I GOT my first mixtape back in 11th grade. It wasn't an actual mixtape because it was 2002—which is the dead zone between the necessity of tapes and this bizarre resurrection of tapes that seems to be born purely out of nostalgia. (FOR HONESTLY, THOUGH, WHAT'S WITH THIS TAPE THING? VINYL SUPPOSEDLY SOUNDS BETTER THAN DIGITAL, BUT WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS TAPE THING ABOUT? IS IT BECAUSE YOU CAN'T RELEASE YOUR ALBUM ON SHREDDER FROM TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES?)
I suppose I should clarify that when I say "mixtape," I mean one from a love interest. I'd been given curated CDs before. I had a friend get super into death metal early on in high school, and he tried his best to get me into it, too, with a mix that included music from not only a band called Children of Bodom, but also from one called Cradle of Filth. You know what's a fun game? Trying to come up with something that sounds like a death metal band that isn't already a death metal band. Thoraxxx! Undulating Gutter! Wyvern Slit! You can't prove they aren't black metal bands. (Sorry, this column is mostly digressions so far.)
When I got my first MIXTAPE mixtape, I was thrilled, friend, I was charmed. Every song dripped with meaning. Al Green was singing her feelings for me—like a game of R&B telephone. Somehow that song "Black Velvet" was about how a 16-year-old girl who listened to a bunch of NPR felt about a 17-year-old boy who mostly wore cargo shorts. I returned fire, of course, with my own mixtape for her—just hella songs that portrayed the depth, vastness, and kinetic heat of my passion for NOT ONLY the distinct qualities of this individual, but also for the feeling of being desired enough to have someone want to enchant you with their own musical tastes.
Then, this girl made me another mixtape, and nestled among a few other forgettable tracks, there was a ska cover of the Bumble Bee tuna commercial jingle and that song "One Night in Bangkok" from the musical Chess.
I've never been more heartbroken in my entire life.
Needless to say, that high-school-ass shit did not work out, and "Black Velvet" went back to whatever it is "Black Velvet" is about. (Horses?)
Now it's '95 and they clock me and watch me, diamonds shining, looking like I robbed Liberace. Pardon me, I meant to say now I'm 30 years old, but that magical mixtape feeling hasn't gotten any less pronounced. I STILL LUV IT, THO. It's sort of weird, when you think about it, but it still hits. That act of love communicated through other people's expression of love. It can be very difficult to take those feelings that exist so vibrant and clear in your mind and turn them into something that can be communicated. If Etta James and En Vogue and Outkast and Bob Dylan and Devo and the Talking Heads (and Caribou and other current bands it feels weird to mention alongside Etta James) can get you close... well, that's something sweet enough to give you a cavity—even if our water had fluoride in it. Even if you can't tell someone they're the cutie pie you wanna be with—well, there's already a song that says you're the cutie pie I want to be with. @IanKarmel