#2

I keep feeling like the first real entry, hereby known as #2, should be something epic, but I’m not feeling very epic at the moment. I have handed out the first ‘issue’ assignments, although, considering this isn’t a magazine, I have no idea why I just called it an issue, nor are there deadlines or anything, so, really, there is an issue with calling anything an ‘issue,’ as it were (what does ‘as it were’ actually mean? I’m really baffled by it).

For Valentine’s Day, I made Gillian four (4) mixed CDs filled with sappy songs and crappy songs that I dub ‘Joel Specials.’ While it is not nearly the same making a mixed CD using iTunes as it is putting together a mix tape, it sure is faster and easier. I suppose, then, that is why the art of the mix tape is lost nowadays (and, yes, I know it isn’t completely lost, and I’m sure there are plenty of people still out there sitting in front of a stereo as they pour over albums, searching, rewinding, rerecording, etc., etc., etc., and to them, I send my applause [speaking of which, songs with handclaps are awesome; that’s a list that needs to exist {keep that in mind, J.}] and thank you for your dedication to an art so overlooked now): streamlining. And, yes, I know, here is where I go into how a mixed tape is far more intimate, something that is not just a collection of songs, but a construct of time, labor, and love; here is where I tell you, dear Reader, that nothing can compare to a mixed tape filled with fuzz between songs, rough beginnings and rough endings, songs squashed and moved about to fit properly onto a side; here is where I announce my undying love for the art of song order, the art of sitting there, headphones on in such a John Cusackian way that elicits both awe and shucks and love–but, instead, I’m going to tell you that putting together a CD while sifting through the thousands upon thousands of songs that I have collected on my hard drive over the years is actually just as labor and time and love intensive.

This may seem implausible; there’s no way anything can compare to Art, and we all know a cassette of songs put there by a person sitting and waiting is an Art. Just imagine the patience required, the intimacy of a moment in time that this dedication requires: albums sprawled all over a room, the person sitting there with crossed legs listening to the song he picked, then up on his knees looking around for that one album, that specific album with that specific song that will follow this song now playing, the search occupying so much attention that he must scramble when he realizes the song is about to end, he must hit stop, he must have the next song ready; just imagine him sitting there, notebook in hand, writing down song titles, crossing things out, scrambling once again as he remembers a song that he forgot, that he knows will be perfect–that is what we consider when thinking about the art of a mixed tape. The tape itself is, often, a byproduct of the energy put into it. Now, I know that mixed tapes have a purpose, and, therefore, they must be excellent songs, but often, because a tape is by definition confined, the true art is working around those restrictions (and, yes, I realize a CD-R also has restrictions, usually 80 minutes, which, ironically, is shorter than the 90 minute tape, but there is not halfway point to worry about, no need to reconstruct a tape to minimize the amount of silence at the end to fast forward through to just get to the next side, not as much worry about if a song will suddenly cut out [although, of course, a CD can have too many songs, so one must edit it down lower than 80 minutes]).

However, a mixed CD is still an art, albeit a more technological one. I spent days on this. I went through each album on my iTunes song by song, and, while you may say, ‘Joel, that is still easier than going through all of your physical albums,’ and I would not disagree, it was still an overwhelming experience. What songs to pick? Listen to one, elect another. Collect them in a giant list. Break down that list into smaller, but equal number, lists. Organize and rework. Listen to the rough draft version of the album, think about another song, cut one out. It was, obviously, a far more streamlined experience than a cassette would have been, but I also had far more songs to choose from. The mindset is, in some ways, entirely different. With a mixed tape, I already have an idea for its shape; with these CDs, my only guide was ‘Valentine’s Day.’ Perhaps I’m merely justifying my use of iTunes instead of a tape.

What is it about mixes, in general, that we consider so important? The Workout Mix. The Sad Mix. The Party Mix. I have mixes named things like, ‘Too Old to Dance?,’ ‘So Hot to Rock,’ ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit But Hoes and Tricks,’ among others. These mixes have no actual use that I know of, but they are memories contained to a set of songs, of friends, of certain times, of a completely stupid desire to collect songs by female artists that I secretly enjoy and then blast them on road trips. They are essential to my music listening experience. Is an iTunes mix actually a byproduct of our desire to have things faster, sooner? As in, it is easy to put all of these songs together, a sort of disparate ‘greatest hits’ that we know we will enjoy because we handpicked these songs, and now we don’t have to bother with the actual albums they come from, don’t have to worry about filler songs or anything else? We are provided with the instant gratification of songs we know we like, over and over. The mixes become, in essence, a barometer of our inability to work our way through something. In a world based on speed, access, and personal satisfaction, an album cannot compete with a mix.

That’s kind of strange contradiction, though, when considering the time that often goes into a mixed tape or a mixed CD. I suppose it could be argued that there is a difference between the mixed tape and the iTunes playlist mix. Actually, nix the ‘I suppose.’ The iTunes mix is typically designed as a selfish act, at least in my case. I may think of them as things that could be enjoyed with others, but their purpose is entirely selfish. They are my songs, my lists, a collection of things for me to hear; a mixed tape or CD is for somebody else; the time that goes into it is part of the process, and, thus, part of the gift. Of course, the songs picked could be selfish, things I desire Gillian to like, but overall, I just want to share something with her, this construct of our relationship according to the lyrical and musical prowess of a bunch of strangers (that sort of ruins the intimacy of it all). Rephrase: a construct of our relationship according to a variety of songs that I hope say to her, ‘I love you this much (and if I had a stereo now with a tape player, I would have made you a tape, but this way you get four albums, instead of just one tape, because making one tape takes forever).’

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