Ginger Pop: Ode to the Mixed Tape

Probably no singular item better symbolizes my adolescence than a mixed tape. When I was a kid, my best friend Darcy and I kept blank tapes in our boom boxes (that’s what we called them even though they were small and generic in brand) so that when a song we loved came on the radio, we could just hit record. This resulted in the missing beginnings and endings of a number of songs, or DJ prattle overriding the first few bars. We didn’t care. There was something wild about capturing a song we loved by chance. My love of listening to radio stations connects to that feeling–like the universe knows how much I need to hear “She Drives Me Crazy” by The Fine Young Cannibals.

In junior high we actually started calling radio stations to request the songs our myriad of mixed tapes lacked. Then we got more McGyver with it. We’d put our two boom boxes side by side and record one to the other. It was the perfect challenge of getting the timing just right. You had to want to make that mixed tape. You had to want it bad.

Later, with CD players, mixed tapes became much easier to make. I have shoe boxes full of them from the parade of people who have passed through my life. Some are just black tapes with peeling stickers that say things like “To Ambie from J.” Others went to the trouble to make collage covers and custom song lists. Some of them are themed mixed tapes, which are sometimes even more delightful. My going out mix, while basically Madonna and Prince songs, is still amaze-balls.

As we all know, the next generation of the mixed tape is the mixed CD. I’ve joked with Katie Shaw that should my writing career ever take off, I will hire her as my personal assistant and one of her jobs will be to make me mixed CDs. That was actually the first gift she ever gave me–a mixed CD the day she finished her first year of college and her second class with me as her instructor. The girl knows how to throw down a good mix–a combination of familiar and new songs, along with prudent song order.

With downloading now the musical norm, making a mix takes much less effort. Still, I love the sentiment behind it. Maybe it’s my short attention span or my eclectic musical tastes; whatever the reason, I love a mix, especially when someone makes it for me. It calls back to my days of waiting for exactly the right second to push record so that I could capture “November Rain,” even if it was just the radio edit.