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Mix tape

Remember when mix tapes were a thing? Remember drawers full of cassettes, perhaps from your parents' collection, and music players that needed constant repairs? I remember listening to audio fairytales over and over, and using the rewind button far too much. I remember buying cassettes of movie soundtracks and fast-forwarding them till I found the one song that I actually liked (, not yet...stop...are we getting close?...stop...shoot, it's already started...rewind). I remember visiting music shops, and listening to Backstreet Boys. I remember random assortments of ABBA songs that my dad recorded on blank tapes. I remember desperately winding the annoying brown ribbon that held my favourite songs with a pencil.

I don't remember vinyl as much, probably because the only place where I saw records was my grandparents' house, and then, years later, at my home-for-two-months in London and a charming shop in Brussels. My grandfather is the only person I have ever seen who actually listens to music, really listens. Every molecule of his being seems to be paying attention, unlike the rest of us who play it as a background to our work or thoughts. In our noisy, fast, distracted world, listening - whether to music or speech - has become so underrated.

I even kind of miss CDs.

Grandfather's collection

But anyway, I was thinking about mix tapes. They're really just playlists, of course, but they seem more real, more defined, more tangible somehow. Especially the whole concept of making a mix tape for someone else, putting in that time and effort to select, record, compile and share music that means something to you and that you hope will mean something to the other person, and being able to hold it in the palm of your hand. Not like an album; beautiful in its uniqueness and imperfection. And music is so personal. When someone shares songs that they really care about with you, you should feel honoured. It means something. And the least you can do is listen.

No one's ever made me a mix tape, and I've never made one either. I did make a playlist though, which is not quite the same thing, but my music player no longer works and neither does my walkman. I suppose this is the next best thing.

I'm not sure what the theme of this compilation is, except that the songs seem to go together, and when I listen to it from beginning to end, it has a message. They're not happy songs; they're the kinds of songs you might listen to as you wait to fall asleep, or as Charlie says on page 62 of my copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 
"I hope it's the kind of second side that he can listen to whenever he drives alone and feel like he belongs to something whenever he's sad. I hope it can be that for him. [...] And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean."

Winter kind of songs.

A still from The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Each of these songs has come to my rescue at some point. They're about waiting, understanding, love, heartbreak, lessons, softness, pain, joy, belonging, endings, hope, resilience, balance. Many of these artists had tragedies of their own, which listening to these songs always reminds me of. (Does all art arise from something negative? Something painful? Something powerful?)

When I was in Singapore last summer, I came across the work of the Singaporean artist Song-Ming Ang, specifically his project entitled You and I. The artist asked people to write to him about things that they consider personal, and he compiled a mix tape for each person as a reply to their letter. The letters were framed and exhibited, along with a set of headphones to listen to the musical response by the artist. I thought that was so beautiful, and it wasn't even for me.

I made this playlist for myself, and for you if you want it, but I'd love to make a specific one for someone, and maybe have someone make one for me too. We can never have too much music, after all.

Would you like to? Would you like me to?


01 Say Something - A Great Big World | 02 Between the Bars - Elliott Smith | 03 Sacred Heart - The Civil Wars | 04 Rainy Days and Mondays - Carpenters | 05 Lorelai - Fleet Foxes | 06 Dimensions - Arcade Fire | 07 Sundowning - Aqualung | 08 Michicant - Bon Iver | 09 Youth - Daughter | 10 Vienna - Billy Joel


  1. Loved your playlist. Funnily, I listen to very similar music, from most of those artists. This reminds me of the need similar to how it feels to printing photos, taking time to go through our GBs of music to make playlists. There is joy and some meaning in that creation. I hope to make some playlists, if not for others, for myself (and maybe to the few I love too).

    1. I agree with the printed photos analogy! It never really occurred to me to make playlists for myself before, partly because I'm likely to end up very confused (I'm sure I'd do it if I was a runner, for example, and needed running music, but I'm not :p) I might try small thematic playlists now though, the idea has a certain romance :)


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