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What We Talk About When We Talk about Mixtapes
By Christopher Sloce
Here’s what an emotionally abusive relationship taught me, because what are such relationships if not a Code of Hammurabi from a nonsense country, a Wackyland where the dodo never existed and you love the monsters? Emotionally abusive relationships are, at core, rules put in place by fearful people for vulnerable ones, where any transgression is punishable by death, slow or otherwise.
So the lessons are as follows: don’t let someone doubt your importance, that’s what bad employers are for; you’re not a cog you can order from a catalogue. Don’t date anyone who reminds you constantly how unattractive you are to them. Cutting off contact isn’t a show of cowardice but is simply necessary, so your ex can’t call you to later talk about how they found themselves. Don’t read their blog, and doubly don’t read it if you “got over” it the best you could. Get through the night as healthily as possible. Talk to people who like you. Human cruelty is universal. You yourself have been cruel and all that is left is to avoid cruelty, and how knowing of cruelty may make it a harder thing to politicize, and how now you will struggle when you see it.
How to make a good mixtape:
The aforementioned lessons are necessary to learn, but they are not easy. Mixtapes might seem like a frivolity compared to those lessons, but mixtapes are life enhancing, and as one thousand magazines will tell you, it’s the accessories that stick out. It’s the meals and drinks and showers and the beds you own. It’s mixtapes. For a certain kind of relationship, mixtapes might be cliché, but there’s a few reasons that mixtapes have stuck around. It’s a chance to show you’re not a slack jawed yokel and that your taste is excellent and, by proxy, the person receiving your mixtape is excellent. Mixtapes are a place to intimate and give hints (of course, don’t be an idiot and I’m not to be directed to in case of injury). A mixtape says, this is what it sounds like in my head. It’s synesthetic for as long as you’re willing to drive yourself nuts to get everything in its right place.
And if you’re good and care, you will drive yourself nuts. Because, as much as the above sounds like an emotional free for all, there’s a science to the mixtape. The tape has to flow. You want to know what the person likes and give them what they want, but a little to the left or right of what they love so it doesn’t look like pandering. If they like show tunes, don’t fill it up with the Chicago soundtrack, throw them Jacques Brel or the Supremes. Realize someone who loves Top 40 stuff might not be crazy about the Melvins. A mixtape, at its best, is a letter with someone else’s work reconstituted to your situation.
And I learned all this from the worst mix I ever received. When I got in her car, she handed me two 20 track CDs. I was elated and am nowhere near as dumb as I look. I knew I would be getting out of that car only after something romantic had happened because it had been two years in the making (with requisite breaks for disconcertion and repulsion and self-loathing on both our parts) and we wanted catharsis.
The mixtape slipped my mind in the following weeks because by the time I went back to campus, it was so obviously a mistake. The gild wore away in four days of couplehood. We played hypothetical games to get to know each other more (after two years of knowing each other), only to learn we liked the idea of each other more. The mixtape looked more like an indoctrination tool.
A week later, I was in a fog of culture shock and winsome depression and probably having a panic attack every time the phone rang because, for the first time, school was hard for me. We did what we usually did, with the underlying tension standing up straight. My inability to come up with hypothetical questions was being read as “being socially retarded” and she constantly reminded me how her cabal of environmentalist friends wouldn’t like me. As a final left-hook, the night we broke up, she invented a ménage a trois she had with them, just to leave me with something to think about. The conversation started going further south, when she finally asked if I had listened to her mixtape. I told her I hadn’t. She hung up and texted that she “fucking hated me." I stayed in my room all the next day, lying in bed and beating myself up, maybe even literally. And I listened to the mixtape, feeling nothing, enjoying maybe five songs. When we got regular again, it was the same it had always been, except she hated me and I knew she did and I hated her music tastes and buckled against her efforts to change me, and she had no idea. And I hated myself for it. Our breakup was unceremonious, because it had been going on for a month.
But I can’t lose what I learned. My mixes stay one volume, 15 songs at most, and I think about who might listen. I shift gears and I never repeat artists and I always avoid Mumford and Sons.
Now there’s nothing left but to let someone listen to them.
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