May 27, 2024

Column: “That Got Me to Thinkin’…?” “The Mixed Tape”


“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “The Mixed Tape” Chapter 80
By Bruce Williams

Bruce Williams

As I was lying in bed last night scrolling through Apple Music making a playlist, my sleeping wife rolled in the other direction as Family Guy droned bluely in the background, I thought back to making mixed tapes in my youth…you know—that perfect combo for peeling out of Sea Galley after a particular fishy shift, or the one that’d tell her how you really felt because it wasn’t cool to actually communicate; the mullet wouldn’t allow it.  

It took just a few thumbstrokes to load most of what I wanted—not like the days of waiting with your boom box to capture the latest hits recorded off of the radio…a little bit of the deejay’s voice at the start or a snippet of a faded-in commercial on its tail.  At one point I had a dual cassette recorder, which enabled me to splice “Holy Diver” with “Back in Black” and let Ronnie James Dio and Brian Johnson finally have it out in a shirtless back-and-forth.

I had a friend, Darren Hungerford (or The Hunger as we called him) who was constantly combining Bowie records from his turntable.  His fascination with the Thin White Duke eluded me (still kind of does, though I’ve gained an appreciation for Bowie after his death), and once he discovered marijuana about the same time the rest of us were discovering girls, his mixed-tapery only accelerated.  Thin, pimply, braces that seemed permanent, and a Butthead-like flat, sarcastic delivery, The Hunger would trap you in his grandmother’s car and victimize you with a hailstorm of Ziggy.  At one point I couldn’t take anymore of his B-side compilations, so I punched “eject” and tossed the Maxell tape out the open window.  Furious and with mouth agape (his mouth was always kind of open, come to think of it), he angrily dropped me off at home and refused to talk to me for several days until after I bought him a two-pack of clean cassettes and left them with his mom.  

My sister Linda got her first job as a candy striper at St. Pete’s, and began to roll around in our parents’ cars with a giant portable stereo facing up on the seat between us.  Journey, Foreigner, Pat Benatar…she’d even let her kid brother put in a little Billy Joel sometimes—his early stuff from The Stranger or 52nd Street when he was still a rocker and before he got all pop and doo-woppy.  We’d cruise around Tumwater thinking we were cool, the music loud and the windows down.

Then in ‘89, John Cusack came along and proved us right—hoisting his boom box above his head below his desired’s window in Say Anything… and letting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” do his talking for him as his Lloyd Dobler attempted to woo Ione Skye’s Diane Court (what ever happened to her?).  And it worked!  See…just the right tune can change minds and drop Levi’s, if applied appropriately.  The mixed tape became the last bastion in an attempt to save a doomed relationship—“If I can just get these songs right, she’ll see that what we’ve got is worth saving!” Sorry, bud…It won’t and it’s not.

Now days my mixers are all hard rock and heavy metal for my 45-minute commute.  I’ve got some softer classic rock combos for when Michelle’s in the truck (I would never normally listen to Fleetwood Mac by myself), but thankfully I’m not trying to salvage my relationship or convince someone they should give me another shot by telling her that she should just listen to U2’s “One.”  There’s Spotify and Pandora—you can just type in a song or band and they’ll create a whole thread for you.  Album rock (where you used to listen to the whole thing end-to-end while perusing the record’s artwork) is dead, and I guess so is the sad magic of the mixed tape—now replaced by the even sadder, “Have you seen my new Tik Tok video?!”  Sigh.