Questions and answers continued:
13. Is there anything sad or melancholy that overcomes you when listening to some of the tapes? Yes, one in particular. I had a wonderful girlfriend in the late 80s named Janet who had a special love for one tape. She insisted we listen to it on our way to some bar or party. I can remember us having sex to it as well, many times. A few years after we broke up, she died of cancer, and whenever I hear that tape, it truly makes my heart collapse.
14. Anything else depress you listening to the tapes? Yes. It is sometimes incredibly sad to trace the slow or sometimes fast downward spiral of an artist who was formerly great. Obviously, Sting is number one in this category. REM comes in a close second, tying with Rod Stewart. Bruce Springsteen places third. Then of course there’s Neil Young. He got neither better nor worse during his epic recording career. He’s just Neil Young and that says it all.
15. How would you describe the evolution of your musical tastes over the years? In the beginning The Stones swam with me in the primordial soup of classic rock and roll and there I have mostly remained. I know I got old. I don’t even listen to rock music anymore unless it’s one of the tapes.
16. What’s something especially novel about your collection? From 1993-1997 I played guitar in a spectacularly mediocre garage band called Gravy that played mostly parties and dive bars around Portland. I recorded a lot of the shows with a cheap single microphone hanging from the ceiling and some of the songs from these drunken gigs ended up on mix tapes from that era. There’s nothing quite like hearing yourself rock the living shit out of “Sympathy for the Devil” and then having one of the Stones’ versions follow. I smile every time a Gravy song blasts through the speakers. Wince a little, too.
17. Is there a song that you dogs particularly loved? Yes. “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin. Sonny the dearly departed husky went nuts to it.
18. Did you ever try making mix CDs? Yes. I burned exactly three in the early 2000s and found the experience particularly unsatisfying because I couldn’t see anything, get my hands on something corporeal or estimate the time remaining on side B that called for a song I knew probably would fit the probable 3:37 left on the tape. Making mix tapes is essentially a tactile skill, a craft, and making mix CDs definitely is not. The same goes for digital playlists. Dragging and dropping in files, or worse, allowing a random selection to compile a mix, is almost the anti-thesis of the true mix tape experience. It’s about using your hands, a tactile relationship to music, like albums used to be.
19. What especially intrigues you about your collection? Two things: One, I find it utterly fascinating that I can pull out a tape that I haven’t listened to for 15 years, hear a track, say Marshall Crenshaw’s “Cynical Girl,” and know that “Save it for Later” by the English Beat will follow. I sometimes play a little game where I try and predict what song will come next. I’m right about 99 percent of the time. Some scientist should study this. The second thing is the weird feeling of playing a tape from the 80s and rediscovering my hate for Ronald Reagan.
20. Is there a tape you really want to make but haven’t got around to doing so? Yes. A collection of the greatest Oregon rock and roll songs of all time. Naturally, “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen would lead off.
21. Do you list all the tracks on the inside cover? I used to in the early days, but gave up the habit.
22. On average, how long does it take to complete a mix tape? I usually finish one in a week but have taken as long as six months.
23. And finally, the most important question of all: How do you name a tape?” Sheer gut instinct. I just snatch whatever line or quote or feeling enters my mind at the moment I take up a pen to write the title on the cassette liner. I have rarely invented a title and then made the tape.
Over the years, I’ve developed a loose set of rules about some of the peripheral issues related to making mix tapes:
When breaking up with someone, always get your tapes back.
When you make a tape for someone, realize that you’re really making one for yourself.
It’s okay to make a tape for someone in the pursuit of seduction.
No more than three songs in a row by any one artist.
Don’t use 120-minute cassettes because they invariably break at some point.
Use the word ‘rock’ in the title of a tape at least once a year
It’s okay to fade out on “Free Bird.”
Don’t be too arcane with song selection, Throw in some hits.
Try not to cut off a song before the tape ends. Never continue a ruptured song on the other side.
Never include The Doors’ “The End.”
Writing this wants me to make a mix tape, but I don’t have the proper supplies for the job. I will work on that.