Saturday, February 25, 2012

Can I make you a mix?

 “There are millions of songs in the world, and millions of ways to connect them into mixes.” 
Love is Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

As much as I love my iPod I miss the days of mix tapes. I used to love taping songs off the radio (especially if it was the newest NKOTB song or maybe something by Martika). Part of the joy of radio taping is that you’d occasionally get a DJ talking over the song or cutting to a commercial before the end—you capture a little bit of history. The best part of making a mix tape is that you get to listen to the music come together. When you burn a playlist onto a CD you technically don’t have to listen to it. But with a tape, you listen, you time the songs and if you don’t think it sounds good, you start all over again. You know why I love road trips so much? Because I can make mixes for them. There’s nothing better than driving down some highway in the middle of nowhere and singing along (loudly) to a great song. Seriously, call me if you’re going on a road trip. I will make you a perfect mix. I promise.

I’ve been making mix tapes forever. I love the idea of taking a group of songs that can’t be found together in nature and putting them into some order that makes absolute sense. And by sense, I mean the sense that exists in my brain. I’m certain that many people who have received my mixes over the years (or who have heard them and don’t know me) think that I’m insane. What reasonable person puts together a mix that moves from Olivia Newton-John and ELO’s “Xanadu” to Dylan’s “Meet Me in the Morning” to “Scenario” by Tribe Called Quest? Why does that even make sense? If I was walking down the street listening to that mix I would feel sublimely happy and invincible. And that is why it makes sense.

I’m participating in a 30-Day photo challenge on the FB and today’s photo challenge was music. I was digging through a box a few days ago and found a bunch of mix tapes. Some were from college, one was for a trip to Gulfport with my friend Mary (right before we evacuated for Katrina) and one was from just a few years ago. I decided that these tapes would be the basis of my picture for the challenge. Of course, that got me thinking about mixes and my love affair with them.

You can make a mix for anything—driving around on a Tuesday, cleaning the house, drinking margaritas on the porch, got a bad haircut, birthday surprises—I could go on. I’ve never made a mix for a boy I liked (although I’ve made many a mix when a boy has broken my heart or that of a friend). I don’t receive many mixes either. I’ve always found that strange but maybe people think I won’t like them. (Which is totally wrong—send me your mixes friends!) I tend to make mixes for friends and for myself.  I love the personality of a mix tape (and I call mix CDs tapes—it’s the way it should be). When you select songs you’re telling a story and making connections that the artist may not have intended to make. You can create a mood and a time that only exists when you listen to that mix.

I’ve probably made the most mix tapes for my friend, Anita. Anita and I have been friends since the 7th grade and while we share musical love for certain artists and songs we’re probably as different musically as two friends can be. Anita is Peter, Paul and Mary; I’m the Ramones.

Anita happens to have musical talents (she sings, plays guitar) while I just fantasize about forming a band, including coming up with a name (Transient Suburbia is my favorite). Anita also gets why I love the song “Africa” by Toto. If you can work Kilimanjaro and Serengeti into a pop song you win. Anyway, Anita doesn’t describe my mixes as “insane” but as “Educational, a hug from a good friend from far away, quirky, each one has its own personality with it's own mood.” Anita gets it and she makes a mean mix herself. I’m also fairly certain that Anita enjoys my version of liner notes. I can’t help myself; I have to write a little something about every song I put on a mix.

We also share a love of the book Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield. If you haven’t read this book you should go out and get it as soon as you’re done reading this. It’s heartbreaking and fantastic and funny and amazing. I’ve probably read it 10 times and I cry every time. Rob Sheffield is a music writer and the book chronicles the story of how Rob and his wife, Renee, met and feel in love all to the soundtrack of the music they both loved. Along the way, Rob shares the mix tapes they made for each other and the music they discovered together (like Pavement). At their wedding, Rob and Renee danced to one of my favorite songs of all time “Thirteen” by Big Star. (I always thought I’d dance to that song at my wedding.) One of the things I love about this story and Rob and Renee is that they listen to everything—I do too. And they talk about music like I do—in moments and pieces and emotions. It's not just about the song. Be warned—it’s also a sad story. I don’t want to ruin it for you but it devastates me.

Every time I read Love is a Mix Tape or make a new mix myself, I think about the music I love, the music I hate and everything in between. I have specific memories I relate to songs or parts of songs. Sometimes it’s a lyric or a riff that’s the best part. I even remember who introduced me to certain bands (thank you Aunt Pat for Dylan and Bowie and to my brother for Metallica and the Cure and Huey Lewis and the News). And I love introducing a new band or song to someone. You really get to know a person when you know what music they love. I have never understood a person who says they don’t like music or who sits still while listening to a brass band play. What is wrong is with you? I'm not sure we can be friends.

There are tons of books and websites devoted to making mixes and people argue about “the rules” of mixes. I don’t really believe in “the rules.” I like to put whatever I feel works on a mix even if it means that two songs from the same artist might be on the same mix. What can I say? I’m a rebel (or a “Rebel, Rebel”).

As I write this I’m working on a new mix for Anita (a very belated birthday mix to go with her very belated birthday present—sorry) and have been listening to a new mix I put together after returning from Hong Kong. 

I call it “Remedy for Jet Lag”:
1.     One Engine—The Decemberists (from The Hunger Games soundtrack—I’m so excited about this movie)
2.     Little Talks—Of Monsters and Men
3.     “Heroes”—David Bowie
4.     There Is A Light That Never Goes Out—The Smiths
5.     Barton Hollow—The Civil Wars
6.     Magic—Olivia Newton-John
7.     Find My Freedom—Johnny Sketch & The Dirty Notes
8.     Lonely Boy—The Black Keys
9.     Xanadu—ELO and Olivia Newton-John
10. Channel Z—The B-52’s
11. The Engine Driver—The Decemberists
12. Cherry, Cherry—Neil Diamond
13. I’ve Got This Friend—The Civil Wars
14. Bigmouth Strikes Again—The Smiths
15. Rox In The Box—The Decemberists
16. Whenever You’re Away From Me—Olivia Newton-John & Gene Kelly
17. It’s My Life—Talk Talk
18. Alex Chilton—The Replacements
19. I’m Alive—ELO
20. Portland Oregon—Loretta Lynn & Jack White

(I was in a very Xanadu mood when I got back. I have no idea why.)

A final thought from Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mix Tape:

I’d rather hear a Frank Sinatra song between Run-DMC and Bananarama than between two other Frank Sinatra songs. When you stick a song on a tape, you set it free.”  

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Rob Sheffield’s website:


  1. Totally agreed on the genius of the Rob Sheffield book. I particularly enjoyed the many references to my favorite band, Pavement. One of the great joys of my life was when Rob (unexpectedly -- I hadn't sent him a copy) reviewed the book we published last year (the review is posted at ). No matter how many copies you sell, something like that makes you feel like a success!

    1. That's really great! Sounds like a great book.

      And you guys do make a mean mix-I've been enjoying the year-end mix since the holidays.

  2. I agree that the art of the mix tape is in the juxtaposition. Sue & I exchanged mix tapes while courting. We still make a mean year-end mix.