The Return of My Mix Tapes

Why it took almost 15 years to get around rigging up a system in my vehicles that didn’t have a cassette player to play my mix tapes, I don’t know.

But the other week I got one together and now I listen to my tapes as I drive around Oregon. It’s going to take considerable time to get through all the 500+ of them I made from the mid 80s to the early 2010s. Making them was very much a joyful habit for four decades. Then, the habit vanished, probably because that coincided with not driving vehicles with a cassette player.

Several times I was close to dumping the collection, but I just couldn’t do it. So many other people I know or knew had. These tapes were my history, my soundtrack, a kind of weird work of personal literature where I revealed my politics, reading, aspirations, frustrations, crushes, loves, cultural opinions in the music and the naming of the tapes. The naming was always the most important part of the habit for me—not the music.

Every one of the tapes was titled. Most were dated. Most didn’t have track listings. About a half dozen were made for me.

I virtually never listened to them while not driving.

A couple of years ago, I dug out a couple tapes and listened to them around the house and at a construction site where I was working.

It was not the same as driving around and I stopped listening to them.

My first choice for this current mobile listening resurrection of my collection was pulled at random. Title: Bob Packwood. Date: Mid 90s. And yes, Bob Packwood is still alive.

I was driving to the assisted living center to visit my father. I inserted the tape into the player and hit PLAY. Social Distortion’s “Story of My Life” came on.

Instantly, an idea for a new writing project emerged. Listen to the collection and write mini personal and political essays about certain tapes. Music, certain songs, can transport you back in time like nothing else. It’s much more powerful than, say reading an old post card from a long lost lover.

Then English Beat’s “Save it for Later” came on and I immediately returned to a great love in my life, Janet, who died of cancer decades ago, and loved the English Beat. Janet and I climbed Saddle Mountain together and will never forget that experience. I just know we listened to the English Beat on the drive from Portland to get there.

Who knows if a book will result from the exploration. That’s not the goal. I’ll just begin and see where it goes, kind of like a road trip with no fixed destination in mind. That’s often a great way to begin a writing project, and many other things in life.