Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Requiem for Mix Tapes

For reasons I can’t quite explain, I’ve been thinking recently about some of the things that have changed since I was a kid. I’m guessing all parents watch as their kids grow up in a world much different than the one they grew up in, but it seems as though the changes are coming even faster, and our kids are growing up in a very different world even than the one they were born into a few years ago.

My commute to and from work is about forty-five minutes. I take the train. Sometimes, I listen to music. Sometimes, I don’t. I rarely read, and I don’t do crosswords or play games on my phone. I look out the window when the train is above ground at the cold winter scene around me, the leafless branches of trees sticking the dawn or dusk sky, the cars also busily hurrying to or from work, a river of taillights. When the train is below ground it is hard not to watch the people around me. In the morning, especially, I ride the train, more or less, with the same crowd. A man in a red hat who stops every morning to chat with the man handing out newspapers at the entrance to the train station. The woman who is reading Harry Potter in landscape-orientation on her iPad. The African-American woman with lipstick that matches her purple winter hat and shoes. Most everyone is reading or looking at something on their phone. It’s interesting and a little frightening to see, but I guess not all that different from a group of people all staring at a newspaper they are holding. It’s hard not to let the mind wander.

I’m also not very busy at work. I am told enjoy it while it lasts, because when I assume my permanent role in April, I will be very busy. I think about Bailey’s marshmallows, teardrop camper trailers, and butternut squash cake, among other things, some of my latest obsessions. Every day, the train passes an electronic billboard with the current Powerball jackpot amount on it in bright red lights, and it is hard not to imagine what I would do with $189 million in cold hard cash. It would buy a lot of Bailey’s marshmallows. Or Legos.

There are people on the internet funnier, wiser, and more clever than I who do a very good job of pointing out some of the things Elise and I grew up with as children our kids will never see, use, or understand, things like rotary phones, typewriters, and cassette players.

I wonder when Sam and Peter like a girl in high school how they will let her know. Given the proliferation of different modes of communication, it’s hard for me to imagine them calling her. Will they send an email? Or a text? Are cell phones allowed in school? Will they feel that same gut-wrenching anxiety I felt when I first picked up the phone to call a girl? Will that knot tighten into an even harder ball when her parents answer? It seems that the barrier to entry is lowered by texts or emails. It seems a lot easier to press ‘send’ than it is to pick up the phone and dial that seventh digit that starts the phone ringing, but maybe it won’t be. Will they make her a mix tape? Do they even know what a cassette tape is?

On long drives in the car, both Elise and I remember putting on headphones and listening to our Sony Walkmen. Someday, our kids will have their own iPods, and will be able to easily skip songs at the press of a button. On a Walkman you had to kind of halfway hold down the fast forward button then suffer through a squealy, Alvin and the Chipmunks, fast-forward version of the song, listening careful for the split second of quiet that meant the song was over.

Now, there are no cassettes. I don’t lament the passing of the cassette. The technology available now is far superior. I can remember few things sadder than seeing cassettes abandoned on the sides of roads, its brown tape entrails spilling out onto the concrete and fluttering sadly in the wind. I sometimes wondered if they were salvageable. Could the tape be rewound and put back into the wound?

But what about mix tapes? Is there a modern-day equivalent or replacement for the mix tape? The gift of a mix tape was unique; you could encapsulate a spectrum of feelings, myriad thoughts you wanted to convey to a person in one single object. And there were few more intimate ways to show a person you were thinking about them than opening up your soul to them in the music you loved.

It wasn’t just about the music, but also about the packaging, too, because in addition to creating a special mix of songs you had the ability to create the perfect package to put the music into. I’m talking—of course—about the intricately-folded cassette packaging that held the lyrics and liner notes. The more artistic among us used this, too, as a canvas for expression.

I think there were mix CDs for a short time, but even these didn’t have the same effect, because on a CD it was too easy to skip ahead over certain songs, and the order in which the songs were put on the CD meant less. The beauty of mix tapes were that the songs had to be listened to in a certain order and therefore the order, too, was very important; it had significance. Only at great difficulty could the order be circumvented.

Clem won’t ever get a mix tape. This is probably a good thing. She will get gifts though. Musical ones, possibly. I wonder what they’ll be. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

No comments: