Book Rewinds to Mixtape Romance
While there are many ways to express love, one of the most enduring has been through writing love letters.
But when finding the right words becomes a struggle, the next best thing once upon a time was a mixtape — a hand-picked collection of songs that revealed your feelings to the object of your affection.
These days, with CDs then MP3 files replacing the good old-fashioned cassette, mixtapes have become a rarity, if not almost extinct. But when cassettes were still in vogue, making a mixtape was the best alternative to handwritten love notes.
Jason Bitner, an American author, filmmaker and co-creator of Found Magazine came across a mixtape that his first girlfriend had made for him in 1991. It was among other tapes in a suitcase, tucked away in his basement. When he listened to it, he was instantly swept away to a different time.
“When you made a tape for someone, your intentions were clear: I’m into you,” Bitner writes in the introduction to the book “Cassette From My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Loves.”
“Whether it was a crush tape or a compilation of a couple’s favorite songs, a mix could win over a lover in one listen, or nix a relationship just as quickly. No matter how the relationship ended, the mixtape lasts as a physical reminder of what took place between those people.”
With that, the idea for “Cassette From My Ex” was born. Bitner mobilized his friends — mostly musicians, journalists and writers — to raid their own memory boxes and look for a long-lost mixtape.
Surprisingly, many of them had still held on to old tapes. The stories behind these mixtapes are all combined in the book, which was published in October.
From comical to melancholy, ironic to heart-wrenching, the 60 contributors to the book share their tales of lost loves, not just with all the pain and sadness, but also the happiness that they felt about the person who gave them the tape. Arthur Jones recalled how difficult it was to have sex with a popular cheerleader while listening to Pearl Jam’s songs about murder, depression and suicide. Starlee Kine shared bittersweet memories of her college boyfriend who fell ill with cancer.
Not longer than four pages, the stories are a delightful read, many of which begin with intriguing opening lines.
“I was an Asian guy with long hair who was into heavy metal; she was a Latvian dancer who chain-smoked Camels,” blogger Felix Jung wrote.
“My first kiss ended in bloodshed. His name was Jonathan and the kiss was the result of a mixtape he made me,” according to writer Jodyne L. Speyer.
Each story is accompanied by a photo of the original tape and the song list. If available, the note or letter of the mixtape’s creator is also included.
“Some of the songs have no relevance to anything,” reads the letter that writer Robert Lanham had received with his mixtape. “I just liked the way they sounded [as in, don’t go trying to figure out the significance of ‘Octopus Garden’ to our relationship — there isn’t any. Although I’m sure you could come up with some interesting theories.]”
Visual artist Nina Katchadourian received a mixtape plus a note from her boyfriend when she was away in France one summer: “If this tape gets to you before a big letter does, don’t listen to the tape until the letter comes. This way, you can open the letter after you have listened to the tape. It was cheaper to mail them separately. Love, Matt ‘The Cheap One.’ ”
In between the stories of lost loves, Bitner included additional information. What to do with a broken tape? What types of mixes are there? What are the do’s and don’ts of creating a mixtape?
Because as easy as it may sound to put a couple of songs on a blank tape, creating one took a lot of time and thought — to find the perfect music, to keep the audio levels consistent from song to song, to fill each side with tunes all the way to the end, and to eventually come up with original artwork that would give the mixtape a finishing personal touch.
The book not only delivers heartfelt and touching stories, but also provides musical gems from an iPod-less era: Suddenly, the readers remember songs by Led Zeppelin, The Velvet Underground, Jane’s Addiction and Blind Melon.
Even though the mixtape has become obsolete, it seems like Bitner isn’t the only one who mourns the loss of the musical love letter.
“Let’s get messed up and listen to probably/the best mixtape I have/And even all the bad songs ain’t so bad/I just wish there was so much more than that,” American singer Butch Walker suggests in his song “Mixtape.”
“Where are you now? As I’m swimming through the stereo/I’m writing you a symphony of sound/Where are you now? As I rearrange the songs again/This mix could burn a hole in anyone/But it was you I was thinking of,” American alternative band Jack’s Mannequin exclaims in their most successful song “The mixed tape.”
The book may not appeal to the younger generation because they grew up without mixtapes. However, 30-somethings are invited to take a trip down memory lane to remember their youth, their former sweethearts and the songs that comprised the soundtrack to that particular time in their lives. After reading “Cassette From My Ex,” you will surely find yourself looking for your own old mixtapes. Or may be in the mood to create a new one for someone close to your heart.
‘Cassette From My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Loves’
Edited by Jason Bitner
St. Martin’s Griffin, 224 pages
For more information or to share your own mixtape story, visit: