Th mix tape is an achingly personal matter, it seems to me. In High Fidelity, perhaps the best novel written for audiophiles of my generation, Nick Hornby's Rob describes making a mix tape for the girlfriend whose loss and return structure the novel:
I spent hours putting that cassette together. 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 whie 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.
Anyway, I worked and worked at this one, and I've still got a couple of early demons knocking around the flat, prototype tapes I changed my mind about when I was checking them through. (89)
Rob's project is nothing less than creating a snapshot of the soul, because for an audiophile, music is the soul. The mix tape, then, is an aural journal, a set of songs by people you've never met who somehow express who you yourself are. Combining these songs to reveal the warp and weave of thought, of personality, of personal history: that's the art of the mix. And different phases of our lives require different mixes. Thersites, long before we were a couple, made me a tape which included things like Redd Kross's "Blow You A Kiss in the Wind," The Replacements' "Unsatisfied," and Superchunk's "Brand New Love": clearly bait for a switch. ("Any thought could be the beginning/ of this brand new gentle web you're spinning....") I fell like a ton of bricks. Never had a chance.
In a recent Popmatters posting, Elisabeth Donnelly examines the nature of the "dumped" mix:
Breakup albums can become a habit, a way to deal with pain (And do note that I mean breakup albums in relationship to the listener being "broken up", unlike the artist). It's very easy to trace your romantic history out in music. For me it goes something like Spoon, Fiona Apple, Veruca Salt, The Walkmen, and Lyle Lovett. Your mileage may vary-in a poll of my friends, I've found that there's usually a "bitter boy album" slot of the Elvis Costello variety or something that's emo if they're sensitive, the Dirty Three if their sensitivity transcends mere words, and many a girl has a mopey girl album in her collection, Joni Mitchell if she's annoying, Tori [Amos] if she's loopy, and Fiona [Apple] if she's smart.
Donnelly's argument is about whole albums, but it points to the evanescent bubble of the mix. Because as much as we choose music based on who we are, it also shapes who we're becoming. As Hornby says:
People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands--literally thousands--of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don't know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they've been listening to the sad songs longer than they've been living the unhappy lives. (25)
We all have artists who appear on every mix we make, songs or artists that are so indicative of who we are they we can never leave them off. Who are yours?