“We possess ideas, but we are possessed by feelings. They lie too deep for understanding, astir with their own secret life and carrying us with them.”
– Thomas Flanagan, as quoted in The Divided Mind by John Sarno
Sort of a cardinal rule—don’t disturb the mixtape artwork. Would you draw on a piece of art that someone gave you for your wall? No. Then don’t mess with the J-card. Hence my ambivalence about writing on the J-card I received from an acquaintance one summer in the mid-1990s. I wrote the track’s artists at the bottom. This is because they had not been provided. Withheld, in fact!
Some of my friends in college lived in Old Ellicott City, MD in a set of small rowhomes on the back side of the fairy-winged, patchouli-laden marketplace running through Main Street.
They were part of a larger group that traveled in a pack. They prided themselves on being rowdy. They drove scooters. They loved mod fashion. They played football. Or was it football as in soccer? In any case, I did not fit in there. I would wall-flower my way around, wearing Dead Kennedys t-shirts, hoping to be able to talk about music with someone, eyes wide at the cacophony of energy.
Enter Spider. He showed up there for a brief period from out of town. He was shy, which I liked. He liked to talk about music. His favorite band was Devo. He was a kindred spirit.
I never used his real name and cannot remember it. But I do remember this. Even though he wrote in the J-card that there was insufficient room to write the names of the artists, he gave me a different reason when he handed me the tape. Instead, he told me he did not write down the artists because he didn’t want me to have negative impressions about any of the songs before I listened. No pre-conceived biases. I was surprised. I wondered if he thought I seemed close-minded. But I was excited about the tape.
My favorite song on this tape, which ignited a lifelong love of John Cale, was his cover of Memphis:
I left Maryland to move home from college for the summer not long after meeting Spider, and this tape was my parting gift. It was a mainstay that summer. Spider and I exchanged some letters and phone calls. That’s how I have this photograph he sent me. “That’s you?” I remember asking him. Even his photograph was obfuscating.
I ran across this photo album a few months ago. Spider’s photo reminded me to dig out the tape. The tape makes me happy! Sweet memories of carefree summer days took the edge off the pressures and emotional weight of the holidays this year.
I asked one of my old college pals what happened to him: “I never really knew Spider- I have no idea…” Although Spider was adept at protecting himself with mystery, revisiting the conditions attached to receipt of this tape has, ironically, reminded me to be free, to embrace mystery. I’ve been thinking about the tabula rasa that Spider wanted me to have about the music—how my most profound moments in life are those with complete openness. It’s a faith that whatever you feel and think and like are all going to be okay. It requires patience, trust, and self-confidence, all of which can be thorny.
It has reminded me of the value of not getting pulled down into the mire of emotional baggage, of preconceived ideas, of unfounded fears that often preface experiences. They sour the milk. They prevent me from getting lost in the joys of life. Or in this case, a Henry Badowski song. May your new year bring happy surprises.
Sarah makes this website for fun, volunteers at Dischord Records helping on Ian MacKaye’s archive of letters for fun, listens to music, reads, and writes for fun, and spends time with family, friends, and dog for fun. Work is for the U.S. government in energy statistics. If you are reading this, I am honored for your time! Thank you!