In high school my room would get to a certain sub health code level of messiness and my mother would finally put her foot down and ground me until I cleaned it. She would only allow my best and (in my opinion) militantly neat friend Diane to come over. She would sit by my stereo system and between barking out orders to “Pick that up-so we can GO!” entertain herself by trying to match all my home made mixed tapes which were scattered everywhere with their cases, while I half heartedly cleaned my room.
Do people still make mixed tapes? Well, not tapes, obviously, but the modern equivalent, whatever that is. Downloading a playlist from Cloudplayer, maybe? I asked Erik and his response was to shrug. How can that be? What better way to express yourself (Well, unless you’re talented enough to be able to compose your own music) to a friend or lover than compiling a selection of music just for them?
Until just recently, I still had all my mixed tapes. They were in the bottom of an old washstand in the foyer where I also keep my pink Hello Kitty hair dryer. As I stood in front of the hall mirror blowdrying my hair I would often think “I should do something with those.” Because from a Feng Shui standpoint they were cluttering up my life and holding me in the past. And from a reality based standpoint, it was stupid to hang on to tapes that I had no way of playing.
So recently I got a trash bag and steeled myself to throw them out. I sat down on the floor in front of the wash stand and began to toss them, telling myself not to even look at them because then I would get hopelessly distracted thinking I should write down forgotten songs I might want to download if I don’t already have them on my Mp3. So naturally I looked at all of them:
A Scorpions tape I bought during my big hair metal phase.
One with Mikey’s handwriting in blue felt tip, some Huey Lewis, some Madonna.
The Big Chill Soundtrack
A Tangerine Dream mix from a guy named Frank.
And this one with just the word Car on it? The Cars? A good mix to play in the car? Is this even mine? I have no recollection. I found myself looking for one tape in particular.
It was made for me in 1985 when I was living in Yokosuka, Japan by a 19 year old marine lance corporal I was dating at the time. I was a junior in high school. He was on barracks duty. I’ll refer to him as W. which was the first letter of his last name. Marines tend to call each other by their last name and I always called him by his. He told me it was originally a long and hard to pronounce and spell Polish name that his grandfather had shortened to something more American sounding. He was from Chicago. His dad worked for American Airlines at O’Hare. He was quiet and polite, even when my parents weren’t around. He had blue eyes and a little gap between his teeth and a tattoo of an eagle on one his arms. He took me to the prom and wore his dress blues. I have a photo of us taken in the photo booth behind Yokosuka Chuo train station. We are laughing, wearing sunglasses at night and our ubiquitous 80s jean jackets. A child of divorce, at nineteen he had already become a good cook out of necessity, in sharp contrast to my spoiled self, and would sometimes come over and cook for me and my friends. I’d catch him looking around my house as if he was surprised, after joining the USMC and moving half way across the world to a foreign country, to suddenly find himself back in an ordinary middle class American household, complete with a family dog, high school cliques, piano lessons and Dad, can we borrow the car?”
I finally found the case I was looking for. He had labeled it in his neat all caps print “Music Melting Pot” because he thought the term mix tape was annoyingly overused. I didn’t have to look at what’s written on the case to know the playlist. I played this tape a lot, would probably still play it now if I could, which gave me the idea to see what songs actually did make the journey form tape to CD, to my current mp3 player. And then to write an interesting-to- nobody-but-me post about it.( I tried to embed the actual songs via Rdio to make it more fun, but I think it links to the album, not the song and then I think you are kicked out of the post, at least that’s what it did to me when I previewed it. ) Anywho.
This is what W. put on side A. 28 years ago:
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwSJcTIc/Mexican Radio by Wall of VooDoo.- If you’re going to be a one hit wonder band like this band is, your hit should be as perpetually cool and playable as Mexican Radio. Something about the frantic opening makes it impossible for me to ever hit the forward button. 30 years later, I’m still listening to it on my Mp3 player.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwSJchY8/ Obsession by Animotion. Not on my Mp3 player. It’s a very 80s kind of song, but not in a good way. Geoff always liked this song way more than me. And so apparently did W. Maybe it’s a guy thing.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwSJdyFA/ Words and Walking in L.A. by Missing Persons– Both have also made it to my Mp3 The lead singer’s all grown up and disenchanted valley girl voice is quintessential 80’s to me.
