It’s clear that friendship and love or even simple thoughtfulness were important aspects of mix tapes that made them so special. To know the music that someone loves is to know that person better. “We are closer now. We share this, and it is in our hearts.”
But there’s another reason mix tapes make for a good listen. The artists who touch us form some integral kernel of our experience with the world. And they in turn were influenced by other artists. Are you hearing a song or a scene?
In one song, you may hear the product of a burgeoning late 1970s San Francisco glam-turned-punk scene. In the next, you may hear the mid-eighties Athens, GA party scene. And next, the output of a Senegalese woman raised in West London who listened to soul and rap records growing up. A landscape of culture and creation shifts for you from track to track– each song a reminder of very different people from very different places united by the commonality that they decided to make something. It’s a reminder that there are pockets of beauty in every corner of the globe, from every era.
There always was and always will be people who get up in the morning and decide to do something brave and wonderful by creating something new. The ripple effects are unknowable and overwhelming. These makers may germinate a local music and art community. They may help someone through a difficult time. They may inspire someone many decades later, many miles away to also create something.
So to listen to a mix tape is to hear one person’s personal take on the high notes of music history–the actors and events that impacted her. She is the author of her own personal history lesson, and you are the lucky pupil. I’m not sure that there is a better way of learning about the world than this.
For more about Sarah, see If We Keep In Touch