Friday, January 19, 2007

mix tape

On Sunday evening, while delivering the kids to their respective small group locations, I heard a piece on All Things Considered about Rob Sheffield’s new book, Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time. When I’d finished my taxi driving, I drove to Barnes and Noble to buy it, but alas, they had just closed. Last night, after gym time, I drove Allison over there for a cup of joe, and to grab the book.
In only half a chapter, my processor has retrieved a couple decades of memories, emotions, and meanings and placed them immediately accessible into my RAM. I read the few pages upon crawling into bed last night just as my eyes began to cross and my lids weighed down and my mind morphed into the other world. No doubt, I carried the thoughts with me where they would play all night, because so far this morning, amidst fielding last minute add/drop deadline advising tasks, I am completely consumed with thoughts triggered by those pages.

Music. There is no more powerful earthly force. There are people in whose lives music plays no role whatever. I’ve always considered these people weaklings.

In my life, I see two distinct roles music has played. It has shaped me, and it has been my means of expressing my shape. Maybe I shouldn’t say distinct roles, because at some point one realizes that his shape will be seen. And down deep, music doesn’t define me, it is merely the language that expresses my definition. At the very least, music has influenced what I think about, and how I think about it, and it has become the truest expression of my thoughts.
When one looks back, it is seemingly easy to sum up the big influencers of his life. They are usually the things that still play. But from time to time, we are made to realize the plethora of smaller bits that have profoundly played through the years. If you were known by a snapshot, what would the soundtrack be? This is not a tough question to answer for me, because there exist boxes of extant soundtracks from various points in my life. Each is inseparably tethered to places, experiences, and people.
There are bands ands albums to which I’ve listened consistently for years. They’ve influenced me profoundly. But there are others that I listened to non-stop for shorter periods of time. This has always been my modus operandi. Over time, these temporal obsessions are forgotten, but their influence lives on. Often the context, environment, and company they played into are also forgotten. But all can be regained, relived with a couple of bars from one of those tunes. One finds that without thinking, he still knows all the words, all the riffs, and still expects it to be followed by the next song on his mix tape. It would be a mistake to think that the impact of those tunes was any less than that of the longer run music. In fact, there is no doubt that the short obsession music influenced the way I experienced the long haul music.

One doesn’t always get to choose what connections music will serve in the future. Songs that meant little, were not liked, or even despised, will later emerge as the carriers of memories that are sweet and fragrant and nostalgic and warming. Songs that were important favorites and deeply meaningful can someday connect themselves to painful experiences or memories and become painful themselves.

For several years after graduation and marriage, my college roommate and I exchanged mix tapes by mail as a way of remaining engrained in one another’s lives. We made “remember this?” mix tapes and “you’ve got hear this” mix tapes. It was always a thrill to get those in the mail, and to listen to the tunes as I recorded his onto the tapes.

These days, I walk around with my entire music collection contained in a pocket-sized rectangle. It plugs into my home stereo, my car stereo, my computer and my ears. It will even create mixes for me that will cause me to listen to tunes I haven’t heard in years. But back in the day, in order to listen to music in any place other than the house, I had to insert a cassette, and create ride music, or workout music, or greasemonkey music, to take with me. And it would play over and over until it was burned into my being. Some songs appeared on every tape, some only in the company of others, but each collection had mood and meaning. Each spoke to who I was, who I was becoming, or who I wanted to be.

Now, I am, and I am still becoming, in the same way I was back then when I was becoming what I am now. I wonder what mix of expressions and melodies and rhythms will be the soundtrack in the years to become.

Soundtrack mix for the blogging of this blurb:

Kansas – “Questions of my Childhood”
The Decemberists – “The Island”
Roland Dyens – “Libra Sonatine – India”
Rush – “La Villa Strangiato”

Related: Nostalgic Nudge