A mix-tape, whatever its intended purpose, is also always a time capsule. A record of a person, a place, a set of feelings, a time that felt like forever, and then wasn’t.
Last week I opened a box and a little piece of the ’90s fell out: the first driving mix-tape I ever made. There’s no date on it, but I’m pretty sure it’s from the spring of 1992, since that is approximately when I would have gotten my license. Fun trivia fact: I learned to drive on the Beltway. In a Chevette.
Anyway it is a hilarious cultural trainwreck and I kind of love it, not least because a mix that starts with Dwight Yoakam, dips heavily into, among other things, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Elvis Costello in the middle, and ends with Ashokan Farewell probably does still sum me up as a person reasonably well.
Also, I have a terrible pop music problem and every time I listen to Five Seconds of Summer’s She Looks So Perfect I start laughing when they get to I got a mix tape straight out of ’94 because, dudes, I was there, I remember, and most of that, so not romantic.
Warning: may cause cultural whiplash.
Dwight Yoakam, I Sang Dixie -- NICE OPENING SALVO, Seventeen. What, had you listened to Guitars, Cadillacs and Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose too many times?
Bruce Springsteen, Human Touch -- Clearly I started making this mix when I was in a bad mood. Let’s face it, that was probably just my default mode, because: seventeen.
Elvis Costello, Veronica -- This is what I mean by “not romantic”: a New Wave pop song about Alzheimers!
Def Leppard, Pour Some Sugar On Me -- I got to hear this live a couple of summers ago, and you know what: those riffs have aged like fine, fine wine. They belled out over the sea at Jones Beach and I rose and swayed gently, grinning like an idiot and doing my best not to air drum.
Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack, Science Fiction Double Feature Picture Show -- I was a sheltered suburban child and I am at a loss to explain how I even knew about this movie. P.S. Thank you, whoever introduced me to the dark side.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kings Road -- Tom Petty was my first show (in 1989) and in many ways my first fandom, which I was in pretty much alone, because I had no-one to discuss him with in the ’90s, because my friends were more into Robert Smith. He just put out another record this year -- Hypnotic Eye -- and you know what it is BANGIN’ and he puts bands 3/4ths his age to shame. I also had mixes that were just Tom Petty songs, drawn from all of his records c. 1992, which I also used as driving mixes. That was what we had to do in the dark ages before iPod shuffle, y’all. Trivia about this song: There’s a street in Los Angeles called “Kings Road” and every time I crossed at that corner this song started playing in my head.
John Mellencamp, Again Tonight -- I appear to be feeling better! Yay!
Blondie, The Tide is High -- Ah yes, here we are, the Songs For Dumb Boys section: part 1. Dear Seventeen: It wasn’t worth it, but I appreciate your determination anyway.
Elvis Costello, Miss MacBeth -- This is actually a demo version, not the one from the record, because that I couldn’t find that one. But you get the general idea. It’s missing some of the depth and punch and all y’all should go and buy Spike so you can properly appreciate this song about the ways becoming an old maid can twist a person. It’s one of those tunes that falls into the “sometimes you read good stories, other times, the book reads you” category. Then, this was a cautionary tale; now, it still is, I guess, but I feel a certain amount of sympathy for Miss MacBeth and her daily love songs and corrosive rage.
BoDeans, Good Things -- This one kind of lightens the mood, and kind of . . . doesn’t. Mostly I love that the person who uploaded this video went with 4+ minutes of dash cam somewhere broad, green and flat, because this is a driving mix, after all.
BoDeans, Paradise -- I am not sure why I went all Two for Tuesday on BoDeans here, other than I really loved all of the songs Black and White and couldn’t choose just one.
Jimmy Buffett, Great Filling Station Hold-Up -- Songs for Getting The Fuck Out Of Here, part 1: this is a silly song about dumb criminals, but also reflected my burning desire to graduate from high school and get out of town.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Thing About You -- Songs For Dumb Boys, part 2a. I’m still not much for mystery, not going to lie.
Bon Jovi, Bad Medicine -- You might be a lite-country-playing grown-up now, Jon Bon Jovi, but I remember when you had big riffs and ridiculous hair and acid washed jeans, and I loved you best. More or less. I suppose it would be more accurate to say I loved you best in a four way tie with Axl Rose, James Hetfield, and Tommy Lee.
Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack, Over At The Frankenstein Place -- In this case the light in the darkness was the possibility of college, where I might meet other weirdos like me. (Spoiler alert: I did.)
Elvis Costello, This Town -- This Town is a very satisfying thing to hiss under your breath while driving back from the grocery store, is all I can say.
J. Geils Band, Centrefold -- The family of a deceased alumna gave my high school a jukebox for the cafeteria, because she had loved music, and we used it to play this song every single day for a solid year. I think they took it away not long thereafter.
John Mellencamp, Crazy Ones Songs for Dumb Boys, part 2b. They weren’t actually crazy, it just felt that way, at the time.
Richard Marx, Angelia -- Any ’90s mix that does not include at least one Richard Marx song is historically inaccurate because between this one and Right Here Waiting he was everywhere.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, You and I Will Meet Again -- I know exactly which boy this was in reference to, and, listening to the song again, I realized: we did. Almost twenty years later, almost exactly as the lyrics said: in a far-off place (Penn Station), I recognized his face. We stopped to chat for a minute, and then he vanished back into the commuting crowd.
Tesla, Lodi -- Tesla -- I saw them live recently (kind of) too, and, you guys, it was awesome. This is more on the theme of How The Hell Do I Get Out Of This Town?
The Forester Sisters, Mama’s Never Seen Those Eyes -- One of the mysteries of old tapes: where did I get these songs from? Most of them I know I bought the tape. This one I really have no idea. I can’t imagine it was still on the radio, so I must have. Also, this is a whole lot of wishful thinking. Someday, Seventeen, someday. I promise.
Alice Cooper, I’m Your Gun -- Holy awkward transitions, Batman! I am baffled that I didn’t select Poison or House of Fire, here, but, oh well. The ways of Seventeen are cloudy and mysterious, I suppose.
Gerardo, Rico Suave -- I actually bought his tape; it was pretty good. But this was the song that was inescapable. Did you know: Gerardo is at least partially responsible for Enrique Iglesias being signed to Interscope! Apparently he’s a youth pastor now.
Ken Burns’ The Civil War soundtrack, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, Ashokan Farewell -- Again: good lord, THAT is a transition. I don’t think I ever watched the mini-series, I just listened to the soundtrack. A lot. Ashokan Farewell also ended up on the graduation mixes I made.