Friday, 12 April 2013

Mix Tape Nostalgia

If you were born in the late 70's, as I was, then you definitely remember mix tapes. Up until I was in my late teens, CDs weren't rewritable and didn't even exist before 1982!  You couldn't record onto a vinyl record at home so tapes were definitely the way to go.  I remember spending hours sitting on the floor of the family den with gigantic headphones on and my finger suspended, ever ready, over the record or pause button waiting for the exact perfect song to come on the radio. It was, after all the only place to pick up music for your mix tapes.

How will my daughter ever understand something like that? Waiting, song after song for the perfect moment to hit record, knowing that if you just got the magic combination of songs compiled onto one magnetic strip the object of your teenage crush might might just notice you.  'Hey, Timmy, um... I made you a mix tape.'

With access to MP3s and who-knows what else when she gets to her teen years, music is already instantaneously available and therefore has lost a lot of it's value. It's impossible to attach any sentimental value to something that seems impossible to lose, and therefore you never really have it in the first place.

Already my own relationship with music has changed dramatically and I can't put it down to the sheer fact that puberty hormones haven't coursed through my system for over 15 years. Today for example I was on the treadmill a the gym and realised that they have Internet access so I logged onto Grooveshark and started to listen the the Indie playlist. It's basically a really really huge mix-tape compiled by a computer.  As I listened I realised that though I may have really liked some of the songs, but there's a very very good chance I'll never hear them again. Not having a pen and paper to mark down the names of the songs, and honestly, with the notion in the back of my head that they're so easily 'findable' I'll probably never look for them again. The next time I play the indie playlist the computer will compile a different selection of songs for me. The moment is gone.

This would have never happened in 1993, the peak of my music listening prime. Back then, my only access to new music would be the handful of FM radio stations that we had programmed in our car. Back then, if there was a song I head once and liked I would strain my ears patiently at the end of the single to hear its name spoken by the DJ's lips. Then I would memorise the combination of artist and song title and hold that info in my mind for the next Saturday afternoon free in order to sit by the radio and hope that the DJ mentioned it again in the 'up next' list of songs. If I was lucky I'd catch it and have my very own copy, if not, I'd have to settle with hearing it occasionally through the airwaves. But once I did have the song on tape it was 'mine'. It had become my music, inserted in order to be played over and over and over, always the same, always in order (and if my timing was bad, always overlapped by the DJ's I to or exit).

Even when CDs came out they weren't personalised compilations in any way. You couldn't decide the order if the songs and they didn't even have themed compilation albums till much later. If you wanted to share music with friends mix tapes were the only way. CDs couldn't compare.

I truly miss those days. Of course having everything digitally has its obvious pros, but on a tactile emotional level things will never be the same.

My most nostalgic memory of tapes was the first time I came to Europe on my own. I was 18 and remember packing my carry-on bag with my Sony Walkman and 22 tapes. I was afraid my luggage would get lost and I'd be separated from my precious music. I almost didn't have space for anything else in the bag and that was ok.

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