I love my iPod – I really do. It’s a miracle of technology that allows me to have all the music I want, wherever I want, and listen to it whenever I want. But, sometimes, like our lives these days, it can be too much. There are just too many choices. Too much information – not enough time. I miss the mix tape. It was a simpler, and yet somehow more intricate proposition. You chose the songs, or perhaps, the songs chose you. Either way, they were collected together, put down on tape, and then experienced. A mix tape told a story. It was a commitment – even if you didn’t realize what it was a commitment to.
I recently found a box of tapes in my garage. It hurt a little when my kids asked me – “what are those, dad?” – but that is the way of progress. I dug out my old tape deck, hooked it up, and started to listen. It was eye opening. In an instant, I was taken back to who I was – where I was – what I was – when I was 17 years old. I could smell my parent’s house, I could feel the leather seats in my first car, I could see the old stereo I used to have in my bedroom. It all came rushing back in a moment of pure, visceral being.
You have to understand – you didn’t always get to make the mix tape. Sometimes it made itself. You would catch songs on the radio and scramble to get the tape to start recording in time. Sure, I would still buy albums (and later cassettes, and the later CDs) – but there was something more satisfying about capturing that song on the radio. It was happening right then. It was a moment in time. I would collect those songs like they were coins buried in the sand, and stash them away on tape to replay over and over again.
It’s not like I don’t listen to those songs anymore – I do. But something was different, listening to those tapes. Each song was in a certain place – some by choice and some by chance. But each would flow into the next, until if was hard to hear them by themselves. They were one unbroken chain of memory. There was something about those songs, in that order, that became more than the sum of the parts. It was a piece of my past, there for me to hear.
When the tapes where done, I sat back and thought about what they represented for me. I didn’t get overly sentimental, but I did take a moment to reflect. Music has always been a big part of my life, and those tapes where the soundtrack of my youth. They were there through my first love, my first car, my first prom, my first car wreck, my first broken heart, and my first steps to becoming an adult. They told a story about who I was and who I wanted to be. Those songs, those tapes where me; they still are me.
I didn’t take the time back then to sit down and think about things. I had no concern for the future. I was young, and invincible, and was going to live forever. I didn’t take the time keep a record of my thoughts and dreams. I didn’t write letters to the man that I am now, asking who I would be, and if I would remember the promises I made to myself. What I did do was make mix tapes. I made them without realizing what I was really doing. I made them without knowing who I would be when I listened to them 20+ years later.
That’s why they mean so much to me today. They were made without pretense, without agenda, without concern. They just were – like I just was. They were all the pieces of sounds that wove in and out of my days, and somehow came together to tell a story about who I was. I know what you are saying – all that from a stack of mix tapes? Dramatic much? Well – yes, I do find myself getting a little more thoughtful these days. But I think that just comes with age. There is so much competing for our time and attention these days, that sometimes it hard to just be. To just take in that which is going on around us, put it down on tape, and see what story it tells. I need to find more time to do that – like I did then. I need to take the time to listen to my life – because, when I did it back then, I didn’t just capture collections of songs – I captured little pieces of me. And – they rocked.
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