There is an art to creating a great mixed tape. And by mixed tape I mean anything that you can use to compile a playlist of songs: burned CDs, iPod playlists, and now Spotify seems to be the place for this artistic measure to take place.
It’s an art form I’ve spent much time trying to perfect, but never seem to master. I always fall short. Maybe it’s because I’m constantly comparing my efforts to one I received in mid-twenties, one I still have that was made by a girl named Rebecca. This is, in part, the story of her and the mystery songs that I’m only a step closer to figuring out.
I was born into the age of the mixed tape (I’m actually talking about the cassettes here now). I began by recording songs off the radio and progressed, with the help of my parents’ stereo, to recording from one tape to another. I’d swap with friends and even steal my siblings’ best efforts; I’d make ones for studying, hiking, and driving (especially those long drives when you need just the right travel songs). I filled a grocery bag full for my first backpacking trip across Europe when I was nineteen. Stuffed them into my 10L pack right beside my rolls of film (remember those?).
And then Compact Discs and Napster came along and elevated the mixed tape game. Burning CDs became a hobby for me and my friends. We tried to create the ultimate killer mix, and there were some great ones. It became a communal thing: a community of twenty-something music fans trying to find the right Radiohead song that could follow an I Mother Earth tune; could it be possible?
So I guess this is kind of a sentimental piece, a bit of a reverie for bands I used to listen to, bands like the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and partly a shout out to an ex-girlfriend who has long forgotten me.
While, I can’t say I know exactly why I’m writing this, I do know the impetus for it: I finally watched the music documentary, Dig, after having it on my must-watch list for over ten years. I guess I just forgot about it until it entered a conversation with some friends the other weekend. And then I got sick and housebound. After devouring everything watchable on Netflix (not much), I searched for Dig and found the entire movie uploaded to Youtube.
Hearing the Brian Jonestown Massacre sent me on a trip! I used to listen to them around the time I graduated from university, right around the time I my hobby of burning CDs was at its peak. I was just a naïve kid with an English Lit degree and a serving job at the Keg. Enter Rebecca. Middle name A-something. Last name D——-. She was a successful lawyer at a large firm in London, Ontario. Completely out of my league. But she sat in my section one night with a person I assumed was her boyfriend, who actually turned out to be her brother.
As a server, sometimes people sit in your section and say two words to you. They stare at you while you’re explaining the menu (I can still recite my ‘Keg steak story’ to this day if anyone’s interested) and then place their order and that’s about it. And sometimes you talk to a table so much that you feel like you’ve become good friends by the end of the meal. Well, Rebecca A. D. fell into the latter category.
Ultimately, we ended up discussing music throughout her meal and I took it as a good learning experience. She was into bands I’d never heard of (like the BJM) and all I had to mumble about was how important the new Interpol album was to me. We carried that conversation on after the meal ended. She stuck around in the Keg lounge for me to finish, and we started dating shortly after.
She was a couple years older and established in every way that I wasn’t. She had a successful career and penthouse apartment in a downtown London condo building overlooking Richmond and Dundas. I didn’t have any people like that in my life at the time. None of my friends had any money or clarity about their future. My ex-girlfriends had all been servers in restaurants sharing apartments with their student friends and pondering where to travel next. She gave me a glimpse into what an ‘adult’ life looked like. We ate steak and lobster on her expensive plates overlooking the city sunset. We listened to music on a stereo that cost more than my year’s rent.
I’m still not sure to this day what Rebecca saw in me and why she invested time into us when I’m sure she could have dated any number of up-and-coming, thirty-something yuppies at her law firm instead of a twenty-five year old server with a Liberal Arts degree. And we only dated for a few months, so she probably doesn’t even remember me at all, but she’s someone I’ll never forget because she made a lasting impact on my musical direction. She got me into the Brian Jonestown Massacre. And she made me the best mixed tape I’ve ever owned. One I still listen to regularly. The only song that has a small scratch in it is the Flaming Lips’ Do You Realize? but otherwise it still plays perfectly, which is a lot to say for a Compact Disc, the worst technology ever invented in regards to durability.
There is a line in one of my favourite movies, Before Midnight, that goes “…just like our life. We appear and we disappear. And we are so important to some, but we are just passing through.” I like this speech in the dinner scene because it refers to the unknowable impact we have on people. We pass through others’ lives so often not knowing what impact we are leaving; sometimes we assume it’s very little and sometimes we believe it’s great. But we never know and are often wrong. Rebecca A.D. has no idea the stamp she left on my life as she passed through it, but she left a mark: something tangible. Rebecca made me the best mixed CD I’ve ever owned.
I never came close to creating something like it. I still listen to it ten years later and it still leaves me inspired by its perfect selection and sequence of songs.
But the thing about this mixed CD is that it never came with a track list, which means that out of the twenty songs she so deftly selected for my listening pleasure, there are four (now three) songs that are a mystery. I don’t know the artist or the song name. So they only exist on this CD that is bound to get ruined one of these days. There were four songs for ten years that I listened to in ignorance. And after watching the movie Dig, I realized during a clip of a Dandy Warhols’ live performance, that one of those songs was theirs.
So now there are three.
I know there is something called Shazam that would allow me to find out instantly who sings the other three and what they’re called, but I’ve chosen to let it unfold organically and hope the CD lasts until I find them out. It felt really cool to hear one of my mystery songs revealed the other night as I watched the Brian Jonestown Massacre slowly implode on screen in the brilliant documentary, one I highly recommend.
So, instead of opting for the instant gratification that an app can give me, I’m hoping that I’ll unravel the mystery that Rebbeca AD started for me when I was twenty-five.
The CD is labeled Mix B Kix and underneath it, a heart with her initials: RAD. Indeed it is. I think it’s pretty rad the way you passed through my life so briefly, Rebecca, yet left me such an important piece of art, one whose mastery I’m still reaching for: the art of the mixed tape.
Written by Jesse Wilkinson