So, Writing 101 bids us to write about loss. I could get into some heavy stuff, but I prefer to keep it light tonight. So, let me tell yinz about a mix tape that went *poof* just as it was taking shape.
It was the spring of 1991, and there weren’t no interwebs. No sir, if you wanted to mix and match songs, you hadda go out and record ’em off of another cassette or CD. You hadda work for it! It took not only time and effort to record each song but it was often a challenge to search for and physically gather the music you wanted to record also. It could take weeks. As a result, it often became a challenge to build one that stood out. Sure, you could just blandly copy a favorite release from a friend to save a few bucks or just slap together a few random favorites of yours, but that wasn’t very satisfying in the long run. No, if you wanted something that would satisfy you and impress your friends and (hoped for) loved ones, you had to stretch your creative muscles and put a lot of thought and effort into it.
Now, one route was to build one based on a theme of some sort. It could be, say, a mix tape filled only with songs that featured the saxaphone in them (something you don’t hear a lot of these days – R.I.P. Clarence!) or maybe your best-of alternative breakup songs. Or, you could go for eclecticism. The tape I was building that spring was headed that way.
It started with a trip to Washington D.C. with a friend (He would later become a roommate and in the process a bitter enemy. But that’s another story.) I had made at WPTS, Pitt’s radio station. I was working as a news reader and he was the news director. We hit it off, and so I hopped a ride down to D.C. with him one weekend in late March on a road trip. On the way down and back, he played a most excellently varied tape of his own. It had everything from “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” to a couple of comedy bits to “Master of the House” from Les Miserables. I was suitably impressed – and inspired. And so, I got to work. I shamelessly borrowed his tape to copy “Istanbul” and “Master” but then followed my muse. I manged to find N.W.A.’s “100 Miles and Running” and included it. Best of all, I managed to get one of my fellow radio station news readers (and also future roommate – also part of that other story) to copy the theme to Late Night With David Letterman. I’m talking the original version that played to the opening of his NBC show, back when he was mean, bitchy, and awesomely hilarious in his own gonzo way. That theme. Oh yeah. He had to go in a record it from the old, blocky 8-track type radio cart tapes onto cassette. That was the icing on the cake. I was on a roll now, I was putting together something special, it was lightning in a bottle.
Or so it might have been. Joe asked to borrow the tape just before the end of spring semester in late April of ’91. I agreed. And that was the end of that. I never saw it again. I should have taken it as dark omen of that guy’s ways, too, but again, that’s another story, and I was young and naive. Still, that loss hurt. Sure, I would go on to make more mix tapes in the years to come, but it was never quite the same. I never had the drive to craft something truly special. My muse had left me by then. I still mourn the loss of that tape, and now, in this era of digital music, it’s too late. Putting together a song list isn’t the same. What takes 5 minutes now could have taken, as I alluded, 5 weeks back then. Farewell, oh fading ember of my youth. You are gone, but never forgotten.