15 January 2008

The Meaning of the Mix

I can't remember exactly when I started making mix tapes. I'm pretty sure I started by simply taping songs off of the radio. I actually recently came across a bunch of these old tapes, while staying at the house I grew up in. You know, the old Certron tapes (actual tape pictured above). Apparently I would just sit around and tape the radio, I suppose for my new favorite hit song. I decided to give the tapes a listen, which ended up being hilarious. Aww, the passage of time.

Later in life, I remember getting into making mix tapes for people. You know the careful selection of songs that people craft, attempting to have the perfect transitions, but also communicating the right type of emotion. Of course, I still do this with Cd's now, but I was just thinking today about the nature of the mix tape. I have boxes upon boxes of mix tapes and Cd's that people have made. I have trouble throwing these away, as they seem to hold some key to the past.

It made me remember this one time when I was 18 years old and I made a mix tape for the guy I was dating at the time. See, our relationship had started to fall apart and my solution to this problem was to make what I called "a break-up mix". My insane idea was that I could craft this mix communicating what I wanted to say and it would make the whole break-up process easier. I remember sitting on the floor of my best friend's apartment picking out various Tiger Trap and Heavenly songs that would let him know how just how unhappy I was. Now, I know this is not the most effective tactic to communicate to another person, but I did mention I was 18. At the age of 18, we don't always make the best decisions. This was also the year I decided that I'd rather go into the social sciences, as opposed to the future as a medical doctor I had been planning.

How did this mix turn out? After I handed it over to the aforementioned boyfriend, he told me a few days later that he loved the mix- that it was the best one he had ever received.

So, yes, we dated for another year.

It reminded me of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity.

"To me, making a tape is like writing a letter- there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again, and I wanted it to be a good one, because...to be honest, because I hadn't met anyone as promising as Laura since I'd started the DJ-ing, and meeting promising women was partly what the DJ-ing was supposed to be about. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with "Got to Get you off My Mind," but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs, and...oh, there are loads of rules." -Nick Hornby

10 January 2008

In 17 hours with Chuck Klosterman

There have been very few times in my life that I have picked up a book and read it from cover to cover within the span of 24 hours. I recently received Chuck Klosterman's Killing Yourself To Live: 85% Of A True Story as a gift. Klosterman's books have always intrigued me. I wasn't sure why. I knew nothing about him, but there was something about the covers and titles that made me intrigued. I always picked them up at the bookstore and contemplated a purchase. I still hesitated in buying one. I think I had the false impression that the books would be less about human emotion as connected to music, but more about the rock n' roll lifestyle. I was thankfully wrong.

Last night around 11:30pm, after finishing Woody Allen's Mere Anarchy, I picked up Klosterman's book. I read until I was barely able to keep my eyes open and when I awoke a mere 7 hours later, the first thing I wanted to do was finish reading the book. So, I did. Within 17 hours, I had read the entire book. Not only did it give me some great ideas about music and memory, but it overwhelmed me with the sense that I should contact Klosterman for an interview. And that is exactly what I plan to do...so I'll reserve writing any more "praise" of the book to avoid appearing as if I wrote this post only to encourage an interview.

09 January 2008

Popular Songs Series on Ovation

Having access to hundreds (if not thousands) of cable channels can make any solid decision about what to watch any given evening very difficult. I often feel inundated with choices and settle on some type of bad show on a primetime channel. Luckily one night, finding nothing but shows about dancing stars and top models on the tube, I flipped through those nebulous lost channels in the 100's. I happened upon the Ovation channel. Ovation is an excellent channel and if you are not personally acquainted, I would suggest it. Ovation offers programming about performance, film, art, and film. You can watch an hour about the artist Christo and his work in Paris. You can catch films like Kurosawa's film Ikiru. I'm honestly surprised that I ever venture away from this channel.

Last week, I was pleasantly surprised to find a series on music dubbed Popular Song: The Road to Rock n Roll. The series, which was broadcast for almost two straight days, featured the story of the most influential songs for the past 100 years. Not only did they discuss the collusion between gospel, R&B, and rock music, but they also discussed music in the 1960s and 1970s. I luckily taped most of the series for future reference. Not only does the series discuss the social context of the music and songs, but also has the musicians and others discussing the songs.


03 January 2008

Filed Away For Recollection

Flipping on the radio, you hear the first few notes of Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles. You recognize it immediately. A smile spreads across your face. Your mind is sent reeling back through time. You can remember the first time you heard the song. You remember how it felt when George Harrison belted out "And I say... it's alright." You remember who you were at the time. Whether you were six, 12, or 19, you remember how it felt. How it felt to live the past 30 years of your life with this song. You can't believe there were years of your life when this song wasn't part of your "musical motif." Who was I before I heard this song? Who was I after I heard this song? What does this song mean to me?

Your thoughts dig deeper. You don't just remember the first time, but you remember fragments of other memories. Other memories attached to the song. Other emotions start to flood your mind. You remember how you use to close your eyes and listen to this song in junior high school. You remember how your alarm clock was set to wake you in the morning to this song during your second year of college. You remember how it was one of the songs played at your wedding. You remember playing it for your nephew for the first time, while providing him with a thorough and illuminating history of the band who performed it.

Just as we remember the moments or events associated with the song, we also feel the emotions attached to these moments. You don't simply remember that you use to close your eyes in junior high, but rather you remember how you felt so very alone and like an outcast. Or during college, you remember that it was your first college boyfriend who suggested setting the alarm to this song and how at the time you thought you'd spend the rest of your life waking to this song. Songs that become part of your "musical motif" typically stay with us throughout our lives. We can remember not only the first time we heard the song, but also an accumulation of memories that span our lifetime. These songs stay with us and we continue to form new memories and attachments. Even a song that we currently have memories attached with may continue to meld and change in our last remaining years.

The song ends, and all in the time frame of a couple of minutes, you have flipped through these musical memories, like sifting through old papers and photographs in a shoebox. Why is it that certain songs send you sifting through these memories? Filed away for recollection, we pull them up. We review. Every note and every lyric reminds you of a particular time or place. What do you hear? What do you remember? Where do you travel to in your mind?

(excerpted from work in progress)