Monday, June 14, 2010

Make me a mix tape...

I had an experience this weekend that really showed me new technology in music can be a good thing. Follow this progression:

My daily commute is 2 minutes max. I work 1.2 miles from my doorstep which is AWESOME in nearly every sense. So I listento the radio a total of, like, five minutes a day. On this one day, during my two-minute drive, I hear two minutes of a song I really dig. I note the time, pick up my laptop when I get in the door (after the usual over-the-top doggies greeting) and go to the station's website (my alma mater's college rock station). They have a list of the last 92 songs they've played- I look forwhat was on at 5:08pm- there's the song and the artist! I click on the link, it takes me to itunes, I buy the song for 99 cents, put it on my ipod, love it, and come back for the rest of the album. HOW FREAKIN' EASY IS THAT?

I would've killed to have been able to find music as easily as that when I was in high school. I grew up in the sticks- one small town radio station was all you could catch, no music stores beyond the Woolworth's one town over, unless you could get your folks to drive you over an hour (in any direction) to the nearest mall. (And mall trips were carefully planned excursions. I have to admit, I had no idea what the hell it meant to 'hang out at the mall.' Fast Times at Ridgemont High blew my mind primarily for that reason.)

Was it not a universal experience to keep a blank cassette in your tape player/radio and dive at the record button when a song came on that you liked? And then the frustrating search for WHO THE HELL WAS THAT?? You held your breath hoping the dj wouldn't jump in too early at the end of the song and 1) ruin your 'copy' of it, or 2) be so caught up in his segue to the next commercial that he wouldn't give the artist and song title.

My musical world was so limited that I discovered a lot of my favorite music when I visited my grandma. Yep, MY GRANDMA HAD MTV AND I DIDN'T. The local holy rollers decided it was evil and convinced our local cable company (pre-Time Warner megolith) not to carry MTV. So I discovered Social Distortion while visiting my sweet li'l grandma. I saw the video for Ball & Chain and I fell in love with Mike Ness. I got a hold of their album and loved their disaffected rotten-attitude punk-ass selves. But in addition to being tiny (my graduating class- 76 people), my high school could be exceptionally conformist. I remember hiding my copy of Ball & Chain in a Motley Crue album case during the big all-day Sectionals meet because I was sick of the guys on the swim team ranking on me for listening to 'weird music.' (I'm a Title IX Baby- not enough girls to have our own swim team so they had to let us swim with the boys. More on that later.)

For that reason, and a helluva lotta others, college was such a revelation. People freely indulged and revealed their oddities and let their proverbial freak flags fly. The kid down the hall from me openly adored Neil Diamond! It was so freeing to not have to hide my quirks, but to have people like me for them! And the best part was the music.

My friend Dougie told me I'd be okay at school if I only had two things in abundance: quarters and blank tapes. He was totally right. Every time I met someone new, I'd check
out their music collection and borrow stuff to make copies. And if it was someone who seemed to have the same taste as me, I'd ask for recommendations, too. My tape collection went from a dozen to two or three milk crates-full. The summer before 11th grade, a girl I met at swim camp made me a mix tape with the Violent Femmes' Add It Up; now I not only had that whole album, I had ALL their albums! My friend P. & I got the entire REM catalog from joining Columbia House under a totally made-up name (Janet Grimley- really?) and taking advantage of our friendship with the girl who did work-study in the mail room. And when we left school for the summer, my friends & I promised to write and more importantly, send each other mix tapes.

I must've made sh!tloads of these, for myself, my friends, my lame-ass boyfriend whom I

begged to make me one and ended up giving me a piece of crap with songs mostly from Disney musicals. I made theme tapes-- one for rollerblading that was loud and angry and fast (Nirvana's "Breed" was the anchor song on that one), one to help me sleep (lots of James Taylor), one for being pensive (REM, a little Paul Simon), one that just made me happy (lots of James- the band). I read Rob Sheffield's "Love is a Mix Tape" not too long ago and while the story was sad, I was thrilled to find out someone else out there put such importance into a collection of songs.

There was a lull when everything became cds and the tapes wore out and were harder to find, then I learned about mp3s and cd burning. Unlike a lot of technological 'advancements' this made making mixes even better! Drag & drop, baby! I made special labels for the discs and the cases- a cd I made with a lot of Nick Drake featured a label that was a close-up photo of the moon tinted pink. I'd been doing layout & design work since graduation and here was a use for those skills beyond 9-5. Then iTunes came along and while it TOTALLY ROCKED MY WORLD (and I don't care how lame that capitalized phrase sounds or looks- that is how I would say it) I was afraid the mix tape/cd as we knew was an endangered species. Playlists and iPod mixes served the same purpose for the maker, but how could you share them with other people? That was really the best part- turning someone on to music that you loved.

I'm happy to say the cd mix is still alive and healthy, even in the age of ipod. I visited my 20-year-old godson at his college recently and I'd brought along a cd copy of a new band that I thought he might be interested in. To my delight and surprise, he'd made a disc for me of songs that he's really digging on right now. (Lots of Bowie, John Cale, Roxy Music- kid has good taste.)

To get back to my original story-- I found out the band I discovered through these wonderful technological shortcuts was making a last-minute stop in my town on Friday night. Tickets were dirt cheap and the show was in a great place to see bands. It was amazing-- they haven't gotten big enough yet (or the publicity didn't have time to work its magic in the short notice they had for the show) so there was only about a dozen & a half people there- and all big fans, really into the music. You know when you're at shows like that that this is your golden opportunity-- the band will get bigger and you'll never get to see them in such an intimate location again.

Before the show started, we were out on the deck (a surprising rarity in a town situated at the base of a lake) and someone pulled up in a boat and docked. As we turned to watch them maneuver, my husband recognized the guys sitting behind us as the dudes in the band! We started talking to them, and maybe 'cause we're older than most of their fans, they wanted to know how we found out about them. I told them my story and how great it is that you could find cool new music so easily. Then they had to go set up and I needed another beer, so we said 'later' and went our ways. I made a mix cd for my friend LB the day after the show and put their songs on it.

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