The Lost Art Of The Mix CD


“I’m not really the scented envelope kind of girl, preferring instead to send yellow Jiffy-lite mailers packed with whatever song is on my mind.” 
— Sarah Vowell

Things were different before the Internet—obvi, but I don’t mean it like that. I’m not talking about emojis or thepiratebay or FaceTime or sexting. Actually, I *am* talking about all those things and so much more.

Do you remember love before the Internet? Some of you may not remember. Either you’re too young or maybe you’ve smoked the memories away. It’s hard to remember sometimes. I admit, I’ve forgotten some of it. Alright, most of it. Technology changed—advanced, some would say—and we along with it. There was a time, before Facebook completed world domination, a time before Pandora and Spotify and FaceTime and Google Hangout, when we spoke to each other in a completely different language. It was a time when the language was love, the actions were of effort, and we communicated via phone calls and snail mail and mixtapes and mix CDs.

Sure, some things changed for the better, but maybe it’s because I’m old-school (read: getting old), but I miss the days when love came in the form of a mixtape, back when we suffocated our boombox’s airspace, cautiously standing by so we could hit the Stop button right before the song faded into the DJs voice and nooooooooo! The worst.

Then came the mix CD. This made things easier. No annoying DJ or commercial to threaten the mood you were trying to evoke. The mood was always important. And if you gifted your crush with a mix, the songs were always meant to be symbolic of your feelings for the person. It was a work of art, really, the selection and placement of songs. This is when CDs were $18 and you’d stand in the record store with more than one album in hand trying to figure which one was worth your hard-earned weekly take-out-the-trash-and-clean-the-bathroom allowance money.

My older brother used to send me mixtapes when he was in college. It’s how I discovered Joy Division. My best guy friend made me mixtapes in junior high. It’s how I discovered Jimi Hendrix. Even when I was in college, before the Internet really began to breathe on its own, friends and I would download songs off Napster and gifted each other with mix CDs. It made checking the mail worthwhile, which is ironic because we didn’t have any bills. In at least, not in that way one has bills when you’re an adult.

I’d forgotten about mix CDs until about a year ago when a guy friend of mine sent me two out of the blue. I opened my mailbox to find, among the bills from Sprint and Sallie Mae, a yellow manilla envelope. Inside were the silver-faced CDs, plainly marked with a fine-point Sharpie: I and II. A year has passed, and I still listen to those nearly every day on my way to and from work. The CDs house all kinds of treasures, from indie rock to old-school reggae and hip hop and R&B.

I pictured my guy friend making the mixes — adding a track, removing it, adding another track, moving the track from slot number 10 to slot number five because that’s where that song belongs– and I could feel the effort, I could feel the emotion, and it made me happy. A mix CD bears no comparison to a “i heart you” text or a Gchat session to kill some time at work.

Which brings me to the here and now. Or rather summer 2013, when I created a Google Form and asked friends for their addresses on Facebook so I could send them Share Some Summer Sweat, a Summer Jamz 2013 mix CD. I spent a good part of a month adding and deleting and selecting songs that lived somewhere between the free feeling of summer and thoughts of pool parties and makeout sessions and driving with the windows down. The hardest part, as always, was cramming as many songs one could in the allotted 90-minutes of space.

But then my burner died, and when I got my new laptop, I realized the era of the mix CD was on its deathbed. My computer doesn’t even have a CD drive! Except I promised 70 people a Summer Jamz mix CD; I wanted a mailbox stuffed with something other than a reminder of the stress that fills our day-to-day lives. Upset, but not destroyed, I put the idea on the backburner when suddenly summer became the past and fall became the present.

For months I clung to the idea of a mailing a mix CD and spreading love and sharing smiles. A link to a playlist just wouldn’t have the same impact. Then, somewhere in that time, probably under the influence of whiskey, I decided to make an ebook to accompany the playlist, sort of like the way cassettes and CDs had liner notes back in the day. The result: I made a fall playlist and asked friends to send me some beauty to share, not just with the original recipients of the Summer Jamz mix, but also the public at large. The theme: fall. Specifically, the pun of falling in love. Because isn’t that how it usually goes—sex in the summer, romance in the fall, breakups in the winter, single in the spring?

I wanted to do this because I am a feeler, a believer. That is to say, I believe in the power of influence, in as much the good as the bad. Things are tough right now. Older generations can criticize and complain about Millenials, but I know us, we’re hardworking and steadfast and optimistic against all odds. Perseverance aside, many of us are, well, we’re swimming; we’re paddling as hard as we can to keep afloat among the waves threatening to take us down. It’s easy to get discouraged by the negative and lose sight of the positive. Sometimes all we need is a distraction to keep us from drowning; sometimes all we need is a reminder to taste the marrow.

In the blink of an eye, fall will be gone and winter will have arrived and the world and our personal lives will be wholeheartedly different from what they are now. It’s cheesy, I realize, to say “in the blink of an eye,” but life really does move that fast. What lies ahead for each of us? Who knows. Try as we might, you don’t know and I don’t know. We’re all at the mercy of time.

All I know is that when life tests our limits, all we want to do is laugh and spend time with those we love. One word, four letters: l-o-v-e. That right there is the real deal. Hope is what drives us, love is what sustains us. Whatever happens with life and technology, please, never forget about love. Real Love. Not easy, effortless, vacuous displays of Love. Not emojis or sexting or “What’s up?” or “LULZ”.

In any case, here we are — in Spotify playlist form, hopefully spreading love and sharing smiles. The playlist was hard to make as I wanted songs about falling in love, not songs about falling out of love — alas, that meant cutting out some really great tracks. I really do hope you will enjoy it, because it was made in earnest, it was made with love. I hope it reminds you about that feeling that lies deep in you, sometimes quietly observing, but always listening, always responding, always wanting to give and accept Love. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image – Melysa Martinez

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