Mix tape memories

Rumor has it that my generation was the last to make mix tapes.  And you know what?  I believe it – by the time I graduated high school, my friends and I had moved on to making mix CDs of stuff we downloaded from the internet at places like Napster and Kazaa.  I marvelled at the lightning-fast download speeds on my college campus, where you could download a song in only five minutes…while the rest of the campus lay sleeping.  Any other time, you could expect to wait at least a half an hour.  And that was if you were lucky.  It’s hard to imagine routinely waiting that long for a download now.


Photo by Kay Kauffman

But back then, it was hard to imagine digital music ever fully supplanting physical copies of songs.  For some people, perhaps it still is.  Playlists are the new mix tapes.  Where CDs were once the height of technology, now they are as antiquated as dinosaurs.  And tapes?  Well, you might as well have crawled out of a cave.  “Tape?  What’s a tape?” the kids will say.  Don’t even get me started on vinyl.

I stumbled across some old mix tapes I made in high school the other day and have been listening to them in my car during my commute.  As a teenager, my living room boasted a stereo system that included a five disc CD changer, a digital AM/FM tuner, and a dual tape deck with auto reverse.  Now I think the only CD player I have in my whole house is in my computer.

Wait – scratch that.  I have one in my kitchen.  Well, regardless, it’s not nearly as impressive as what I grew up with.

But I digress.  One of these mix tapes contains, among other things, one of my old band concerts.  The sound quality is terrible, so I’m not sure what the first song is, but the second is a little ditty called “Hymn for Band.”  The song began, and I remembered instantly how I felt the night of that concert.  “Hymn” was a particularly challenging piece for us; slow pieces usually were, but this was more difficult than most for some reason.  I remember always wanting to rush the music and tripping over notes and feeling incredibly frustrated that I just couldn’t get it right.

As I recall, the night of the concert, we seemed to play flawlessly.  All the hard work we’d put in had finally paid off – we nailed it!  But as I sat in my car, reveling in the glories of my youth, the whole performance began to fall apart.  The different sections fell out of sync, we weren’t in tune, no one was listening to anyone else…We were awful, an opinion I confirmed when I got home and Googled the song.  I found this video, and these kids are good.

As I listened to their recording, though, I realized just how much I miss performing.  It’s been a decade since my last concert; the nearest community band is too far away to consider joining, and even if it weren’t, I’m too out of practice to earn a spot.

But my nostalgia was not limited to band memories.  Below you’ll find a list of some of the other songs on the tape and some of the memories they evoked:

  • “Good Riddance” by Green Day – I love this song.  It was hugely popular when I was in high school and Green Day was the favorite band of several of my friends.  I remember the first time I heard the album version and being floored when I realized they dropped an F-bomb at the beginning of the song.  I remember being even more floored that my high school principal allowed the album version to be played during the graduation ceremony for the Class of 1999 (it was their class song) complete with F-bomb.  Yes, I was a sheltered child.  At the end of the song on my mix tape is an intro the band recorded for the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 that I always got a kick out of. 🙂
  • “I Will Buy You a New Life” by Everclear – Another favorite.  This time I went back to college, though, because Everclear played at my school during fall term my freshman year.  I remember finding it strange that more people would go to the concert to see the opening act, a Christian rock band, than would go to hear the headlining act.  Neumann Auditorium really emptied out between acts, but I was okay with that because it meant there were fewer heads between my camera’s lens and Art Alexakis.
  • “Wishing I Was There” by Natalie Imbruglia – I loved Natalie Imbruglia.  I could belt out “Torn” with the best of the shower singers.  And this song?  This song was even better!  Except it didn’t go anywhere for her.  Until it came up on my tape, I had completely forgotten its existence.  And that’s really a shame, because this was such a good song.
  • “Adia” by Sarah McLachlan – Oh, Sarah McLachlan.  Sure, all your songs were mildly depressing, but they were also hauntingly beautiful.  I would have given my left arm to go to Lilith Fair and see you live when I was a teenager.  And your music has stood the test of time, at least for me, which is why I’m so annoyed that I can no longer hear your music without thinking of abused puppies.
  • “To Love You More” by Celine Dion – Man, Celine Dion was everywhere in the ’90s, wasn’t she?  She had more songs out than you could shake a stick at and they were all so. amazingly. good.  So many of her songs held such special meaning for me – we listened to her on the bus, we played her songs in band, I even had a friend who was as obsessed with her as I was with the Backstreet Boys – that I continued liking her even when it wasn’t cool.

I have a few other mix tapes – I never missed Rick Dees and the Weekly Top 40.  I’d spend my whole Sunday night glued to the radio each week, listening to my favorite songs and trying to record a few along the way.  I can still hear the show’s intro in my head – heck, I could probably still sing it (not that you would want to hear me sing).  I even found a contest I’d recorded from the show on my tape and, such was my devotion to the show, I could still name the three garbled songs (“Sex and Candy” by Marcy Playground, “Walkin’ on the Sun” by Smashmouth, and “Kiss the Rain” by Billie Meyers, if you were curious).

While I camped out next to my radio every Sunday evening, I used to make lists of my favorite songs.  They were always long and I went through a lot of them; I’ve never had just one favorite song because I’ve always suffered from an astonishing inability to make up my mind.  I wish I had kept those lists, but I was one of those teenagers who was convinced that I would never forget the minutiae of my teenage experience, that I would always remember what it was like to be a teenager.  After all, I kept a diary.  I had a great memory.  I wouldn’t forget – I wouldn’t let myself!

But of course I did forget.  I forgot what it was really like to be a teenager (as I found out when I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower and found myself not connecting with anyone most of the time) and quite a lot of other things, too, as it turns out.  Finding these tapes has helped me rediscover a part of myself that has long been dormant, a part of myself that I would like to uncover further and get to know once again.  As I recall, I was much more idealistic in my youth, and much more fearless.  I’d like to regain some of that.

And now I think I’ll scamper off to Google to see if I can’t find some more songs that were popular back in the good ol’ days.  I think I’ll start with Eve 6:

Here’s to the nights we felt alive
Here’s to the tears you knew you’d cry
Here’s to goodbye
Tomorrow’s gonna come too soon…

(c) 2013.  All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Mix tape memories

  1. bennettonbooks says:

    You youngsters don’t know how good you had it. I had to make my mix tapes from the radio, listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty. Carly Simon. Aretha Franklin. Oh, those were the days.


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      I may be too young for Casey Kasem (at least for his original broadcasts, anyway), but I started off recording my mix tapes from the radio. It wasn’t till my senior year that I progressed to CD’s – that was the year that I first had access to the internet at home and even then, it was dial-up. Good ol’ dial-up. . .oh the memories! 🙂


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