Source: Flickr/Ramsey Beyer
I knew that one day would come—where I had reached a point of adulthood when I would have to put away childish things, or at least some cherished things of my youth. I figured I still had a couple, good years to soak up the last waves of that certain kind of carefree innocence. I certainly wasn’t counting on having to say goodbye to what I’ve cherished for more than half of my life in a matter of a couple of months. But with the not-so-slow decay of my car, I know I can’t take my cassette player with me—and thus, I must bid adieu to the glory of the mixed tape and say goodbye to these musical relics of the past.
Sharing Music Before The Internet
For those of us who came of age in the early- to mid-‘90s, many of us were pleasantly rewarded for dancing on the fringe. Pioneers and early adopters of home computers and the pre-cursers to the ubiquitous internet—including BBS (Bulletin Board System) and MUDs (Multi-User Domains, which featured a real-time virtual world replete with player vs. player games and online chat)—found a virtual playground in which to explore our passions and hobbies with people across the state, country and indeed, the world.
My passion for music brought me in touch with people in California, Alaska, Canada, Israel, Norway, Finland and Australia. Not only did I develop virtual penpal relationships with them, our connections grew to include actual letters, gifts from our respective places of origin and—perhaps most importantly—music in the form of mix tapes.
Mix Tapes as the Soundtracks of Our Lives
Mix tapes became the soundtrack of our lives. They represented a piece of us at a particular time in our lives, giving glimpses of particular feelings and experiences that we wanted others to share along with us, to better understand us. Being introduced to music from different parts of the world literally opened my mind to new sounds and perspectives.
When I met the boy who became my first serious boyfriend, the careful crafting of the song selections we shared in our mix tapes mirrored the growth of our relationship. Our mixed tapes became more personalized and laden with purpose as we became closer. Certain songs were chosen to evoke specific feelings, whether that was to cheer the other up, express growing fondness, or when we became a long-distance couple, to convey our longing.
The Music That Shapes and Defines Us
I more than likely would never have heard Dinosaur Jr., Screaming Trees, Happy Rhodes, Tara McLean and Kate Bush if not for mix tapes. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say I grew as a person by the breadth of music I was exposed to with the eclectic musicians and artists introduced to me in these collections. And I’m not saying this solely from a songwriter perspective.
Hearing Tori Amos turn topics like religion, rape and dying romances into poetry and complexly layered soundscapes moved me to put my own life experiences into a broader context, to view my life with perspective. Ani Difranco awakened me to issues of sexual identity, making political statements through music and showed me where we make compromises in our lives where we often shouldn’t. There are so many more examples, but I could go on forever.
Bidding My Goodbye To Musical Relics of the Past
What it all boils down to is that mixed tapes are becoming relics of the past. Mixed CDs followed, but they just aren’t the same now that we can just exchange digital playlists. After reuniting with my car after not driving for a while, it felt like this great gift to find old mix tapes from completely different periods of my life and get lost in the nostalgia—both remembering the people who made them for me and the memories of the time in my life when certain songs were especially poignant and meaningful.
In his ode to music and relationships, High Fidelity, author Nick Hornby writes,“Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time.”
Mixed tapes are my sentimental music. I will miss them dearly when I get a new car and cassette players cease to be an option. Yet I welcome the songs and playlists of the future, knowing I can create new soundtracks that fit my life to come.