In this week’s Wellbeing Matters column, a few thoughts on the humble mixtape.
In 1993, twelve-year old Stella Wedell went on holiday to Majorca with her favourite mixtape, containing acts like Shaggy and UB40. That tape was lost to the sea, forever. Or so she thought. Stella’s tape washed up in 2017, collected as beach waste and exhibited in an art installation in Stockholm. Which she just happened to visit, spotting her handiwork with a sense of wonder that after 24 years at sea it still played that special mix she’d loved so much.
This mixtape had come full circle, like a love letter thrown out to sea. The find made news around the world, prompting conversations about mixtapes we’ve loved and lost, snippets into the worlds we used to inhabit, the people we used to be.
Cassette mixtapes were a rash amongst teenagers of a certain era. There was something special about unwrapping that C60 cassette, placing it into the tape deck, and then mixing, cutting, pouring out your heart onto that fragile piece of plastic. Declarations of unrequited love, anthems to get you through the door in the morning, gifts for a friend when you had no cash, a soundtrack for getting your dancing shoes on.
You had to commit to making a mixtape. Perfection took hours of planning: creating the track listing, finding them on vinyl or cassette and catching them just as they both stopped and started. There were no Spotify daily mixes then, no internet downloads to cobble together tracks in a few minutes. There was just time, patience and a limited pool of sources.
Rob in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity got it spot on, when explaining the rules of the mixtape: “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”
You could give them as gifts, or use them as an aural diary, a lyrical outpouring of how you felt at a point in time. Not all were happy; I was surprised by the bitterness on one of mine, of PiL’s Rise in amongst the multiple inclusions of Forever Autumn.
Stella was overjoyed to meet her mixtape. It took her back to a happy place in time, to the soundtrack that evoked how she viewed the world. Little beacons of emotion to carry us through the day. A highlight of our aspirations, even if it did just involve a pint of cider and a snog on the dancefloor.
Did you ever make a mixtape? What was it for? Mine were generally unrequited crushes set to excruciating sentiment. I have one left in my nostalgia box, a 60 minute get ready to rumble set that ends with the glory that is Meatloaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.
Do you still have any lurking about? Wondering why you can’t let it go. What tracks strike a particular resonance? What would be your ultimate mixtape tracks? Or do you still take great joy in painstakingly crafting the perfect track list, irrespective of the medium you choose to listen to it through?
Right now, my YouTube Pilates playlist consists of Queensryche’s Silent Lucidity and Pink Floyd’s On The Turning Away, to take me a peaceful place, and let the world drift away. Mix it up, let it go. Just what mixtapes were made for.
Take care, and thanks as always for reading.