I've written a good deal here about making mixes, and offered up several (want to sample my Favorite Singers anyone?), but I've never really brought up what it's like to receive a mix, or how I relate to the songs that I can directly trace to a particular friend.
And since I've never really received the "I got a crush on you" mix (though there's one I kinda think/wished might've been close) there's no way I can touch on that. And I don't mind never being a recipient of one of those kinds of mixes. Making a full mix specifically for someone else is a fun but highly stressful endeavor, and one I've rarely done. I prefer to get beyond the subtle "I might like you" mix, and instead give the "Since I like you, here's a sampling of really great music that I think you'd like. Really. Don't bother looking for any meaning or message, and just enjoy the good tunes."
What I'm writing about here is the mix exchange among friends, which is precisely what I love to do most. I make mixes for myself, and then share them widely. And I love getting them.
My most frequent mix trader is the estimable Mr. Chair, now a Colorado resident, though we've been friends, neighbors and roommates throughout the years. I have, at this count, nine Mr. Chair mixes, and yesterday I went through those old CD-Rs and handwritten song lists and recreated all of them in my iTunes library. A couple were from the new and remarkably efficient sendspace-and-xml variety, so that was helpful.
What I found looking across those playlists (some 175 songs) were the snapshots of several moments in time, as Mr. Chair put it in an email exchange about the subject. Several of those snapshots are, and I know this for certain, of profoundly important times in his life. It's not all great music - damn close, but a few lesser emo tunes are scattered throughout, and I'll never like Aphex Twin - but I'm surprised at how many tunes in that big bunch rate very highly, very personally, with me. Some I reckon he picked up from me along the way, and conversely several were jumping off points as I jumped into some new band he recommended for me.
The greatest musical thank you I have to give Mr. Chair is for Warren Zevon. I'd heard next to nothing of Zevon's music before that night, barely a month after the legendarily stubborn and caustic songwriter died of cancer, when we sat in his Tempe apartment, playing the I'll Sleep When I'm Dead anthology, because the Bob Dylan show we just saw featured a poignant version of "Accidentally Like a Martyr."
And, branching out, I can point directly to three other longtime Catfish Vegas favorites, courtesy of a single mix tape from a friend in Portland. She didn't give the tape a title, but used the term "petty pop" in a short accompanying note, so that's what I call it. And it was the first I heard of Elliott Smith, Modest Mouse or Luna. It was my enthusiasm and exploration that made those favorites, but I can't overstate the value of a tape that made those startlingly important introductions, and ten years later I not only listen to that mix from time to time as I've recreated it in iTunes, but the tape itself is still around.
Backtracking even more, I see it's the Soundtrack to Adam tape I got for Christmas my last year of high school that first introduced me to Steve Earle, Uncle Tupelo, the Pogues and Social Distortion. This is important shit, people!
Scott 'til 3:30 is one of the best-put-together mixes I've ever heard, and I've never copied someone else's mix for other friends so many times. It's freakin' legendary! He wove together trip-hop, jazz, Nashville Skyline Dylan, the Beatles, French chamber pop and 1990s Brit-pop, and hit it out of the park.
The point here, folks, is to keep making mixes, and to keep passing them around to your friends. And in the back of your mind, remember that after the original thanks is when people actually start listening to the music, and it's something they don't ever forget. Everyone's favorite bands came from someone else...
The Drakes - Later On (from my mix, Corduroy Cowboy Hat)
Warren Zevon - The Hula Hula Boys (from Mr. Chair's Summerland mix)
Elliott Smith - Waltz #2 (from Petty Pop)
Uncle Tupelo - Sandusky (from Soundtrack to Adam)
Mandalay - Please (from Scott 'til 3:30)