I have an iPod just like everyone else. It is not a big fancy one but when I need music on the go it’s ready to rock ‘n roll. I also have my entire CD collection on my hard drive as mp3s. I almost exclusively listen to music played on my computer or iPod. I fully embrace the digital age. It offers a lot of flexibility and ease of use. But one thing is missing. The mix tape.

I had an occasion to drive my sister’s car today which has a tape player in it. I never purchased one of those contraptions that plays the iPod over the radio so I grabbed an old mix tape made by my friend Bunch (of The Vault of Bunchness). As I was driving along really grooving to the tape I began to feel a little nostalgic. I’m sure some of it was because of the music but some of the nostalgia was because of the format. The mix tape.

What makes the mix tape special is twofold:

1) Ease of use. You pop the tape in and let it go. It’s linear and plays in the right order no matter what. As easy as mp3s are, in general, to use if some one were to give me the same songs digitally with a playlist I would have to copy them to my hard drive, integrate them into my music library, i.e. put them some place so I know where they are, and then load up the playlist and start from the beginning (make sure it’s not on shuffle). Not terribly demanding but not pop in the tape easy. Also, integrating them into the music library can be daunting depending how big and complex the library is. Even if not daunting sometimes I don’t want to bother trying to find a place for new music I’ve never heard before and may never even listen to more than once. If once. It is actually a little harder to keep order in a digital music collection than a cd collection.

2) Someone has thought about the music. Making a mix tape takes hours and the person making it is thinking about the music the whole time. If a person bothers to put together a mix tape it is because he cares about the music, how it is presented and how it fits together. What song goes first? How do I follow it up? How do I stop some one from being bored and turning it off in the middle? To make a mix tape is to share the love of music. People put so much time and care into mix tapes that they consider them little works of art.

Oh, and that thing I mentioned two paragraphs above about sharing music digitally with a playlist, well it never happens. People swap music all the time but it is usually, “Oh, you like Bob Dylan, well here are 15 albums”. I don’t know anyone who makes a mix playlist and mp3s to pass around. People play their mp3 players on shuffle rather than make a playlist. It is easier. Now if some on says, “Wow, you gotta check out this band” they drop forty song on your hard drive and who has got the time to listen to forty of an unfamiliar band’s songs? They just sit there. Unlistened to. Not so with a mix tape. Pop it in and let it run.

Mixed cds enjoyed a brief period of popularity but mp3s soon took over. All of the people I know who made mix tapes have stopped making them. The technology of the cassette tape is dead but nothing has replaced the communication tool that was the mix tape. I knew him, Horatio.

For your information here was the mix tape I was listening to Named “Rejoice! The Vault Re-opened 8/30/96”:
Fields of Fire by Big Country
Telepathy by Lene Lovich
Full of Love by Dr. Calculus
Don’t Box Me In by Stanard Ridgway
Marguya by The Trashwomen
Pants by Randy Newman
Sparkling Brown Eyes by Wanda Jackson
I’m Nin’Alu by Ofra Haza
Attack of the Molemen by The Dickies
Jungle Boy by Bow Wow Wow
Praying Hands by Clawhammer
Chu! Chu! Chu! by Carna Beats
The Monkey’s Uncle by Annette Funicello & The Beach Boys
Digital Tenderness by Adam and The Ants
Spinderella’s not a Fella by Salt ‘n’ Peppa
Mr. X and Mr. Z Drink Old Gold by Mr. X and Mr. Z
Beats to the Rhyme by Run -DMC
Something Inside Me Has Died by Kommunsty FK
My Work Is so Behind by The Residents

And that is just side one.