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Getting into the mix of things: Next generation missing out on musical medley making mania

Posted: Sunday, December 21, 2008

I have long been one of those people who believes when you build a machine to do something for a man, you take something away from the man, and one of my most recent laments is for the lost art of making mix tapes.

Growing up, music was my life, much as it still is for many adolescent and teens today. One of the main differences is I carefully scrutinized over the 90 minutes of music I listened to rather than having hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of songs hastily downloaded and stored on an iPod.

Where's the connection to the music?

I remember back in the 80s, a huge part of youth culture was making a mix tape, and it was a labor of love -- literally. During my post-pubescent awkward years, girls were extremely interesting, but frightening to talk to, so I let my mix tapes do the talking for me. Of course, the art of the activity was still in getting my feeling across, but in a non-chalant kind of way.

I wouldn't just lead the tape with the Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited." That would just scare a girl away. There were also rules such as no songs that were good, but about breaking up, such as Soft Cell's "Tainted Love," or songs that could send a mixed message such as Micheal Jackson's "Beat It."

I had to wade into the water with something that just really rocked to get and hold her attention, to carefully lure her into the songs about my true feelings. I would start with something such as Joan Jett and the Blackheart's "I Love Rock-n-Roll," or Van Halen's (not Van Hagar's) "Jump."

This set a fun, positive theme after which I could introduce the first song that hinted -- and only hinted -- at my feelings. Something such as Huey Lewis and the News' "I Want a New Drug" would be perfect if the girl picked up on the lyric "One that makes me feel like I feel when I'm with you."

After this, I had to mix it up again, so the girl didn't start to suspect I was going to be a stalker. The Go's Go's "We Got the Beat" or Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax," could easily break any tension she might have been having.

At some point though, usually safely buried near the end of tape, I had to get to the real meat and potatoes. I'd just put it all out there with something like Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" and hope for the best.

Of course, describing this process only covers the songs used to express my feelings and their transitions from one to another. It leaves out all the artistic considerations that also went into making a mix tape, such as reducing the audible click between songs which required fast fingers on the pause button of the recorder. I also had to contend with creating equal levels, by softening loud songs and vice-versa.

Then there was always the most difficult part of the process: finding a last song -- not too short, or too long -- to take the mix right to the end of the tape. This could take hours to find a song the fit for length, as well as musically and meaningfully with the rest of the tape.

Unfortunately, the increased availability of CD burners and MP3 players have led to the near extinction of mix tapes. And I know that these modern devices are more durable, can hold more songs, and require minutes -- rather than hours -- to prepare, but look what has been sacrificed for convenience.

Musical compilations are no longer passionate and meaningful works of art. Using a mouse to drag song titles and clicking the "record" button has eviscerated the whole experience for present and future generations of middle school and high school kids.

I wonder if they could even understand the irony if, like a mix tape, I ended with the a song stating my real feelings. Maybe some parent reading this could help them download Queen's song "Another One Bites the Dust" and explain it to them.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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