A friend of mine has said, “I think that mix tapes create a network of influence and obligation. The better the mix tape, the greater the chance it will change your life.”
Interestingly enough, I have four tapes from that friend, and one changed life. In fact, that life has been pulled and pushed and tweaked and twisted, just by those tapes.
These are tapes that know how to build a world, wrench it out from under you with a brilliant segue, then put you right back into it so that you could understand it for real this time, just in time to have it altered again.
Sometimes they would give you a song that let you know how incomplete the world you knew was, how much you were starving for this wilder, richer, sometimes quieter world, where there was room for your head to spread out and consider things you were mostly ignoring before.
Or sometimes they would give you a song you thought you knew, but sandwiched in a place that made you realize you had missed the whole point, but now you could see it.
The world they made is not one that anyone would want to leave, and yet it was a world that for years I could not bear to visit, because when I stepped into it I could not but remember how I had tainted that world by not knowing how to live in it.
It was a world of gifts, where every little piece, every relationship, every melody or dissonance, every call to arms, every musical joke, every repetition or resonance or version--“every scratch, every click, every heartbeat”--every sound matters, every one gives you an insight, or represents an invitation, an evocation.
Now, years hence, these tapes each represent a different world, and really a different me who could listen to them differently than I can listen to music now, with a sense that I was capable of accepting invitations.
And where would I be now without them? Not just without the music, which I do not say lightly, because these tapes let me really hear jazz for the first time, and they showed me how jazz and classical and pop and whatever we were calling alternative then spoke to one another, and they gave me pieces that have become a profound part of my psyche. And not just without having had my curatorial sense enriched by what someone could do with music he loves, or my taste influenced by what is amassed on these magnetic strips, or my sensory networks shaped by how these songs sing to the music in my head. But where would I be without being able to go back into that created world, and that distant time, and that earlier version of me? What if this whole sense of what it felt like to be alive then were no longer available? What if I were no longer obligated to this very real and crucial piece of my past?
Thanks, Tim, for four amazing tapes. Thanks for kicking my musical ass with the back-and-forth of Sonic Youth and Hilliard Ensemble on "Polyphonic Youth." Thanks for insisting that I get a copy of Górecki’s third symphony. Thanks for letting me in on what you have heard. And thanks especially for the worlds that “The Skies and A Sweet Caress” and “The Knotted Chord” let me live in for a time and still allow me to visit.