of trash in the oceans.
But mostly, I worry that today’s children will never know the joy of making a mix tape.
I know, I know. There’s iTunes. There’s Spotify and all of that. Making playlists is as easy as clicking a few buttons. I don’t deny that can be fun too, but it’s not the same. Even if you burn the songs to a CD and present it to someone, it just doesn’t stack up to the beloved mix tape.
Choosing songs was a painstaking process. Unless you timed the songs and performed the necessarily calculations (and really, who did?), you simply had to use your best guess as to what would fit on one side of a tape. Heaven forbid you’d be almost done with one side when the tape would run out part way through a song! You had to start all over again. You weren’t just making a mix tape, you were cultivating life skills: planning, patience, and persistence.
Then there was the recording process. You didn’t drag and drop songs into a list and press a button to create your mix tape. You had to put a blank tape and each in the series of tapes you were recording in your dual tape deck, cue up the songs, and play them all the way through to record them. You listened to your mix tape as you were creating it. It wasn’t just in your head. You experienced it as it came into being. You sat back and listened, and you made changes on the fly because it suddenly occurred to you that “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. was the perfect follow-up song to “True Faith” by New Order. It was poetic really. You may not have composed the songs themselves, but there was beauty in the way you put them together.
Then were the times when you didn’t own a copy of a song you wanted to include on the tape. You had to listen to the radio, tape cued up and ready to pounce on the record button. If you were extremely lucky, you got the intro and the fade out without any overlap of the DJ’s voice.
When you were done and you presented your mix tape, lovingly, laboriously made, to your friend, boyfriend, or person you hoped would be your boyfriend (or even if you just kept it to enjoy yourself and maybe bring out at parties to impress your friends with your musical mixing prowess), it was a thing of beauty. It told a story.
When I was in school, my friends and I would get together at the end of the year and make a mix tape, Songs From Freshman Year, Songs From Sophomore Year, etc. Before we headed into summer, we bonded one last time over the shared memories, reliving the good times, the annoyances, and the heartaches as we put together our own soundtrack for that year.
My first serious boyfriend made me a mix tape over winter break from school and gave it to me when we were reunited. He had decorated the tape insert with elaborate drawings of flowers. Although the boyfriend is long gone, I think I still have the tape in a box somewhere (even though I don’t own a working cassette player), along with the Recovery mix a friend made to cheer me up after the boyfriend and I split.
Whether the mix tape was mirthful, bitter, inspirational, maudlin, joyful, schmaltzy, whimsical, or some combination thereof, it meant something. The arc of songs was a snapshot of life. It was something that just couldn’t and can’t be accomplished by hitting shuffle.