Monday, May 26, 2008

Mixes: Part 1

One of the first things I had in mind to do once I got the new Macbook and began the long-awaited Complete Digital Revolution was to re-create all of my old mixes as playlists, to bring these treasured artifacts of my music fandom along with me into the next realm.

I'd say that nearly half of these mixes began on cassette tape (later transferred to CD), and only the last few existed just digitally, outside of the realm of CD. I say that to note the time period that this covers, basically dating back to my freshman year of college. The mixes (I hesitate to label them 'official' in any way, though I kinda think of them in that sense) have followed a fairly straight pattern through the years - one in the summer and one in the winter - though it hasn't been entirely precise.

I finished the first one right before Spring Break; it was to be driving music for Tony's truck as we headed back up north. The opening track was David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel," a song that to this day gets my blood pumping because (and this is the reason it not only shows up, but also kicks off the mix) it was at the center of my friend Mitch's Friday night music and it seems as if "Rebel Rebel" accompanied us to every party his Mazda took us to that year. I don't know that we ever really paid too close attention to the lyrics - we simply got from it what we needed. It was about posturing, about being Rebels, about cruising to a party on a Friday night, with all the badness and possibility that suggested.

That first mix was called "A Bit More Immortality," which started my habit of giving careful thought to selecting (hopefully) good titles, even if they did occasionally pass way into the realm of pretension ("Discovery and the Prophetic Sky" - I cringe at that one). More importantly, the titles definitely meant something. I searched for those right words that related to or defined the same time period those 20 or so songs did. In that case, the words came almost directly out of an email my cousin sent me: "Sometimes life makes you feel immortal. Sometimes life makes you want to curl up and die. I guess I could use some more immortality." When you're 18, you think like that. (A side note: those emails my cousin John and I sent in those years defied all conventions of what emails have become. We wrote. It was nothing for either of us to sit down at the computer for three hours and fire off an email longer than any paper we'd write during the course of a semester. I miss those days, mostly because I miss having that much to say at any given time.)

I think it's important to acknowledge that I'm recreating these mixes as much for a sense of continuity as for the tunes themselves. While I've always loved putting together just the right tunes and crafting mind-blowing transitions in the process, I'm still fascinated in general by the incredible way I can make a kind of personal statement about a period of time just by stringing together what music I was listening to most. It's fascinating as well how that spirit never dies, how that same statement reflects itself 10 years on down the line.

And it's in that spirit that I still warmly embrace some of the songs that are, shall we say, a little bit more difficult to listen to now. I have no problem hanging onto the somewhat conflicting notions that a particular song now makes me cringe and at the same time brings me a rush of youthful emotion. My second solid mix, the somewhat out-of-rhythm summer compilation "Northern Arizona Skies," has its strengths, but also contains the following songs, in order: Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," The Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling," and Bob Seger's "Against the Wind." Thankfully I followed up with the definitely respectable "Let It Be" and then a song from the first bootleg album I ever bought, Dylan singing "The Times They Are A-Changin'" accompanied on piano, from a collection of his publishing demos. (Not only is that a fantastic version, but the song itself formed the core of a freshman year paper that was returned with the comment that I had a "gift for clear, elegant prose." Sweet.)

Not every mix is created the same, and even if for each one I've had a roughly six-month period of time with which to pull together 80 or 90 minutes of music, the results have varied wildly. The mix that followed that clunky "Northern Arizona Skies" was one I still rank in the top tier of the 22 I've put together so far. The name "Eighth Street Symphony" simply came from the fact that I lived on Eighth Street, but I loved it. From New Order's "Regret" to Zeppelin's "Over the Hills and Far Away," it's great song after great song, straight through. I was living in what was practically a lunatic asylum with two best friends, just off campus in a dump of a house that we never saw as such. We had freedom and space and a 60-disc changer ran through a high-powered receiver and four speakers that wrapped the living room in pure volume. The songs came from friends and parties and my own discoveries as I dug into the country-rock scene of the mid 1990s.

This was also the first mix directly influenced by particular bands I'd seen perform live, which has since become probably the most fundamental way of picking which band or song shows up on a mix. In that instance it was the Son Volt show I'd caught at the end of that October, as well as the Pearl Jam show from the previous summer, and the Social Distortion and Superchunk songs that I'd come to love from live performances.

(Since this is getting way too long, I'm gonna leave y'all with some songs from the mixes that I doubt you'd be able to find anywhere else, and then come back tomorrow with the conclusion.)

Bob Dylan - The Times They Are A-Changin' (demo)
Bueno - Paralyzed
Fourkiller Flats - Cat Song
The Hollowbodies - Kodo And The Queensbound R

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