Jacqueline edeling

delving into my musical archives – The Bowdoin Orient

Clara Jergins

Most of my memories are musical. When I reflect on childhood stories, vivid images are punctuated with songs. My parents’ black-and-white tiled kitchen (before they were remodeled) is filled with the sounds of the Delta blues, a favorite of my dad since he was hosting his own college radio show. After the renovation, the cut copper tiles that replaced them sound like folk music on a Sunday morning. Memories of birthday parties are accompanied by my dad’s acoustic guitar twang and his earnest Pete Seeger attempts at singing.

Memories of car journeys are the most vivid and offer the widest range of sounds. After my parents finally threw away our ’99 Corolla with its fuzzy vintage tape recorder, their new CD-equipped Forester ’04 blasted through the tracks with newfound sharpness. When my parents returned the CD case to me to choose the soundtrack for our player, my fingers still rested on one of the many oddly blank discs, the words “Holiday Mix” scribbled across it in dotted lines. Whether it was the 2004 mix or the 2006 mix, I was drawn to their inevitably eclectic track listings, reflecting the range and unpredictability of my father’s musical sensibilities. With one of my father’s mixtapes in the record player, our travels could be accompanied by anything from Baha Men’s 2000 classic “Who Let the Dogs Out” to “Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day in 2004.

Thinking back to those car rides today, my dad’s mixtapes form a kind of music archive. Starting in the early ’90s, my dad created an annual “holiday mix” — appropriately titled for our interfaith family — to send to his siblings each December. Some of them reflect his own take on the biggest hits of a given year, while others offer more of a musical ode to the social and political struggles of the year. Making up for a dead year in 2005, “Holiday Mix 2006” pays homage to the devastation wrought in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. Some songs in the mix, like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s rendition of “The Saints Go Marching In”, commemorate the rich musical culture of the storm-stricken city. The song was originally made famous by famed blues pianist Fats Domino, an avatar of the city’s music scene, who saw his little grand piano submerged in 10 feet of floodwater at his home in the Lower Ninth Ward. Other songs, like Roseanne Cash’s ode to her father’s recent passing, “God Is in the Roses,” are simply meant to evoke feelings of loss, melancholy and mortality.

My dad’s holiday mixtapes were also conservation gifts. With his family members in mind, he delicately crafted each mixtape to not only reflect his own sonic sensibilities, but to share something his siblings would appreciate. He might point them to an otherwise obscure local artist, or perhaps evoke a shared feeling the year had presented them. It’s no wonder poet and music critic Hanif Abdurraqib, an ardent mixtape-maker himself, calls the process “a labor of love.” Mixtapes are a way to show another person the many ways you thought of them and the tracks that went along with that thought. Despite each tape’s musical range, my dad’s mixtapes flowed together with noticeable care. “When I place a song next to another song,” Abdurraqib explained on his Object of Sound podcast, “there’s a real opportunity to tell a story.” With his holiday mixes, my dad claimed that more than just appreciating another artist’s work, creating mixtapes was an art form in itself.

I myself caught the mixtape virus as soon as my father taught me how to burn a record. I started out like him, mixing CDs as holiday gifts, reciprocating his labors of love. But as CDs have become increasingly outdated, I have reluctantly resorted to new technologies to create stories from songs. My close friends know that burning a mixtape to CD is still one of my favorite gifts – a practice I will maintain as long as there are boomboxes and car stereos around to spin them. But as other reluctant adopters of music streaming might agree, adapting the mixtape to its modern incarnation as a playlist has also broadened its curatorial possibilities.

Scrolling through my Spotify playlists is like flipping through the pages of an old newspaper. Like my dad’s mixtapes, each playlist evokes a particular moment, a particular story that I told myself or my friends or whoever. The indie anthems of “Dish Crew” take me back to time spent in the kitchen with friends in my freshman year of high school, while the swaying basslines on “sunburn” convey a lustful nostalgia for summers spent working at the camp. Where some playlists celebrate a particular occasion, others, like soothing ballads on “morning” or adventurous tracks on “road,” are dedicated to cultivating a sense of more pervasive experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always be the first to advocate the practice of listening to albums cover to cover, point A to point B, just as the artist intended. Indeed, streaming platforms have undoubtedly encouraged more consuming listening habits: it’s now easier than ever to play our favorite songs on repeat, squeezing them soft like a sponge before moving on to the next single. sponsored by the algorithm. Playlists should not replace the value of albums. But amid a sea of ​​necessary criticism of streaming, there’s also something to be said for the enduring value of the playlist in the age of streaming.

My dad made his last official Holiday Mix in 2015. His reasoning was obvious: “No one listens to CDs anymore. There’s reason to mourn the crafted simplicity of the mixtape – the value of holding it in your hands or placing it in someone else’s hands; the way it demands your attention and resists the temptation to ‘mix it up’. For all their nostalgic value, however, mixtapes lack a certain quality of playlist life. Just as I continue to evolve, so do my playlists. I started “Dish Crew” in the spring of 2016 with about ten songs. Six years later, it now has more than three hundred songs, lasting nearly twenty-four hours. Unlike a mixtape, which can tell me about a specific moment in time, playlists can capture our more dynamic, ever-changing nature like our musical tastes.