Bye-Bye Miss American Pie

One of the biggest downsides to being married is the slim-to-none chance of ever-again receiving a mix tape.Say-Anything- Mix tapes, of course, aren’t tapes at all. And this is not because they really AREN’T tapes anymore.

Mix tapes are quite simply– love. They say: “I like you so much, I sat for 8 hours on a damp, manky carpet in my gross apartment and fast-forward-rewind-stopped until my finger ached, just to get my personal message perfect.”

Mix tapes say: “Hey, listen to this completely unheard of song called ‘Iowa’ by a completely unheard of band called Stone Soup which I bought at folk festival in Indiana. It reminds me of our drive on I-80 together and the exact way I felt that day.”

Mix tapes say: “Hey, you! Stop feeling sorry for yourself and listen to Sarah Vaughan sing ‘Basin Street.’ Hear her smile? And, man, did she ever have a reason to be depressed!”

Mix tapes also say: “Bee-otch, you ripped out my heart and keebab-ed it on your stilleto, but despite that I still sat on the damp, manky carpet all day and — wait, if you’ll just listen to the way Barry Manilow sings ‘Even Now,’ you’ll understand.”

More Than Words

But mix tapes don’t just spread emotion. They spread music.

Because when they aren’t talking about feelings and being held aloft in front of really large cars, they also happen to be the bearer of  mystery: new music, music the receiver might never encounter otherwise.

Case in point: College many years ago. I received three mix tapes from a guy. Included on those mix tapes was the music of Lyle Lovett, John Mayall, Enya, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Al Green, Bonnie Raitt, Cowboy Junkies, Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel, Louis Armstrong, k.d.lang,  Michelle Shocked, Paul Simon (without Garfunkel), Ella Fitzgerald, Tom Waits, and others.

Before that, I was listening to the music of my family: the Bobby Goldsboro and Helen Reddy of my mother, the Asia and Rush of my brothers, the Captain and Tennille and Bette Midler of my sisters and the Willie Nelson and Orange Blossom Special of my father. You can only imagine where that could have led.

Now, I am swimming in the musical overspill of my college, mixtape influences: From Mary Chapin I’ve leapt to Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith. From Michelle Shocked, I now sing with Shawn Colvin and Jann Arden. k.d. moved me to Ani DiFranco and Catie Curtis. From Ella and Louis, I’ve fallen head over heels for Pink Martini. Though Paul and Tom always make me long for more great singer-guitarists, but I’ve started with Cary Brothers and his Hotel Cafe gang.

Through the Air 

From Lyle Lovett, it should be said, I have not moved on. Just as with that guy who first made me mix tapes, I haven’t been able to replace him. If I held a boom box up over my head, Lyle would be singing from it.

But that doesn’t mean I am not still looking. Like love, I am insatiable for music that says something. The best is a composition created not by a computer or even by the musicians themselves, but by a friend or a lover. I’m not interested in a fancy online search engine to match my music tastes with songs that might fit mine. Robot love is no good.

To me, music is real love: it finds you, through the airwaves, through the mail, through the time, effort and thoughts of someone who happens to be thinking of you. It finds you, the way music finds you, through an open window.

So, the eternal music optimist, I am quite happy to sit and wait, for the next great mix tape to find me.  Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking for a good open mike night.

I just saw John Wayne on the Late, Late Show
Save the girl and ride away
And I was hoping as the credits rolled
He’d make it back to her someday

–Nanci Griffith “Lone Star State of Mind”

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Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She teaches and speaks about the rhetorical impact of beautiful writing. A recent transplant to Connecticut, she calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home. 

  3 comments for “Bye-Bye Miss American Pie

  1. September 7, 2007 at 6:29 am

    I don’t know….my iPod is a great mix tape, even if I made it. But yeah, mix tapes – ahhhh, I remember throwing more than one out my car window after the relationship had ended and I was done crying.

  2. Lisa Hill
    February 7, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Dave & I had a long distance relationship for a couple of years while he was in school. I no longer have a cassette player and I battle with myself over throwing away all of the mix tapes from that time and from all of our long trips together. They are the soundtrack of our early years together and it seems wrong to discard them. I won’t even get into the boxes of love letters! Maybe a ceremonial fire? Electronic playlists and e-mails lack that level of dedication. Maybe I’ll just stick them in storage.

  3. February 8, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Lisa, I would not get rid of them if I were you… you can reproduce them on an MP3 playlist however, couldn’t you?? That would be cool. I wouldn’t throw away a love letter, myself, EVER and I am not a hoarder. I always want to be able to go back and read that lovely stuff.

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