[Hype Hype Hooray] The Mixtape, Part 1: Unearthing a Relic

MixtapeJamie normally writes a very straightforward music column about very straightforward music things, but for the next few installments he will be exploring a childhood mixtape, recently found in a box in his closet. This is part one. 

My hands rummage through an old orange shoebox from the top shelf of my closet. I’m looking for last year’s tax return–a document that always seems to stay lost. Wrist-deep in the box, I dig through an odd assortment of artifacts: pens, guitar picks, two pocket knifes, an old watch, cocktail recipes scribbled furiously on scraps of cardboard. Buried in the rubble, sandwiched between old check books, is a single cassette.

I pull it out and turn it over in my hands. It’s a mixtape, one of those old Maxell 90-minute cassettes I used to buy in packs of 20 at Circuit City. I find the title on the spine: “Jamie’s Mix, 1999.” I’m floored. This isn’t any ordinary mixtape–it’s the first mixtape I ever made.

This is a beautiful piece of history–of my history at least. It’s a relic, long forgotten and cast aside in a junk box in the closet. What memories does it hold? What secrets does it hide? Do I submit this to a museum? Do they take things like this?

I study the artifact. The case is nice–one of those hard shell plastics, not the flimsy things that spiderweb cracked after a single fall to the floor. I imagine my childhood self sifting through all the tapes in the house, looking for the sturdiest case to house my treasure.

The track list is written on the insert in pencil. Underneath it is another list entirely, furiously erased and covered up. I wonder how many times I remade it, honing the track list, writing and rewriting, analyzing and ordering and perfecting, crafting the perfect tape for long, lonely bus rides to school.

I’m eager to see what my 11-year-old self thought was the perfect tape. The track list only names the songs–it was assumed that any future listener would know the bands behind the titles. Running down the tracks, I do in fact recognize them all: “All Star,” “Who Needs Sleep,” “Save Tonight,” “The Way,” a dozen and a half more.

My mind is racing now, already flooding with memories, eager to remember more about the great mixtape from 1999. I root through another shoe box until I finger a chunky old walkman. It’s not my childhood model, but a cheap replacement bought at a grocery store sometime in high school. Still, it’ll do.

I carefully remove the tape from the case. I look at the wheels and see it’s no more than two tracks into side A. There’s no rewind button (maddeningly), so I slide side B into the player and hit fast forward. Nothing happens. I inspect the insides. There’s no sign of damage, everything seems to be in working order. I roll it over and pop open the battery compartment. It’s empty. I’m an idiot.

I loot the house for some spare AAs, but nothing turns up. I sit back and sigh. The mixtape will have to wait, but that’s somehow more fitting. In our era of instant gratification, here’s this ancient relic that’s anything but instantaneous. It must have taken hours, days, weeks to craft this tape–this one single tape. How many hours did I kneel on the carpet in my bedroom, queuing up CDs, timing it all just right? How many sheets of paper lay strewn around the house, drafts of track lists scribbled out, circled, underlined?

I wonder if I ever thought about giving up, about finding a less-taxing hobby. Did I ever wonder if it was really worth it in the end? Looking at the end result, “Jamie’s Mix 1999,” some 14 years later, there’s not a doubt in my mind. It’s more than just a mixtape, it’s a time capsule. For roughly 90 minutes, I get a stunningly frank look into my childhood.

I can’t take the anticipation any longer. I grab my keys and put on my shoes. I need those batteries tonight. I need to hear this mixtape.

Part 1 | Part 2

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