In Praise of the Mixtape

The art of the mix CD is a very fine art indeed. Though distinct from the 21st century’s “playlist,” they are, in theory, pretty much the same thing. Both are made up of a series of songs, ordered particularly and aimed at sending certain vibes to the recipient. As a way of communicating, I would rank the mix CD far above carrier pigeon but below edible arrangements. It is a very fine art, so naturally it is slowly but surely disappearing.

Over winter break, I found a mix CD that I made in fifth grade. Poetically titled “Quite Possibly The Best Songs In The World Ever” it was complete with album artwork (a black and white photo of me playing the recorder whilst holding CDs). Though this CD clearly slipped through the gifting cracks (probably with good reason since my taste in music was abhorrent), it was clearly crafted with the care of a mid-level record label. It is a relic of a time past, when the physical sharing of music was a major player in the development of relationships and identity.  

“Quite Possibly The Best Songs In The World Ever” was not my only foray into the mixtape game. For my 12th birthday, each guest was given a CD, made by yours truly, as a party favor. The endeavor took me hours, as I carefully crafted the perfect playlist and burned each CD, handling them along the edges for fear I might scratch the 45 minutes of acoustic pleasure that it held. In retrospect, I seriously doubt they graced the library of any girl’s iTunes, as the playlist was not exactly “Now 43.” My eclectic offering was mostly the Ramones, with some Blink-182 and Beach Boys thrown in for good measure–a compilation suited more for angsty skater dudes, rather than the denim mini skirt-clad gang I had invited.

Despite the amount of time in my pre-teen years thinking about mixtapes, I don’t think I ever fully realized their importance. Creating and subsequently sharing a playlist is not only an expression of thought for another person but a declaration regarding your own identity. By forcing the spearheading punk of the Ramones onto my peers, I was making a statement about who I was (Amy Ramone, a nickname I gave to myself). I was not just someone who listened absent-mindedly to pop on the radio, later finding it catchy enough to share with my friends. Instead, I dug deep into the archives of my parent’s CD collection, found something I loved and decided to share this, albeit unconventional, find with people who may not have known otherwise. Sharing your music taste leaves you extremely vulnerable to criticism, making it a delicate practice that comes with some rules.

In the movie “High Fidelity,” the main character Rob Gordon (a wistful record store owner) explains, “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch […] then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.” Regardless of the archival status of the mix CD, Gordon’s rules still stand. The sharing of music via playlist explains feelings where words fail, which is something humans always seem to require. Though the physical mixtape may be resting in peace, the art of the playlist is very much alive.