Mixtape-Makin’ Memories

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Recently I read an interview with the Roots’ drummer Questlove in which he talked about his passion for making mixtapes before the age of the iPod.

“I’d stay up hours the night before [a tour],” he said. “Like, I should be packing for Europe but I’m trying to make a ten-volume Mellow mix… going to CVS, buying five-packs of those Maxell XL-IIs, the real clear ones. And up until airport call I’m still trying to squeeze that last song in.”

Well DAMN, did that send me down memory lane.

Because anyone who’s known me for a long time can tell you that ever since wayyyyyyyyyy back in the day, my go-to gift to give has been a mixtape. Whenever there was an occasion calling for a gift, you’d get a tape. Or two.

Of course, there were the obvious “Birthday Music” and “Anniversary Music” compilations.

But if you changed your address, you got a tape of “Housewarming Music.”

If you had a new boo, you’d thank me later for the “Lovemaking Music.”

Feeling sick? The label read “Healing Jams.”

Bought a new car? I got your “Driving Music” right here.

If you were a classical or jazz purist, my mischievous side would come out and I’d put together some music by artists you probably wouldn’t be caught dead listening to… until I made that tape for you.

Seriously, I made so many mixtapes for people that I had to develop a system for not repeating myself. So each time I made a tape I wrote the track list on an index card, and kept the cards in a box filed under the recipient’s name. A quick check of the card before making another tape for that person helped avoid the embarrassment of “Thanks, but you already put that song on my birthday tape from last year!”

Mixtape Records

The little box of mixtape uh, records. On each tab is a person’s name, and behind it is an index card listing the tracks on each tape they got.

Mixtape Records 2
The reputation-saving index cards

Mixtapes were a labor of  love—because you could only record in real time. A 90-minute tape would take 90 minutes to record. But I loved sitting at the console, cheffing up the tunes. A dash of this, a splash of that… It gave me such a thrill when people would tell me how much they loved their mixtapes! And I would love receiving them as gifts myself.

Random Tapes

Some random tapes I pulled from my collection, just to show you. From left: The first three are probably recorded from the radio, most likely WRVR. The fourth is the very first tape I owned–somebody call the Smithsonian! The handwritten ones were gifts to me, and the typewritten ones are record company promos.

And so what if it’s the twenty-first century? As passionately as ever, I still make and give mixtapes as gifts. Only now, I curate from the my digital music library, created from my own CDs. Mixtapes… without the tapes. Of course, since I still have working equipment (and a few factory-sealed cassette tapes!!) I could make an actual mixtape if I so chose. But who could play it?

Yeah sure, there are playlists that you can download online, with all the work done for you. But I’m a purist: I love the sheer fun and discovery of putting it together myself. There’s nothing like rolling your own!

QUESTION: Who gave you YOUR favorite mixtape?

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