Last week flipping channels before going to bed, I came across a show on public television about Magnus Nilsson, a 31 year-old Swedish chef resembling a Scandinavian Paul Bunyan, whose restaurant 400 miles north of Stockholm, Faviken, is considered to be among the best in the world. The restaurant is crazy remote geographically and the food can at times be equally out there; imagine Mr. Bunyan sawing through a large bone, table side, scooping the marrow into a bowl of diced, raw cow’s heart, and covering it all with flower petals. Why the hell not.
And then last night I read an article about Daniel Ek, the creator of Spotify, a streaming music service. He’s also a 31 year-old Swede thus making 1983 notable beyond the historic class of NFL quarterbacks, (Elway, Marino, Kelly), the year ‘M*A*S*H’ went off the air, and the peak year of McRib sales. I’ve never used Spotify and I’m sure it makes the world a better place, but after reading the article I paused for a moment and turned a little wistful. You see, Spotify, like so many other inventions and services these days, makes your life easier by removing the effort, thought, and emotional sweat from actually doing something, in this case by selecting music. Based on some complex algorithms it chooses the songs it thinks you’d like or you can listen to a collection of songs curated by someone – usually famous – else. Easy-peasy. While this may be a time-saver, it made me miss the time thirty years ago when the utmost expression of one’s love/like/interest/crush for someone else was…the…mixtape.
Making a mix was serious business. You didn’t just whip off a mix for a friend because you thought they had cool hair or awesome Girbauds. Nope, mixes sat in that special realm of your heart reserved and dedicated (usually) for a person you were “going with”. In the early 80’s a boy and a girl didn’t “date”, rather, they were “going” with each other. This created some confusion such as when, in 1983, I asked a girl “WIll you go with me?” during a movie in Mr. Guelle’s health class. Her response, predictably, was, “Where?”. True story.
For starters, it was a challenge to actually construct the damn mix. You needed a tape-to-tape player, (hard to find), you needed to nail down the whole pause thing involving how long to space between songs, and more often than not the recording levels were variable from one tape to another which threw a fork in volume levels. And then assuming you could master the mechanics of physically assembling the mix, you were faced with the even more anguishing task of picking the songs and putting a sensible sequencing to the whole shebang; fast/slow, gooshy/dancey, long/short…it was razor’s edge kind of stuff. Maybe ‘ol Ek is onto something.
So making a mix tape was a tough slog but the reward outstripped the hardship. The final act of giving the mix to that special someone was immeasurably fulfilling, especially since the receiver knew full well the toll it’d exacted on the giver. It meant something. The topper to the whole thing was examining the giver’s writing – you didn’t even have to open the case! – and see what musical treasures were in store. Maybe the writing had hearts instead of the dot on the “i”, or maybe it was another signature mark, but you knew the writing, unmistakably so, and you knew you were a very happy and lucky person.
Well I’m not the world’s most romantic guy, but a couple of weeks ago I made a mix for Wendy the night before we drove to Lake Superior for a 2 night getaway. I did it all on iTunes, populated it with an uncomfortable number of Stephen Bishop songs, and never lifted a pen or pencil during its assembly. As a result, something was not necessarily lost, but something was missing and that was the personal imprint I would’ve given the mix – there was no actual gift to give after all, it was all in the cloud but that’s for another day – if I’d had to write the songs and artists inside the tape case.
Instead, while driving north on the Interstate, we were left with admiring the fall colors, talking about our kids but not so much, and wondering what cheesy 80’s song was coming next after the pause. Not bad at all, only different.