Monday, November 5, 2012

When Was Your Last Mixtape?

I think this esurance commercial might have accomplished exactly the opposite of its intended purpose. Do I want everything to be so easy? Well, insurance, maybe, but this 30-second ad got me to do something I had not done in many years. I made a mixtape. I dug out a Maxell XL-II 90 high bias cassette and went to work.

I positioned the same milking stool in front of the same stereo I have had since the '80s. As the music played, I poured over liner notes on albums and tapes just like the old days. I considered the theories of Rob Gordon from Nick Hornby's novel 'High Fidelity:'

"To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with "Got to Get You Off My Mind", but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs and...oh, there are loads of rules."

I remembered the hard way on Howard Jones' 'The 12" Album' that the songs run together so you have to manually fade out the recording level at just the right time. I could have used the "x2 editing speed" function on my dual cassette deck when I popped in the Icicle Works' first album, but I chose to listen instead. This exercise was all about taking things slow. By the looks of the tape window, I had enough room for one more song on side A... if it was about two minutes. I went with Ian Dury's "Blackmail Man." I laughed as I remembered Mrs. LTL! once asking me what Dury had against black mailmen. Oh, no! It's not going to fit. I manually faded out the last five seconds of the song. That's OK. It's just screeching feedback anyway.

It was getting late. Where did the evening go? Side B would have to wait. Yes, in this iTunes/iPod world, I could have made a dozen mixes on this night, but would I have enjoyed it this much? Hmmm... when will I get to listen to this tape, anyway? Am I going to pull out my old banana-yellow Sony Walkman? OK, I must admit I'm finding this whole mixtape thing a mixed experience, but it was really nice to have the television off. It's therapeutic and nostalgic, and I recommend slowing down and giving up an evening to try it. Here was my Side A, track one, and you can get the original version of the song on both 'Loaded' and the
'High Fidelity' soundtrack.

The Velvet Underground - Who Loves the Sun (Alternate Mix) (mp3)


Echorich said...

I am with you with regard to the Esurance commercial. It made me long for the joy of making a mixtape and then dubbing it for a friend...
I started looking on ebay for a good denon or technics dual cassette. I recently purchased both an upgraded USB turntable and a numark analog (I guess you'd call it that) turntable as well, so I think I want to do this again. I have a 2004 Sebring Convertible (yes, thank you for the condolences, but it has never had any of the major fails most Chryslers from the era had) with a cassette deck and single disc player and the deck is in decent shape. So, yeah I think it's about time I tried my hand at some mixtapes.
I have to say that I always approach iTunes playlists like mixtapes. I despise SHUFFLE on any of my iDevices. I can take over an hour to get a 30 track playlist just right. I have always enjoyed listening back to a mixtape or playlist knowing just what comes next.

Brian said...

Hey, Echorich. Quick question. Would you recommend your USB turntable? I had a pretty decent one I was using really late one night for the blog. I was so tired, I left it out. Big mistake. My son got to it in the morning before I did and played pizza maker on it. That was a bad day. I replaced it with a cheaper model that doesn't really work at all. I would like to get a good one this time.

I, too, make playlists on my iTunes, but I think the main difference with the old days is I'm not listening to the "mixtape" while I'm making it. I like to use the time to think about if the mix is working, as well as read the album sleeves and search the stacks for that next song. You can certainly do that on your computer, but I like to do it in a more physical way. Hope I didn't lose you and everyone else there. Probably just me.