I love the mixtape.
Or, perhaps, the mix CD, iTunes playlist or podcast, depending on your age and technical abilities.
I’ve lived through almost every era of music recording and playback, save for phonographs and 78 rpms…
I’ve witnessed each evolutionary leap from the vinyl record on, embracing and adapting to each new format as quickly as possible.
I remember 8-Tracks, and I remember 45’s. Hundreds of little plastic inserts littered the carpet in our family room, allowing me to play my single of Come On Eileen on our gigantic, solid oak record player/cabinet. My collection of cassettes and casingles filled countless shoeboxes, shelves and glove compartments.
My first record player/tape deck combo was, perhaps, the greatest leap forward. It was a brave new world—a world I could control.
Thus began the dawn of the mixtape for a young, mildly obsessive/compulsive audiophile.
I made mixtapes for everything—mixes of lovesongs, break-up songs, songs for road trips, songs for sleeping…
They became a self-authored soundtrack to my life, as if it were a movie.
This obsession only grew with the advent of MP3s and burnable CDs.
These days, I make a playlist to run up the street for a pack of cigarettes. CDs have become disposable, turning quickly from music to drink coasters, laying unmarked in piles never to be played again.
Thank god for the iPod, my carbon footprint was getting bigger than King Kong driving a Hummer.
My conscience is guilty enough as it is.
I do sometimes use my powers for good.
I remember the first time I was unemployed for the holidays.
It was about ten years ago.
Money was extremely tight and the gift giving season was standing on the top turnbuckle, ready to drop an elbow on my head.
I could only afford to give my family small things; a book, calendar or DVD from the clearance table—it just didn’t feel personal enough.
I had to supplement with homemade gifts. My wife made some cranberry bread, and I made the first CD in what has become one of the longest standing holiday traditions I keep.
The first one was nothing but the classics: Bing’s Christmas was white, Elvis’ was blue. Dean crooned about snow and Ella asked what we were doing New Year’s Eve. Nat King Cole sang about chestnuts while Ray Charles walked us through a winter wonderland.
After that, they began taking a different direction.
Everybody already had all the classics. If they wanted to listen to Wham or Mariah Carey, they need only find the holiday station on radio or satellite.
I wanted to give them what they didn’t already have.
The first few years were easy, as I searched the modern Christmas compilation CDs on Amazon, finding some of the most wonderful, god-awful and sometimes downright absurd modern takes on timeless classics.
The longer I make them however, the harder it becomes to find new songs that don’t suck.
I tried to stop about five years ago, but the anger was palpable when I told my friends and family.
I feared a visit from three ghosts if I didn’t keep the tradition going.
When I was gainfully employed in a nondescript, cubicle-ridden, corporate-casual office, the CD became my annual Christmas card—by my final year as a corporate soldier, I was handing out more than fifty.
And now, here we are, ten years later.
Money is tight and the gift giving season is looming.
It would seem recessions and unemployment are a Christmas tradition, as well.
Just as they were so many years ago, my gifts have reverted back to small trinkets and homemade goods, with the CD being at the top of the list once more.
Times may be a little tough, but so long as there’s music, we can always still dance…
…And I have the perfect mix CD for just such an occasion.
Tags: 45 rpm, broke, carol, cassette, cd, cheer, christmas, dance, dean martin, discman, elvis, elvis presley, gift, holiday, home made, ipod, mix tape, money, mp3, music, napster, phonograph, record, tradition, unemployed, walkman