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What Did You Do With All Those Mix Tapes?

photo credit: Jessica Ashley

photo credit: Jessica Ashley

My wedding china. A dusty breast pump. Giant-sized Ziploc bags stuffed with hundreds of Little People. Every single article I ever read, wrote about, researched, quoted or highlighted in graduate school. It’s all down in my basement, or was until a few weekends ago, when I filled two recycle bins and a garbage bin full with 12 bags of what was once treasures and is now trash.

I was on a tear, tossing things that I’ve kept stored for free for too many years. Now that we are moving in with the Not Boyfriend, it is time to let most of it go. Plus, we have to pay for storage, and not much down there is worth the price per cubic foot I’m handing over.

Except maybe the mix tapes.

I knew the under-bed box was down in the basement somewhere, beat up and barely containing the neat rows of mix tapes I have moved cross-country and between eleven apartments since I left for college. I also remembered that well beyond a decade ago, I edited the collection, tossing tapes from people who’d made me cry, the ones I’d always meant to get around to rewinding with a PaperMate pen, and the stack that contained various drafts of very important mixes for boys I’d liked too much for who they really were. I felt so proud back then for purging such a personal collection. I couldn’t believe I got several plastic tubs of mix tapes down to this one cardboard box.

When I found the box, stacked between a container of tightly wrapped 125 votive candles with the remains of dark purple candles in the bottom and all the costumes we’ve ever worn in our family, I pulled it out and opened it more carefully than the never-touched crystal goblets. There they were, all the mix tapes I still possess, dating back to the mid-80′s.

Others were thrown in – Howard Jones, Anything Box, Madonna, a copied Cranberries and Big Head Todd, U2, Terrence Trent D’Arby. But the real worth was in the mix tapes, carefully strategized, knit together, edited with a quick-fingered STOP-RECORD+PLAY-STOP-REWIND-PAUSE, and then placed in a sleeve collaged with magazine photos and the songs carefully penned in permanent marker. Sometimes, for the very special listener, a tiny note explaining why each song was chosen was folded in fours and tucked inside. But what every single mix tape got was a boldly lettered and slightly cryptic title that would make the recipient laugh or smile or know they were liked (big time) or intrigued or (sadly) just ignore it and toss the tape in the player without further thought (assholes).

I ran my hands across the plastic cases. We don’t get to do that anymore with music. Unless a few errant CDs are stashed in the car or desk drawer somewhere. I smiled to see the familiar but nearly forgotten titles – Big Ho Happy Birthday, Assez Forte, Randomest, The Name Game, Moving On, and one with such a dirty title that it has only been labeled J’s Tape for Greg since 1993. Seeing them all there was better than finding photos. Of course, I no longer have a boom box or old-ass car to play them, but I loved seeing them and I felt myself holding tight to all the memories they fast-forwarded in my brain.

I could not let them go, at least not all of them. I had a vision of dumping the whole box into the trash (or recycling? not sure on that one) but that quickly and uncomfortably dissipated. Instead, I yanked the real music tapes – farewell, Madonna, and vaya con Dios, Meatloaf – and released them to the large, black garbage bag in the sky. Then I placed all of the mix tapes – minus a slew of the unlabeled I’d somehow accidentally on purpose missed 1o or 15 years ago – into a plastic bin with the VHS tapes of a documentary I made and campus news shows I produced and will never be able to show my son on newfangled technology. They’d be safe there, the mix tapes, at least until I move again.

When I posted a picture of the collection on Facebook (the one above), tagging friends who’d labored over which Depeche Mode should go on side A and which could wait for side B and those who’d faithfully memorized the songs in the order I’d lovingly placed them on their summer vacay mixes and the College Bound, Baby! mix. I expected them to add memories that seeing those tapes my bring up for them as much as I imagined I’d be chastised for still having the collection in my basement. What I didn’t expect was how many people would chime in that they, too, couldn’t bear to part with their mix tapes from the ’80′s, ’90′s and for a day or two of the aught years.

It made me feel better to know that basements of former princesses, brains, criminals, athletes and basket cases still have all those wonderful, heart-wrenching, crush-solidifying, hopeful, brilliant, awful, thrown together, labored over mixes like a machine transporting us for 60, 90 or 120 minutes back to a time. Back to one of our times.

What did you do with all your mix tapes?

 

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