Love is Reel: Inventing the Mixtape
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment in a series of pieces relating the entire history of human creativity through an examination of that nearly extinct artistic medium, the mixtape. Read part one here.
Hi. My name is Lori, and the mixtape was my idea.
That’s right: I invented the mixtape. Only way back in the olden days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, we didn’t have an app for that. There was no such thing as CDs or 8-tracks or cassettes. The only tools my ten-year-old self had available to her was a little white transistor radio, a hi-fi record player in a giant wooden cabinet that was a hand-me-down from my dad, and my trusty portable gray plastic reel-to-reel recorder with the built-in microphone. I’m sure that recorder came from Sears & Roebuck, because back then everything did.
The hi-fi gave me an electrical shock every time I lifted the arm over to the vinyl to carefully place the needle in the chosen groove. Using the transistor radio as a recording source meant spending hours waiting for my favorite songs to play and then slamming down the record button, all the while hoping the three inch reels of the deck would spin at the right speed instead of dragging or tangling up the tape.
There were no direct connections between any of the equipment so sometimes there was an inadvertent rap overlay on the music: My mom yelling at me to clean my room, or me telling my younger brothers to get out of said room. (I invented the DJ mix thing, too.) I don’t remember many specifics about those early tapes, but I’m sure The Beatles, The Monkees, Neil Diamond, and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap made the cut.
By the time cassettes came around I was married with a kid and a full time job. Who had time to make mix tapes? I didn’t rediscover the joy of crafting a mix until my daughter was grown and I had the means and time to use my computer to make a CD mix — and then I fell into it again wholeheartedly. Finally, there was an easier way to lay down a soundtrack for my life. I’d been doing it in my head for years.
My method involved using the songs to tell a story. Two of my best ones, both of which I still listen to, were masterpieces of hope mixed with reality. Starcrossings told the story of my having reunited with a boy I’d loved at age 13. Thirty-something years later I found that the love was still there, although it could only be lived out in dreams. I poured out a modern day tragic love story into a two-disc mix that told the tale from beginning to end … but I gave it a happy ending. I’ve always loved fairy tales.
Shining Through was the mix I made for my Mom during the last year of her battle with cancer. We’d listen to it in the car as we drove back and forth to her chemo appointments. There were 22 songs on the disc, and the last four were:
“Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” by Eva Cassidy. (She died from cancer at 33.)
“Amazing Grace,” by Judy Collins. (A gorgeous a capella, choral rendition.)
“The Best is Yet to Come,” by Carole King. (Mom believed her job in heaven would be to dust the stars.)
“I Sing the Body Electric,” by Irene Cara. (“I toast to my own reunion, when I become one with the stars.” Mom really liked that line.)
When I listen to those last couple of songs, I can still hear Mom singing along in her warbling alto. Love, strength, hope, and joy in the midst of sadness — that mix gave us all those things, as we sang the words together.
That’s the beauty of a well-done mix. We can share the full range of emotions and hopes and dreams. Aren’t you glad I had the idea?