Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Mix Tape at Dusk

I now have the capability to listen to an iPod in my car. But with that capability it seems like I will be saying goodbye to something else - the mix tape in my old tape deck. (Yes this car is old.)

The mix tape, and it's little brother, the mix CD. For a solid three decades or so (1970s, '80s, '90s) the occupied a special place in our culture. It was a way to make an artistic statement without having any artistic ability. Nick Hornby pointed this out in Songbook. You need not play an instrument or be able to write well. All you need is the ability to choose songs. For yourself, for someone else. The mix was simultaneously entirely someone else's work and entirely your work. Other people wrote the songs, but no one put them together quite like you did. I can pick out sequences of mix tape beauty that I'm still happy about. Squarepusher's "Tommib" into Stars' "Elevator Love Letter" - perfect. Weakerthans into Joy Division into Metric. Again, beautiful.

I fear for the future of the mix. I still make them, but in an age where you can get every piece of music online (legally or otherwise) and where the audio tape is obsolete and the CD going that way I don't know that they will survive. Will it be the same to say, "here, download these songs in this sequence and listen on your iPod? I doubt it. But that's your other choice I guess. I don't know, maybe this is just generational. I'm sure that many decried the decline of lute-playing as a recreational activity when that happened. Maybe that's all that's happening here.