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On Playlists, Mixtapes, And Middle School Angst

During a recent conversation with a dear friend, the subject of music “playlists” came up. To be more specific, we had a brief discussion on how the exchange of playlists is the “mixtape” of this generation. (Nostalgia Alert: If you’re not familiar with mixtapes, then you will probably want to stop reading now.)

I’ve been known to ponder at times, so I got to thinking on this later and realized that no, an exchange of playlists does not meet the same relationship-defining standard as a mixtape. Not even close. While you can grab any iThing, and with a few flicks of a fingertip, select, arrange, and exchange a personalized playlist in minutes, preparing a mixtape requires work… sacrifice, even.

I remember the first mixtape I ever made. I was in 7th grade, the nexus of that period in life where everything is awkward, and any public misstep a social kiss of death. It was against this backdrop that I became enamored with Dana Lynn, she of the long legs, freckles, and coppery red hair. Although we were the same age and had shared classrooms for over six years, something with her changed that year. With the clarity of hindsight provided by 30 some odd years, I now know that mysterious change is called “puberty,” but then, all I knew was that every time she was near my heart would race, my palms would sweat, and I would almost instantaneously be robbed of the ability to speak. So I decided that the perfect way to express my undying love to the beautiful Dana Lynn was a mixtape.

Those in my age range remember the work and sacrifice required to prepare a mixtape. The first, and often highest hurdle, was the procurement of the cassette tape itself. They weren’t exactly cheap, especially when your budget was funded by mowing neighborhood yards on weekends. Your choice were buy a new one, or take a “used” one and copy over it. Herein lies the first sacrifice… did you dig into your meager stash of cash, or forfeit that BeeGee’s tape that you had cobbled together?

Once that decision and resulting sacrifice were complete, you were next faced with finding and accessing the perfect song tracks. Given limited budgets, there were generally two choices: rummage through the albums owned by your siblings and friends, or spend uncounted hours sitting by the stereo, tape loaded and ready, trembling fingers poised on the “Record” and “Play” buttons (I always wondered why they made you push both), waiting for that first downbeat of The Commodores’ “Brick House” or James Taylor’s smooth opening of “Handyman”, all the while praying that the idiot DJ wouldn’t talk over the opening bars AGAIN. (And yes, I did include “Brick House” on that mixtape. Her reaction is a whole separate story.)

So you’ve put in the hard work made sacrifices of money, music, frustration, and time, and now have the most perfect creation in the history of mixtapes in your sweaty little hand. Unfortunately, those were the easy parts, now you have to deliver the thing to your unaware paramour. You couldn’t email it, post it on your page, etc., no, you had to physically hand the thing to her, and your only opportunity to do so was probably in public, at school.

You plan and scheme for days, trying to plot out that perfect time and place, where you can hopefully catch her alone, and hand her the delicate fruits of your labor. Despite the labor of love that went into making it, you know your best bet is to pass it along nonchalantly, almost as an afterthought, or risk every middle school boy’s worst nightmare: a girl laughing…at you (ladies, you have no idea).

The appointed time arrives, you are waiting in the perfect place, and there she is, right on schedule, moving quickly between classes, her normal entourage heading a different direction. A deep breath… steel yourself… take two steps… try to smile… and extend your arm, cassette tape with handwritten label gripped in your slick, trembling fingers. Now try to look in her eyes and say without your voice cracking, “Hey. I was listening to the radio the other day and thought you might like these songs.”

No, a playlist is not the equivalent of a mixtape. A playlist is an electronic list of song titles. A mixtape is a fusion of blood, sweat, and tears set to music.

Epilogue – If you’re wondering about Dana Lynn, all I will say is that a gentleman will never kiss and tell. If you actually got this far, thanks for reading.
OverWritten OverWritten 46-50, M 13 Responses Dec 6, 2012

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Great Story. You're correct, every aspect of the mix tape was a sacrifice, ESPECIALLY the sacrifice of a fragile, young ego upon the alter of (probable) social pariah-hood.

Wow!.... This could be a story of my experience 30 years ago, the songs were different, but the effort, the same. I'm not sure Nicki ever listened to the tape either. I guess I hope she did, and maybe she still has it.. :-)

I like your story! And, I want to thank your generation for inventing digital music and saving us the embarrassment of making or receiving "mixtapes".

Laughing hysterically!!! Thank you for taking me back through memory lane. I was just telling my daughter how I use to have to unplug the phone and tell everyone in the house to be quiet so I can make my mixed tapes. You should have seen the look on her face when I said I would always have a tape ready so if a favorite song came on the radio, I can hit record so I can have the song on my tape instead of having to buy it. Those were the days...... :)

Yes, I'm certainly old enough to remember mix-tapes. This posting brought back a ton of memories, some pleasant, some, well you know. I enjoyed it very much.

Yes, I do "know." Very well, in fact.

I'm glad you enjoyed, and thank you for commenting.

I certainly remember mix-tapes, you put the differences between them and playlists
perfectly! Hope it went well with Dana Lynn!

Thank you for the comment and the compliment. As to Dana Lynn, I shall never tell. Well, maybe in another story.

I made one in my life, for another girl. LOL You are so right about the work involved and if you didn't have the tape you had to sit and wait to find it playing on the radio and record it. Those were the days!

Yes... you hit on the primary difference between then and now: sacrifice.

As always, thanks for the comment.

This one brought back so many memories. I still have a couple of them...
Heavy on Foreigner....Blondie. :)
Wonderful topic!

Best one I ever made was a mix of the Doobie Brothers, Pablo Cruise, and The Sanford Townsend band. I wish I had it back.

I came across a bag of old mixtapes a while back... I spent a long time reminiscing. The physicality of the tape.. the mechanical sounds involved with playing it.. the plastic.

Nothing like old music to bring back memories.

I remember when. Hours spent. What to say, how to say it. I miss that. I forgot that I even missed it. Thank you for the trip.

*sigh*..... I believe I still have my two very favorite mixtapes.....hmmm love this post...thank you!

I'm glad it brought back good memories, but I'm jealous that you still have two old mixtapes. That's just cool.

Yes! Damn those chatty DJs and their assumptions that we want to hear their banal chatter superimposed over our favorite songs! I am very familiar with the mix tape angst, and also with the at first imperceptable, but eventually very noticable drop in sound quality when you tape over the same cassett more than once or twice. Thanks for the story!

You're welcome, and thanks for the comment. I can't count the number of taped tracks I listened to growing up that had DJ chatter all over them. Almost became part of the song for me.

I am smiling so much right now, that my face hurts. Just sayin'

Thanks! I had fun writing this one.