“Shopping cart pusher, or maybe someone groovy. One thing’s for sure, he isn’t starring in the movies… ’cause he’s Walking in L.A.” It’s a great line, like, for sure.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwSJZD4c/ Relax and Two Tribes by Frankie Goes to Hollywood– These iconic 80’s songs did not survive the 30 year journey to my Mp3 player, but when I hear them on 80s on 8, I am compelled to sing along, causing my son to visibly cringe. And in case you were wondering what “Frankie” looks like now, I Googled him and it’s kind of a Frankie-Goes- to-Vegas-and-Does-a-Young-Elvis-Impression-Which-Isn’t-Terribly- Convincing-Because-Frankie-Looks-to-Be-in-His-60s-Now-If-I-Had-to- Guess-Look. I’m sure he’s a lovely person, though.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwSJcT1M/ The Lebanon by Human League This dark, political statement song wasn’t as popular as their irritating mega hit “Don’t You Want Me”. But I like it and it has made to my current playlist.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwSJcob4/Boys of Summer by Don Henley. – I took a film making class in college and the prof loved this music video. Loved it. We watched it many, many (many!) times. It almost ruined the song for me, but it did make it onto the Mp3. But to this day I can’t hear this song without seeing an image of those men jumping up behind a chain link fence. I think it was supposed to represent volleyball playing boys of summer who now are trapped in dead marriages and long for the days of their youth…or something. What a cushy dream of a job college film prof would be, don’t you think? I tried to find the video on Youtube and embed it, but, no luck.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwSJcO34/ In the Name of Love by U2. I have lots and lots of Bono’s wailing earnestness on my Mp3, but weirdly, not this .
One night W. wrote me a note when he was standing duty at a place called “The Command Cave” which was the base command center built into the side of a hill. On yellow legal pad paper he wrote how standing alone in the dark cave like atmosphere his thoughts would drift to his past and things he would have rather forgotten. Things he missed. And regretted. It was honest and thoughtful and melancholy, unlike any letter anyone had written my 16 year old self before. He had signed it with his first name, even though I never called him that. And while this letter left a huge impression on me that I still feel 3 decades later, my shallow teen aged self was utterly unprepared to respond in any meaningful way. So I just didn’t.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwSJdsXI/That’s All and Home By the Sea by Genesis. I generally like Genesis, before Phil went out on his own, and That’s All is on my Mp3 layer, but Home by the Sea is a song about old people forgotten in a home wating to die. Incredibly depressing, even for my emo taste. I was fast forwarding it back in 85 and I don’t have it now.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwSJXKx4/ Runaway by Bon Jovi. I don’t have this one, but I think I’m going to remedy that. It’s a catchy little tune……Oh, Jon, did you ever think you would be peddling Advil on TV? Me neither.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwSJdhWI Burning Down the House by The Talking Heads. David Byrne is just way-out-there weird and talented in a way that makes me smile. I have lots of his stuff including this.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwSJczqI/ Saved by Zero by The Fixx. I like the Fixx. I have several of their songs, including this one. I think of them as a British version of the Cars, only less mainstream and more complicated and…Yeah, you’re right. They’re nothing like the Cars.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwTfhU1Y/ I Can Dream About You- Dan Hartman This was one of those songs I didn’t like at the time but now thanks to the nostalgia factor, suddenly I’m singing along to it. Oh, look, E is cringing again! It’s not on my Mp3. Not yet, anyway.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwTdO8Uk/ Drive by The Cars. I don’t think it’s possible to have a good 80s mix without at least one song from the Cars. Ric Ocasek seemed to be at every party, standing against a wall in the background, deadpanning lyrics with his sunglasses and shoulderpads. I played the hell out of my Heartbeat City tape, and yes, of course, I have this song.
http://rd.io/x/QeRYwTdeKlbO/On the Darkside by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band This song wasn’t bad. It came from the movie Eddie and the Cruisers which was. ( Bad. It was Very bad.) This band always sounded to me like it was trying to imitate Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Lots of Springsteen on my Mp3, but not this.
Looking at the playlist, it seems to me it was not a declaration of love kind of tape, but more a “Here’s a bunch of songs I like and some…that make me want to cry” sampling. But the random moodiness of the content certainly resonated with me because these songs played a soundtrack to my life as I rode on the neon lit highways of the Kanto Plain for school basketball games and on long plane rides and afternoons spent studying or daydreaming. 28 years later I sat holding it on the floor of my foyer and felt that familiar melancholy as I remembered W.
As with a lot of things from my past, looking back I wish I had been kinder and more appreciative of W.. and a little less self- absorbed. (The fact that I’m writing a blog now doesn’t show much improvement there.) And most of all in this case, I wish I’d had the courtesy to call W. by his first name even once.
Thanks for the tunes, Scott. I’m still listening to them. When I put all my tapes in the trash bag , I decided to save yours out.