The mixed tape; the most powerful device of the squared glasses hipster. His version of the Sistine Chapel or that crazy sex wall in the Middle East. His contribution to the uneducated music masses and his chance to tell the greatest untold story of them all- his own. Within an hour and twenty minutes, this inept jerk can create the greatest love story of all time, free Tibet, mock emo, or simply turn a friend on to new music. The tape’s power is limitless and timeless. If played by someone truly willing to listen, it could change their life. I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes…
I’ve been an avid mixed tape creator since I learned the implications of pushing “record”. Well before I was learning the multiplication table I was experimenting with compilations of Michael Jackson and The Beach Boys. My first creations were conducted in secret because I was convinced my parents wouldn’t approve of me tinkering with the stereo. Deservedly so, seeing as I ruined the nicest piece of electronic equipment they ever owned by sticking nickels and dimes in tape slot as a toddler. Never really lived that one down but I soon realized the joy and entertainment I could create by arranging a few key pieces of music. I held listeners thoughts and emotions in my hands, the mixed tape was much more then the centerpiece at a dance party.
The first tapes I made for someone were for my Mother. She appreciated music more then my Father, who was more of an AM radio listener. My Mom stayed at home and needless to say we hung out quite a bit when I was young. When Days of Our Lives or Another World wasn’t on, she’d be listening to the radio while doing chores. The station shifted between Top 40 and Oldies but usually found it’s resting place on Classic Rock. Zeppelin, The Beatles and Rolling Stones were brainwashing me from an early age.
I remember riding home one afternoon from In n’ Out Burger, a place I hated as child because it was such a disappointment compared to McDonalds. From the moment I learned the difference between food and plastic toys I’ve regretted not getting my fill. We turned a corner, the sun now kissing my wild beach blonde hair and The Thompson Twins “Hold Me Now” played on the radio. My Mom let out a gasp.
“Wouldn’t it be great to listen to Michael Jackson and Simon and Garfunkel?” she said as the station suddenly changed. “You know, with out having to change the station after each song.”
“I can do that,” I said while slurping from a white cup decorated with red palm trees. She ignored me as she navigated the Celebrity and wrestled with the radio, ultimately never sticking with one channel the rest of the ride home.
A few days went by until I surprised her in the car with her first mixed tape. “Miami Vice?” she said as I handed it to her.
“Nope. I made it.” I said as proud youngster would.
“What do you mean, ‘you made it’?” she asked.
She popped it in and after a few obnoxious noises passed, Billy Jean kicked in. “You recorded over Dad’s Miami Vice tape?!”
Not exactly the reaction I was hoping for. My eyes widened and instant fear consumed me, I froze realizing I had probably made a mistake worse then sticking change in the tape deck. She could see my panic and laughed “this is a good song though.”
I sat in silence as the next two songs played, Barbara Ann by The Beach Boys and Beat It by Michael Jackson again. “Haha, this is great! I can’t wait to hear the next song!”
I smiled but instantly started to well up with tears, “Is Dad going to be mad?”
“Probably. I’ll tell him it was an accident though. You know you can’t take things without our permission…” she said calmly but firmly as she glanced over. I nodded. “Haha, more Beach Boys!” she giggled as the song changed to Surfer Girl.
It turned out that my Dad was more impressed that I figured out how record songs then he was disappointed about losing his Miami Vice tape to a Beach Boy and Michael Jackson tribute album. However, I’ll never forget him blasting Jan Hammer’s theme song and singing Smuggler’s Blues at the top of his lungs while riding around in the truck. That’s why when our family got our first CD player, circa 1991, I made sure to buy him the OST. He still listens to it 'til this day.
I was hooked though, as time went by I continued to make tapes for her car. It was my version of macaroni art. She’d no longer struggle with the knobs and with each song I felt as proud as I did on Mother’s Day when I gave her a crappy homemade card. Each tape became a little better, the transition between songs cleaner with the use of the pause button. Track listings were thought out and songs ended before the tape did. Themes started to develop along with stories and messages. As my musical taste developed, I would slip in songs my Mom had never heard. It was the ultimate risk, a complete tape killer if it ruined the mood. However, if she liked it- if you were able to introduce something completely new and it was received as well as you'd hoped- gold. A gold mixed tape.