When our 15-year-old offered to create a playlist for his younger brother's birthday party, I was thrilled. When he announced two days later that he couldn't possibly create the perfect party playlist and that it was all my fault, I was confused. Apparently, since he wasn't allowed to include all of the best songs, which, incidentally, had some of the worst language, there weren't enough "clean" songs to make an appropriate mix, so he decided to give up. That's when I decided he needed a good mix tape mentor.
As a teenager, I was quite the mix tape mixologist. My stereo was a state-of-the-art turntable complete with AM/FM radio and tape to tape functionality. I didn't own a ton of albums, aside from U2 and The Police, but I loved music and became a certified, and sometimes certifiable, radio junkie. My favorite station was I-95 and my favorite DJs were, of course, Mark & Brian, who later moved to L.A. (You may remember their cameos in the ever-popular made-for-TV movie, A Very Brady Christmas.) I spent many a morning before school feverishly calling into the station in the hopes of being the fourth or tenth or first caller so I could win the prize du jour. I once won a spring cleaning kit. Another time I won two tickets to see Adam Ant in concert. I ended up giving them both away. I didn't really care about the prize as much as hearing Mark & Brian announce my name over the airwaves.
After school I would often sit in my room for hours listening to the radio, waiting for a certain song to come on, with my fingers hovering over the play and record buttons on the cassette recorder ready for action. If and when the song eventually came on, I had to hit the play and record buttons simultaneously and as fast as I could, although I inevitably missed recording the very beginning of any song. I would then wait with focused anticipation for the right moment to pause the recording in order to maximize the song length and minimize the DJ chatter at the end. It wasn't an exact science as much as a feeling. And while it now seems like a long and tedious process, it was worth it.
Waiting for songs to come on the radio was just part of the larger waiting game of my life. Unlike the immediate gratification that cell phones, texting, Instagram, YouTube and Pandora provide our children, my generation had to wait for everything. We had to wait until we got home or found a pay phone to make a phone call. We had to wait for certain days of the week and specific hours of that day to watch our television shows and then we had to wait for all those commercials in between. We had to wait for movies to come out, for tapes to rewind, for mail to arrive, for pictures to get developed, for albums to be released, and for anything that was ever worth waiting for. And we were happy to wait because we didn't know otherwise. We played games like Pong, for crying out loud. And we enjoyed it.
In the end, this gave us the much-needed stamina and patience to make really awesome mix tapes. Instead of spending minutes downloading the top hits from iTunes, I would spend days or weeks coming up with a theme and then combing through my albums and bootlegged songs from the radio to compile the perfect combination of tunes for any occasion or person in my life. There were no such things as clean or explicit versions of songs, unless you counted Prince or the Violent Femmes. And once I determined the right songs, I spent just as much time putting them in the right order and giving it the right mix name to convey the right message. My ultimate goal was to piece together 90 minutes of music into a masterpiece. It wasn't just entertainment, it was an art form.
After explaining all of this to our son, I figured he would be inspired to make a true mix tape of his own. Instead, he merely rolled his eyes, took out his iPad and said, "Never mind, we can just use Spotify for the party." I guess that means he doesn't want to play Pong with me either.