Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mixed Tapes

I had a sudden, whimsical thought after walking away from twitter and immersing my hands in dish soap. I was thinking about a few people who had just been conversing, and thinking about the music I was listening to, and had a sudden desire to share specific music with them. Right away my mind found a few bands, a few songs that I thought each one would really appreciate. And I realized I was constructing mixed tapes. Like when I was 17. I smiled, and let my automiton housewife finish the chores while I remembered 17 for awhile. I thought it might be fun to put together playlists for each of them and actually share them.

Since then, I've thought some more. It's interesting what is clear in retrospect.

Mixed tapes were like the currency of friendship when I was 17. Banded loosely by a some combination of social exclusion, oddness, deepness, intelligence and sensitivity that seemed lacking in the general teenaged population, people in my underworld varied widely. Strung-out druggies, rich slummers with mohawks, comic geeks, artists, poets, musicians, the sexually curious, stoners, punks, and me. Whatever I was.

We dwelled in the same scummy places, some because that's where they lived, the rest of us because it was so interesting and felt so safe. You don't have to be afraid of the Other when you are one. There were particular houses, restaurants, coffee holes, and when I had free time I would cycle them until I found people I knew. We all did that, until we ended up at the same place. In the summer, outdoor nooks added to the roster, and many nights were spent on such wanders. Days, too - school was hardly a disturbance. I kept an A average, edited the yearbook, and came and went pretty much as I pleased.

I loved that time, the eclectic nature of our social network. Some of us were passing through, while others would never know anything else. Everyone was so different, and the way you found connections was through music. Shared music was how we expressed what we were thinking about, living with, working through at a given time. Shared music shaped your friendships, set their boundaries.

In that world, a mixed tape is not something taken lightly. It involves really thinking about what I know of the recipient, where I see our shared interests or sparks, and translating that through my impressively large and diverse musical collection. When I was 17, the collection was far smaller, but I was still painstaking in selection of each song, and placement in relation to the others. Only the most promising of friends were chosen for the honour of a mixed tape.

Receiving a mixed tape was, itself, an obligation. Listening to new music, not just for whether I liked it but for how it defined where the person who made it saw our overlaps or sparks. Seeing how closely they understood my tastes and pulled me into music I might never have pursued on my own by choosing the right elements and order. If such an undertaking is not well done, what would I say?

Because something must be said. Ideally, there will be a discussion, at some point, about some elements of the mixed tape. It is on those discussions that the future of the relationship rests. Thus, deeply ingrained in me is an underlying belief that a mixed tape is a commitment to see if we can be friends at a deeper level.

With all that realization swirling around, I started feeling a bit uncertain about my stated intention to prepare mixed tapes lists for my twitter friends. I actually have a pretty good sense of what I would include, so it's not the work. I felt, well, afraid.

I started thinking, maybe I'm not ready to commit to knowing and being known in this way by people I will never know. Or that such a commitment isn't really what they're looking for, anyway.

But that line of anxiety didn't feel quite like it fit anymore. The teenaged insecurity that required music as a gateway has passed, and I'm pretty out there already with my blog posts and tweets. Maybe, at this point, a mixed tape can be just what I thought it was when my hands were in the dish soap - fun. A light and loving way to reach out to a few people and say, when I heard this song, I thought of you. Onward and upward!