The Mix-Tape Museum is as much a vast conspiracy as it is a museum. The museum’s goal is to collect every mix tape ever created. And they are devoted to the form as well as the function. They have no interest in your playlists, the cds you burned. They want your tapes, and they will do whatever it takes to get them. Most are easy to obtain. So few people have tape players anymore, the old mixes are put in boxes, slip to the bottom of desk drawers, shoeboxes pushed to the back of the closet. The museum’s agents have no problem retrieving them. When you next think of them, you aren’t even sure if you moved them from your last place. Maybe, they’re in storage in the basement, but do you even want to check?
The curator is an attractive woman in her 40’s. Did I need to say attractive? Probably not. It tells you nothing about her appearance, just my reaction to it. She’s agreed to give me a tour, and currently, she’s showing me the special exhibit on Unrequited Love.
“Honestly, this display barely even scratches the surface,” she’s saying, “When I was a teenager, I’d probably received a dozen or so mixes from guys that I, well frankly, just wasn’t into. And over the years, I must have given just as many to people who felt the same about me. I think we even have one of yours in our exhibit.”
It’s hard to tell the criteria for the tapes selected. I see one that is entirely Led Zeppelin songs, a reverse greatest hits. Another is so eclectic going from jazz to rap to pop with the entire second side being a symphony. Some are in cases, elaborately decorated, other loose (an intern having studiously typed up the track list for the display).
“The beauty of the mix tape is of course the form. The limitations. Space limitations. The limits of one’s sources. And, of course, the fragility. Not as clearly fragile as a record album which you’d never dream of just tossing into a backpack. But they were perishable. Heat and cold, the wear of repeated listenings until the player just starts ripping the guts out of it. It’s why we have so much more for unrequited love than for actual love. The truly loved tapes were played to death.”
“What was your go to?” I ask.
She pretends to not understand the question. But finally fesses up. “The Go-Go’s. You can imagine the sort of guys, even gals, I was into. People who considered themselves ahead of the curve. Music knowledge was their status. And you can bet, they zeroed in on my inclusion of the Go-Go’s even before they listened to it, they’d sneer, and I knew they’d never love me. And I knew I was lucky for that.”
I spot my own cassette. A 90-minute Memorex. Clear plastic with yellow gears, and pink blocks. My handwriting wasn’t great, but legible enough. I knew there wouldn’t be enough lines, so I’d just place a dot between one song and the next. No illustrations, no elaborate lettering. I wasn’t very good at that sort of flair, and I was the sort who liked to believe that it was the choice of song that mattered.
“It’s a good one,” the curator says, “I mean, for the time period, and your age. Teenaged boys are never quite as revolutionary as they seem. Even today, there’s a kid that thinks he’s discovered The Who, and he’s blowing his classmates minds with a song that was the theme to CSI Miami. But Michelle Shocked, I wouldn’t have seen that one coming.”
“You listen to them?”
“A few. It’s risky, but when I received your request for this tour, I was curious. Anyway,” she hands me a cassette, “this is for you. A souvenir of your visit.”
“I don’t have anything to listen to it on.”
“We can accommodate you.”
I glance at the track list, a few things I know, a lot I don’t, and it ends with the Go-Go’s.