Monday, March 05, 2007

Musical Memory Recall

I'm five chapters into the memoir by Rob Sheffield called Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time. I came across the book by reading an interview with Mr. Sheffield on Because of my early stunted growth into music I never had the pleasure of reading fanzines or other rock n roll criticisms. That's why I get a little jealous watching Almost Famous. I never got the pleasure of growing up at a time when I could spend afternoons reading music journalists like Lester Bangs. It wasn't till college that I gathered up the nerve to contradict my fundamentalist upbringing and get a subscription to Rolling Stone and Spin. The fear and disappointment I felt when I opened my school mailbox to find the infamous Janet Jackson RollingStone cover glaring at me with stickers covering the hands covering her breasts. I knew I was on Cedarville's blacklist now. It was like your Mom finding your Playboy only instead of throwing it away she ripped all the pictures out and left it back where she found it. I still went back to my room and removed the stickers. Anyway, between Spin and RollingStone the only writers I remember were Rob Sheffield and Jancee Dunn. I remember falling in love with Jancee Dunn once I saw her on 120 Minutes. I pictured her as one of those women that knew a lot about a lot of things and refused to take shit from anyone. It intrigued me and scared me. Rob Sheffield was who I identified with. He seemed like a geek that some how lucked into a job writing about music. He also didn't seem to have a snob approach that some music journalists do. Anyway, that lead me to reading the interview which lead me to picking up his book.

Each chapter begins with a mix tape the he or his wife made. The chapter then covers the time in his life when that tape was made. Most of the book (that I've read so far) deals with his meeting and falling in love, (This happened simultaneously which I understand can occur.) marrying, and living with his wife.

Reading this book caused me to think about two things. First is that the mix tape is basically dead. Sheffield in his book talks about how the iPod playlist and mix CD still keep the spirit of the mix tape. I agree but I think the magic of the mix tape is gone. A playlist or mix CD has a beginning and an end. A mix tape has the magic of a middle where you have to switch sides. That middle gives you another end and beginning. It gives you two acts to play with. You can still pull off the same with a mix CD, but it doesn't create the physical middle that a tape does. A mix CD is still one side, a tape is still two sides. The ease of playlists and creating CD's takes away some of the magic as well. Making a mix tape required perfect timing and physically listening as you created the mix. A mix tape would require at least 90 minutes of your time. That time taken is part of what makes a mix tape special. It's like cooking dinner for someone instead of getting take out. I could go on with the sequencing of albums and the changes caused by the format change to CD from vinyl and tape. But we will stick to mix tapes because this is what I know.

Back in the day I used to be the king of mix tapes even with my extremely limited musical knowledge. The first true endeavor into mix tapes was early in my second year of college. During that year I cranked out five volumes of Love Song tapes. They contained the love song range from the obscure to the cliche love song. It never worked with the ladies, but that was before I realized it was better to create a tape that would move her feet rather than remind her of a former boyfriend. I eventually graduated to mix tapes that dealt more with introducing people to music I'd think they'd like or songs that remind you of time spent with that person. The greatest mix tape I've ever made was for Stace at the end of my last year at Cedarville. I had a crush on her big time but we worked through it and became close friends. I remember during the last days of my college years a group of us were going to see Braveheart. Somehow, I ended up driving alone. At a stop light, Stace got out of the car behind me and hopped in my car. She cared, and that's all I needed. The mix tape I gave her the last day tried to wrap that last year of memories into a 90 minute magnetic tape. From the parties, to the concerts, to the fights, to the alone times I always craved, it all returns when I hear those songs. I think the "I'm Leaving Town. Don't Forget Me" mix tapes were always my best. This bring me up to my second thought: music and memories.

Music is great for so many reasons. It can match your mood. It can change your mood. It can inspire you to act. It can bring complete strangers together in one room to sing along. For me the real magic is those songs that help create those memories. "Hound Dog" is when I'd sit in the bathroom as a kid making the shadow puppet of a dog that sang along with me. Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" reminds me of sitting in Jill's room in South Carolina and wondering what it'd take to be the guy in the love letters she was showing me. Kevin McKee and I used to rap "Fight For Your Right to Party" or "Wipeout" in the high school entrance. I knew one more thing I didn't want in a girl when she started crying at the Michael W. Smith concert as he closed with "Friends." John Lee Hooker's "It Serves You Right To Suffer"joined me while I sat in my dorm room in the dark with a Santa's hat on, and wallowed in the fact that Marne didn't like me in that way. There's Eric and I sitting in his apartment while we listen to one the greatest hurtin' songs of all time: George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today." I tried my best to introduce little Anne Marie to what I thought was punk by jumping on the bed with her to One Bad Pig. Any Violent Femmes' song sparks the memory of me driving Melissa to the Boathouse in order to catch their concert before it ended. We were in such a rush she had to change in the back seat, and it took a lot of will power to keep my eyes on the road. On the drive to and from Boston, Bob and I played Elvis' cover of "Always on My Mind" about thirty times. The road trip mix tape comes in a very close second to "I'm Leaving Town. Don't Forget Me" mix tape. Gaia!
Junior Senior will always be me and my sisters driving from Maine to Ohio for Mom's funeral. Boston would always accompany Bobby and I coming home from work during the first season of CSI: Miami. It always seemed to come on while we exited off the 101. The point is we have a history of songs to go with our own history. That's one the reason I become frustrated when people try to hide or play off the musical embarrassments of their past because it wasn't "cool" or "hip" music. That music show where you've been, and how you've become who you are. Music has powers, and its soundtrack to your life is one of my favorite. My last girlfriend Kathie once said that The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" will always remind her of me. Sure that was a big signal to the lack of a future our relationship held, but I had one of the greatest songs ever written linked to a memory of me. How cool is that?


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Jaime said...

I really enjoyed this post. And I just wrote a really long comment and then erased it. I think I'll just leave it at that.

Sound/Fury said...

Greatness!! Best fucking post ever!!

bobby said...

Madonna's "Crazy For You" = me on the 8th grade school bus, some guy with his jambox, and me staring at what's her name.

Not sure I like being forever linked with Boston, or the image of us coming home together for an entire season. WORD CHOICE, Brad.

Nice post.