Mixing it Up (In Which the OED Ruins a Decade-Long Pastime in One Fell Swoop)

Last week, the Oxford English Dictionary caught some buzz when it announced plans to remove the compound word “cassette tape” from etymological existence. First of all, this is ridiculous. Just because tapes aren’t the device of the future (or even the present), it doesn’t mean they cease to exist as a historical reference. As my friend Taylor pointed out, isn’t the word “chariot” in the dictionary even though it’s an antiquated conveyance? What about “telegraph” or “washboard?” Or … dare I say, in this electronic age, “dictionary!”

Second of all, you can still buy this product.  Maxell, folks!  Get blown away!

Third of all, what about all of the words associated with “cassette tapes?” The cassingle (I had close to 300, including the one pictured below). The dual-cassette deck. And yes, the “mix tape.”

He is willing to fight.

How quickly we forget these tokens of affection in this age of easily accessible music – Shazaam, iTunes, cloud computing, and the rest have spoiled all of us. People under the age of maybe 26 or 27 have limited memory of the pain-staking process required to create a mix tape (or was it supposed to be “mixed tape”) for a loved one. It was a labor of love.

Now, I’m not going to retread along the path that Nick Hornby and Rob Sheffield have traipsed so eloquently. I will say, however, that while I appreciate the convenience of mix-CDs turned online playlists (turned whatever’s next), much of the thought and romance has been stripped from the process.

From the moment I got my first dual-cassette deck (Christmas, 1998) through the time I got a computer with a CD burner (fall, 2000), I made no fewer than 150 mix tapes. I kept dozens for myself and took care to make personalized ones for friends, family members, boyfriends, and crushes. I may or may not have sent one to the New Kids on the Block fan club in an effort to widen their horizons to old-time rock and roll.

The process was always messy – I’d clear space on the floor in front of my stereo, lug over a huge stack of “cassette tapes” – or later CDs – and two different colored pens. My cassette-cover strategy rarely strayed:

A Side: [Font Color 1, Song Title] [Font Color 2, small dot] [Font Color 1, Artist]

B Side: [Font Color 2, Song Title] [Font Color 1, small dot] [Font Color 2, Artist]

OCD, perhaps, but I thought it made for an attractive sleeve that would inevitably wind up lost under the passenger seat of someone’s Dodge Shadow. Live songs were no good (the endings were always too abrupt) and one couldn’t swing tempos too dramatically – this thinking was confirmed in my time at the radio station. My Dad had a mix tape that swung from Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” into Judy Collins’ “Sisters of Mercy.” I’ve never quite recovered from that startling segue.

Most of all, a mix tape had to combine familiar favorites with “new” music to which you wanted to introduce the listener. The former got the audience excited when first perusing the track list – the latter provided an education.  It was a service I was providing, and I hope I left a tiny bit of a legacy. Even if, when you’re asking the OED, none of these items ever really existed.

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4 thoughts on “Mixing it Up (In Which the OED Ruins a Decade-Long Pastime in One Fell Swoop)

    • Oh, I still have plenty of mine (most are at my parents’ house, but still). The problem? Nowhere to play them. I need to invest in a Walkman. (Is “Walkman” still in the OED)?

  1. Pingback: Worst DJ Ever (In Which I, of All People, Lose Control of the Music) « Neurotic City

  2. I’ve had to start making mixed tapes again. Though, I must admit, I use iTunes to do this. This probably makes me unworthy in your eyes for even speaking of mixtapes. I was at the tail end of the mixtape era, however, as I’ve only made like seven mixed tapes and most of my music collection growing up consisted of compact discs.

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