Jamie 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 two.
I stand in my kitchen at two in the morning, furiously cramming two AA batteries into my old walkman. For some reason they don’t want to fit. This shoddy machine is the only thing standing between me and my recently-rediscovered childhood mixtape. A tiny misshapen piece of plastic is ruining my beautiful moment. I stop, take a breath, and carefully fit them in.
I flip the tape to side B. I throw it in, I hit fast forward, and I wait. And I wait. And I wait. After 30 seconds I tell myself I appreciate the delayed gratification. A minute passes and the optimism gives way to rage. I start to remember why everybody was so eager to switch to CDs.
The tape finally stops. I pull it out, flip it over, and slide it back in. I press play.
The sound crackles warmly in my ears. Tiny, barely audible wisps of noise pop in and fade out–little pulses of electricity running across the weary tape. Then, suddenly, as if from behind a bush, Steve Harwell’s iconic voice jumps out and starts yelling.
“Walking out of the door I’m on my way can you tell me just where I’m going / Occupational skills would you give me a clue what to do ’cause my mind’s in motion!”
A huge smile spreads across my face. Oh, Smash Mouth. I remember them so well. They were one of the first bands I ever truly loved. Running down the track list, I see the love was not forgotten on Jamie’s Mix 1999. It includes not one, not two, but six songs by the short-lived pop/rock legends. But each song is a gem, in some way, to my strange 11-year-old self.
The whole track list, handwritten on the insert in pencil, looks like this:
Come On Come On
Can’t Get Enough of You
Walkin’ on the Sun
Never is Enough
Who Needs Sleep
Come Out and Play
Jump Jive an’ Wail
Zoot Suit Riot
Working in the Coal Mine
As the tape winds on the memories start flooding back. They sweep me up and carry me away, leaving me a helpless bystander to the past:
I remember 1999 pretty well. I was 11 years old, in either fifth or sixth grade. I was at the threshold between the end of childhood and the beginning of puberty. My family had recently relocated from Portland to Philadelphia, a jarring transition that cost me my friends, along with the rest of the life I had started to build in the Pacific Northwest.
Frustrated and bored, I started digging through my dad’s CD collection, a growing behemoth that inflated with periodic shipments from the Columbia Record Club. As a family, we always listened to music. Each of us has a slightly different taste, but it all branches off the same core. That core lives within the heart and soul of my dad’s collection.
The selection is interesting. It was curated by a musical madman, always on the hunt for something new. The inclusions and omissions seem arbitrary: the Stones but not Zeppelin, Byrne but not Bowie. You won’t find any Radiohead, but you’ll unearth bands like Folk Implosion, Reacharound, Sweet Water.
Smash Mouth’s “Padrino” comes on the mixtape. I see my father’s mad genius.
I raided the stash daily, lugging fistfuls of CDs to my room, playing them on repeat, poring over the liner notes. It wasn’t long before I decided to consolidate. I grabbed a blank Maxell tape from our basement stock one day, and plugged it into an old boom box on the floor of my room. I played my favorite of my dad’s CDs through a brand new Discman (Christmas ’98), balanced precariously on top of the tape deck, slowly generating the mix of my dreams.
The music was great. The late ’90s was an odd time for rock (for reasons I briefly discussed back in my 9/11 series). The scene was full of guys like Smash Mouth, Third Eye Blind, Fastball. They played that cool-stoner-party-guy shit; it was slick as hell and it fucking rocked.
They sang about sex, booze, drugs, suicide. It was a story of both bravado and fear, told through crunching electric guitars, the music pumping out of their cables and into my headphones. The twisted tale of rock and roll echoed through my mind.
I’ve lost myself to the tape. Before I know it, side A fades out on the bewitching horns of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. I fast forward to the end, pull the tape out, and slide in side B. After six seconds of crackling, “Semi-Charmed Life” starts, then stops, then starts again. The tape whines magnetically, the sound distorting just enough to make it comforting.
I lean back and close my eyes. I can see that weird little kid, his greasy face and buzzcut, tuning out the world around him for a different place, a better place. The tape is like a manifesto–a rhythm to which he lives.
Soon, he’ll start to grow up. He’ll start to develop a music taste not unlike his father’s (The Kills not The Killers). He’ll twist and turn in unseen directions, growing farther away from the life he once lived, growing farther from the mixtape he always cherished.
Listening to it now is like digging up a root. I trace it backwards, as far as it goes, only to find it comes back to myself. But it’s not so much a part of who I am as it is a byproduct of my experiences. It was something I created to help me grow up. To me, it was a necessity. It was comforting. It was my mixtape.
Part 1 | Part 2