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For the Love of Mix Tapes

2010 October 25

It’s official. The Sony Walkman is dead. I might not have a clue where my old Walkman is buried these days or if it is even still in my possession, but I’m saddened by the news that this icon of my generation is no longer to be found in stores. (Ok, not in Japanese stores…but we all know it’s coming for the rest of us too).

Sure, there are iPods and iTouches and myriad mp3 players, but it’s not the same. The Walkman could not be discreetly and quietly stowed in a pocket for your individual listening pleasure. It’s bulk screamed, “I’M HIP AND I LOVE MUSIC!” from the sagging-from-the-weight waistband upon which it was clipped. Sometimes it even made a repetitive grinding noise as the wheel turning the cassette tape spun away, reminding you (and those in close proximity) of just how cool you are.

In reality, the weighty Walkman and that grinding noise are much better appreciated in a trip down memory lane. But with the Walkman becoming obsolete, music lovers and teens everywhere suffer another quiet casualty: the loss of the mix tape. Yeah, yeah, playlists, mix CDs, blah, blah, blah — it’s not the same. A mix tape was something special. A personal message crafted just for you. It could be a message of love or friendship or just plain fun, but it was anything but meaningless. After all, making a mix tape isn’t just a matter of dragging a few files from your iTunes library to an icon. It was a labor of love that involved sifting through stacks and stacks of tapes and CDs, narrowing down the choices to only the most poignant 60 ┬áminutes of music, crafting the proper song order and then actually sitting through a playing of each song as it transferred from one medium to the other. Whatever the motive, there’s meaning in those choices.

When all the music was transferred, there was still work to do. Song titles to be written, artists to be cited, and perhaps the most important indication to the listener of what was to come: a title for the tape. In the years that I’ve been unable to listen to my mix tapes, I’ve found the handwriting scrawled all over the tapes and cases to be almost as strong a trigger for nostalgia as the music itself. Then there was the actual listening ritual. Where I grew up, school days didn’t start and end standing and waiting for a school bus. We walked to school and we walked home, listening to music on our Walkmans. For that walk, your mix tape was the soundtrack to your life. It could get you psyched for a game, excited for a trip, make you fall in love or break your heart.

But that’s mix tapes; so what’s the big deal about the Walkman, you say? First, a Walkman is the best way to listen to a mix tape. Period. No argument can convince me otherwise. Second, it is nearly impossible to buy a stereo system or even a car with a cassette player anymore. Thus, millions of us who were teens in the ’80s and ’90s must live the rest of our lives with boxes of mixed tapes collecting dust in shoeboxes under our beds – left like mini time capsules never to be opened again.

With today’s technology, you get music — lots of it with good quality in a tiny package. And I love that. I really and truly do. But for all its sleek simplicity I feel it is lacking the most important part of music: sentimentality. Maybe I’m just a product of my generation or maybe the mix tape really was something special. Maybe one of my college friend’s had me pegged when he made “Christa’s Hopelessly Romantic (& Depressing) Mix” or maybe my high school friend said all that needed to be said when he quoted Shakespeare on a tape he mailed me at college:

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

That quote is, after all, now engraved on the back of my iPod.

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The For the Love of Mix Tapes by MushBrain, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Terms and conditions beyond the scope of this license may be available at
2 Responses Post a comment
  1. October 26, 2010

    I’m now doing a big trip down memory lane myself! How I miss those days…
    You are so right about the bulk and weight of a walkman, not to mention the (usual) bright yellow of it that screamed out for miles… I wish I could find all my old mix tapes now…

    A well written post, nicely done!

  2. October 27, 2010

    Thanks, Midnight Mama! The other great thing about those bright yellow Walkmans: they could take a serious beating. I can’t count the number of times I dropped that thing and still it kept going. My first iPod became a very expensive doorstop after just one drop.

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