The Mixtape's Swan Song


As I get older, I waver between embracing technology and staring stupidly at my iPhone, asking Siri "Where did I leave my keys?" in a weird love/hate relationship with the growing tech world. But if there is one thing that I miss more than anything from our days of yore, it's the mix tape. Sure, now we can download any song we want, and make Spotify playlists of virtually anything that has ever been recorded, but as I make those playlists, I always remember the day I stoically stood in front of the television, boom box heavy in my hands, as I recorded the VHS recording of Pearl Jam's Unplugged performance onto a cassette tape.

Not to get all "kids these days don't know..." but it saddens me that kids will never have the determination that it took to make a mix tape. I remember sitting on my twin bed with my double cassette recorder, carefully creating tapes of my favorite songs. Those tapes meant so much to us, from the safe-cracking precision of starting and stopping the recording as the radio played our favorite song, to writing out the liner notes for the cassette case, to the ultimate in mix tape lore: Giving a mix tape to someone we had a crush on. That took a level of dedication that had us staying up late into the night working on those tapes for hours, even (at least for me) going so far as to make copies of the tapes in case the cassette player ate one. This is something I really did in 1992.

And although it's wonderful, even magnificent that the younger crew don't have to go through the rigor and maddening frustration of making a mix tape, there is something lost in just making a playlist. Everything is perfectly timed out, every recording is pristine, every list is organized seamlessly in the recording, and we can carry them in our phones. Wonderful! But sigh...mix tapes.


Mixtapes of songs your crush liked but you secretly didn't like, but you would put those damn songs on the mixtape because they reminded you of that crush, like, I HATE AC/DC but HE loved them so on the mixtape they went. Mixtapes for friends, mixtapes about enemies, mixtapes that made us cry, or laugh, or both. All of those things can easily be done with playlists, but the hard work has been taken out of it. Never again will a teenager sit sobbing on their bed, surrounded by cassettes, creating with their own hands the perfect medley of songs for what they are feeling at that particular time.


Because that's really what the mixtape was all about. It was a musical representation of a time, of a place, of a feeling, and holding that precious cassette in your hands was a visceral thing, a tangible thing, and that's gone now. Of course, you can't lose a playlist, or give it to a crush, never to see it again when they end up being a jerk, or have it be eaten by your stereo, wrecked so far beyond help that even rewinding it with a pencil won't fix it. So that's good. And technology is good, and we move on. And the next generation might have digital music that never has skips and pops in it, and MTV might not have music on it anymore, but they have YouTube, which barely even has commercials, and I'm sure they wouldn't want to go back to the old days for anything, but still they'll never know what it's like to sit next to the radio all day waiting for them to play "November Rain" and finally you catch it on tape without any DJ interruptions and the edit onto the tape is perfect and it's such a victory, and...

And I just wish they could have that feeling. And I really want to dig through my parents' basement and find my mixtapes.