I got my first mix tape in fifth grade. My first crush gave it to me. On it was a smattering of Jesus Jones and Living Colour. I used to play that thing on every road trip my parents dragged me on. I’d sit huddled in the back seat of the car, with my bright yellow cassette tape deck running and my headphones on, humming along and daydreaming of my future, while staring out the window into corn fields, as Mike Edwards sang, “Right Here, Right Now. There is no other place I wanna be.”
When I became pen pals with one of my cousins from England, I started recording my voice singing along to my favorite songs on a small Sony tape deck (which still works to this day, though it’s now held together with duct tape). I’d send it to her so she could hear what American girls listened to. She’d then send me a similar tape a few months later. It was my connection to another culture across the seas until I was old enough to visit her in person. (This was long before the Internet made the world so much smaller).
A few years later, my high school sweetheart gave me a mix tape. This one was full of songs by Jane’s Addiction, Porno for Pyros, Marilyn Manson and Switchblade Symphony. He had recorded his voice greeting me on Side A as a short intro to the recording, wishing me a safe summer vacation and telling me that he’d miss me. I found it again years later. It was a time capsule I have cherished since his death, capturing a moment in time when we were both young and free of burden. The songs themselves give a glimpse into the hopes, dreams and fears of two teens—very different from the mix CDs I would exchange with friends over the following decade as I grew into adulthood.
After cassette tapes became dinosaurs, the age of CD burning began, and my friends and I introduced each other to new music this way. I borrowed their songs, and if I liked what I heard, I’d but the full albums and start a new CD collection. From the mix CDs based on 1470’s setlists (the best nightclub of all time), I grew a fondness for many goth, industrial, EBM and darkwave bands, some of which include Claire Voyant, VNV Nation, Wolfsheim and Covenant. It certainly sparked an unyielding affinity for the music genre.
Then, most recently, I found myself helping to create a Spotify setlist of local bands for friends moving to Nashville. Sharing setlists online has become the newest incarnation of the old mix tape philosophy. In the end, it’s all about introducing new music to people you care about, capturing imperfect moods and moments in time. …
So maybe it’s time you dust off your old mix tapes and CDs, and see how far you’ve grown—or stayed the same—as a music fan and as a person, since your fifth grade crush turned you onto that song that still gets stuck in your head to this day.