Alex Stephenson Mixed Feelings: Part 1

When people start talking about their mixtapes, I want to turn into the main character from Fight Club; I want to tell them they are not their fucking mixtape, and then I want to punch them in the ear. For some unknown reason, people seem to feel a real attachment to a physical format of our music, despite the fact that its disappearance unquestionably led to an easier, more effective way of making good mixes.

I have a weird obsession with documenting my own life; I suspect my early 2000s interest in the film Memento had something to do with this. And since I’m afraid to tattoo myself with a Bic pen, I just write down everything I do instead. I don’t keep a journal, really, but I will jot down notes about what movies I watch, what books I read, and anything notable that happens during my day. I can tell you when I bought a copy of The College Dropout (February 11, 2004), and that following this I went upstairs to that mall’s tiny movie theatre and saw Lost in Translation for the third time. With a few gaps where I just forgot to write down what I did, I can tell you generally what I did on any day since 2002. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve kept all my old mixtapes.

I have made many a mixtape in my time, on CD and tape and mini disc (believe it), and I have made mixes for myself, my friends, and (obviously) people I wanted to make out with. What the mixes all have in common is that they reflect the person I was at the time; my most recent mix features Youth Lagoon [yes! - Ed] because Montana is all I listened to this past summer, and one of my old mixes from high school has a Timbaland & Magoo song on it because I was listening to it with one of my potential makeout partners while watching the episode of Cheaters when Joey Greco gets stabbed on a boat. But these old mixes are mostly worthless; they’re filled with unforgivable, unlistenable shit.

Listening to somebody talk about making a mixtape is almost always boring, but talking about what memories the songs awaken almost never is. The problem is that people are romanticizing the wrong parts of their mixes; we seem to love talking about the process of actually making the mix, as opposed to focusing on the interesting parts of it, which is (of course) the music. This allows us to forget all of that crappy music we used to listen to: the Sugar Ray song that ended up on the mix, or the live recording of Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life, or that song you liked from Sisqo’s second album. As I get to my later mixes though, things start to change. Songs start to get better than awful, and I start to hear things I actually like.

It appears that after a few years, I began to put more thought into the sequencing and flow of these mixtapes, and I seem to remember spending a lot of time on them while I would wait for a call to tell me where to meet up with my friends on a Friday night. Robs Fleming and Sheffield I am not, but there is a shockingly high amount of thought and time put into some of these later mixes; finding out that I could blend songs together using a free (thanks, Internet!) program unleashed the part of me that always wanted to be a technique-free DJ, even though I couldn’t afford the Technics. Instead of precisely dubbing tapes, all I have to do is do a few double clicks. And while I enjoyed doing the former at one point, I’m infinitely happier to do the latter now.

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