Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Song for a Crappy Tuesday

For some reason, I have a lot of mixtapes made for other people in my possession. Not Mix CD's (although there are plenty of those as well), but mixtapes. Not made for me or by me, but made for other people by other people.

One might be curious as to why I have tapes at all.

Treatises have been written on the art of the mix - what song to put where, the message behind the music. When magnetic tape was first invented, do you suppose they had any inkling of the fraught and jumbled communication that would be spooled up in these small plastic rectangles? The song that says too much, or not enough. The lyrics that may very well fall on uncaring ears, or worse, not heard at all as the listener cues through to the next track.

Now these types of compilations are Dodo Birds. Mix Cds are made, but it's not the same. There's not the painstaking effort, the toil of adding up songs, second by second, to prevent cutoff. There is no rewinding or fast forwarding, just drag and drop.

I can't remember if it was on 848 (a Chicago arts magazine on on WBEZ, the NPR affiliate) or on Morning Edition, but there was a whole segment on mixtapes and what they mean, how people keep them squirreled away for years. It's understandable. Two or three weeks ago, I pulled out a mix made by an old boyfriend, and played it in the car while driving to a show. Wow. At the time of receipt, I was deaf to most of the songs, partially because I had always assumed a certain level of indifference on his part. I guess it wasn't until now that I was ready to hear what he wanted me to. Indifferent he was not.

I still have that cassette, not because I carry a torch for this lost love, but because it's a reminder that at some point in time, a person cared enough to make the effort. The music is good and something he cherished. To know that it is meant for my ears makes it even better.

So why do I have all these tapes that are not meant for me?

Because I am an emotional vulture and a kleptomaniac.

It's not intentional. Friends would stick their tapes in my deck (is that gross? It sounds gross.) and we'd listen, they'd leave it, the relationship that produced the tape would disintegrate and I was left with a cassette full of new music. OR I'd borrow the tape, neglect to dub it, forget to return it, and years later it would turn up while moving. Half the time I can't even remember who had abandoned the mix to begin with.

These tapes are exciting. Like eavesdropping on a conversation, or finding a stack of love letters. There's no pressure to decipher the message behind the song choice, no friend or potential girl/boyfriend desperate for your response. With no expectation, significance becomes plain. If someone juxtaposes Elvis Costello's "I Want You" with "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads, it's clear that this relationship is headed for rocky seas. Those in the thick of it, however, might not come to this conclusion right away.

(Human Beings so rarely know what the hell is going on. I mean, truly. It's a wonder any of us can order pancakes with any clarity at all, let alone try to explain to another how we feel or what we want. And God knows when we actually HEAR what someone else wants, we're dumbfounded. Bon chance, everyone!)

The following song is from just such a tape...accidentally on purpose purloined from a past acquaintance.

The sad part is, I don't have the tape anymore. It either found its way back, like the Incredible Journey, to its original owner or another emotionally vulturous kleptomaniac made off with it.

There is a class of song from the mid-late 80's that comes as a cult-pop response to the Cold War. Nena's "99 Luftballoons" and "Love Missile F1-11" by Sigue Sigue Sputnik come to mind as masters of the form. Hearing these songs in the pre-Wall-dismantled 1980's fed my fantasies of a Blade Runner future, a police state with check points and flood lights. Ration cards. Black market records. Electric Music and pleather garments.

(I think in the 7th grade, I started writing an illustrated story about the Russian take-over of America and living in a ghetto-like tenement I called the "Schtocktels". As my friend Z. once told me, and not with much affection, I was a creepy kid.)

"Underneath the Radar" by Underworld falls into this category. Released in 1988, this is from Underworld's album Underneath the Radar, and doesn't sound like the same techno band who released "Born Slippy .NUXX" (famous on the Trainspotting Soundtrack), but it is. The lyrics, a mix of Cold War nuclear bomb scare and the thrill of love under martial law, hearken to the days when the The Bear and the Eagle were feeling the itch in their trigger fingers.

The video is totally unashamed of itself. And pretty awesome.

I am sad to report that this song is not available on iTunes. Amazon has the album. Maybe I'll pick myself up a copy.


Crazypants said...

Emotional Vulture should be the name of your album, or memoirs.

Joe Janes said...

Ira Glass did a mixed tape segment on American Life. You might be thinking of that.

Add to Technorati Favorites