The Tao of the Mix
The Story Thus Far
As so often seems to happen with me, an idle passing comment from a friend has thrown me into silent unquenchable panic. I'd be frustrated if this weren't such a frequent occurance with me.
You see, this past week I made a mixtape (really a mix CD, which is more accurate but sounds less elegant) for a girl. So I was obviously a bit on edge about that, because the making of any mixtape is a delicate process, and I don't claim to be an expert on it. A friend of mine (who I shall cryptically nickname Brutus for the purposes of this story) does claim to be an expert, and occasionally opines on the delicate process and series of rules involved in the Creation of a Mixtape--though he never reveals too many rules at once, as if he believes the revelation of the too much at once will blow our minds, or conversely, that such trade secrets shouldn't really be revealed until we've been inducted into the Guild. So neophytes like me must slowly learn the trade piece by piece, using each crumb to reverse engineer a perfect mix. (I kid, Brutus, because I care. And because passive-aggressive snark is one of the truest joys on this earth.)
The nervousness over making an mixtape is not the silent unquenchable panic I was thrown into. This is just normal garden variety angst. I was thrown into non-garden-variety angst...well, actually, into silent (but obviously not quite inarticulate) despair when a female friend responded to this story by saying, "Well, Stu, aren't you afraid making a mixtape makes you seem rather desperate? Or at least forward?"
As if I wasn't nervous enough? Giving a mixtape to anyone--opening not only your taste in music but your ability to mold someone else's words and feelings into an expression of your own personality--is stressful enough as it is. Throw in the concern that the recipient is going to consider it creepy, desperate, or start research how to efficiently get a restraining order...well, that's nervewracking.
It doesn't help that--by her request, mind you--the mixtape was all music by the Magnetic Fields, and therefore all about love, in all it's myriad sweet and stalkerish varieties. I suppose that can't be helped, though in the light of my female friend's comments it was probably not the best idea to start the mix with the lyrics, "Don't fall in love with me yet / We only recently met / True I'm in love with you but / You might decide I'm a nut." No. Nothing creepy, desperate, or restraining-order-worthy to be found there.
So who's to blame?
So who's responsible for broadcasting this idea that mixtapes are a fundamentally creepy thing, anyway? Personally, I blame Nick Hornby, who revealed the unsavory truth in "High Fidelity"--that making a mixtape can be a creepy and obsessive thing to do. The plight of the borderline obessive-compulsive Rob Gordon nee Fleming finally pulled back the curtain on the whole sordid affair and left us pitiful mixtapers exposed. It was regretable, but managable as long as "High Fidelity" was only a cult novel, and every girl who knew the truth could at least be distracted with compliments on her fine taste in literature.
But then came John Cusack. After the movie was released--a John Cusack movie, of all things, the darling of discerning romance fans all over the world!--the lid was well and truly blown off our dirty little stalker secret. And to make matters worse, not only were we revealed to be neurotic obsessives, the one doing the revealing was someone who'd never let us down before. Now, all those discerning romance fans that we pursue can't help but compare us unfavorably to Lloyd Dobbler or Lane Myers or the countless other sensitive and hot John Cusack characters people have fallen in love with for two decades.
There is probably a whole book to be written on the untold damage John Cusack has wreaked on the romantic lives of generations, but it's for a more bitter man than me to write. So far.
Sure, there are renditions in literature and popular culture of Brutus and my comrades in arms that are more flattering. Cameron Crowe happily revealed that he's made a new mix tape for himself every month since the mid 70's, which helped him immeasurably in the making of "Almost Famous." Amanda Holzer, in a story reprinted in The Best American Non-Required Reading: 2003 wrote a story made up entirely of song titles, starting with Eric Carmen's "All By Myself," progressing through a relationship with songs such as "Like a Virgin," "My Girl," "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" and "Jealous Guy" before ending back at "All By Myself." And Rich Moody one-upped this in his story "Wilkie Fahnestock: A Boxed Set," which purports to be the life of an "undistinguished American" as told by the liner notes and track listing of the 10 disc box set of his life, from the Beach Boys to Pink Floyd to the Pixies to Nirvana.
This is all comforting until you realize that these are the only examples I could think of: two pieces of fiction (by writers not exactly known for writing about functional people) and the life of an indisputable dork. This, to stand against John Cusack.
Yeah. Shit creek, sans paddle.
It's unfair and more than a little ironic that the moment in history in which making a mixtape has never been easier is also the point where public perception of that process has reached it's all time low (okay, so I don't have poll numbers throughout history to back me up, but I doubt this is too radical a claim).
So? What now?
Well, I just need to relax, of course. I'm making myself neurotic about the idea that someone might think I'm neurotic. And I promised myself that I'd try to get a hand on my meta-neuroses, if not the ur-neuroses themselves.