Mixtapes occupy a strong role in the literature of people who grew up in the 80s to the early 2000s. A mixtape tells a narrative through song if often an accidental one. The person assembling it might be trying to express their feelings for someone or just putting together music they like but which captures in wax how they feel in a moment if they know it or not. The narrative possibilities of this artform have been exploited by many, most recently by Libby Cudmore in her awesome, funny, fun novel The Big Rewind which I can’t recommend enough.
So why not have some fun studying a “tape” (It’s a cd but the term is awesome) of my own. This was one minted on 3/9/03. What’s notable about that day? Open up A Flickering Life the book to Journalism Day 2003. I was pretty disillusioned that day. I didn’t go out on top. I didn’t feel like I belonged anymore. I was all too aware high school was over. So let’s recapture that spirit. Crack open Tropical Sprite, which I am drinking as I write, and let’s take a look at how one CD I still have and which still plays reflects a specific moment in my life.
Track 1: Seether–Fine Again Very downbeat, very bleak, very morose start. This is a song about recovering from addiction and realizing that sadly relapse is inevitable. For depressives, drug addiction imagery is extremely palpable to us even if we aren’t addicts though many of us are. This song sets the tone right off the bat. I’m hurting and I’m not hiding it. The idea that I’ll heal only to fall back into hurt is extremely accurate to what did happen. This is a brilliant song.
Track 2: Sum 41–Still Waiting Look at the date. This was nu-metal’s prime and this won’t be the last appearance. If the first track was bleakly ironic, this is raw anger. I’m feeling frustrated. It’s not a great song but it fits the tone.
Track 3: No Doubt– New Remember how badass No Doubt was for a while before they collapsed into selloutdom? This was on the Go soundtrack. This is such an amazing, perfect 1999 song but more to the point it fits this mix. There’s a certain confused tone to the first three songs that builds to this one with its spiraling vibe. Things reach a climax in the first act of this disc with this song. By the end of this song I’m breathless, exhausted, and uncertain as can be as to how I feel.
Track 4: Nina Gordon–Tonight and the Rest of My Life What’s interesting about a mix is you’re finding meaning in why the song was there even if it’s not the song’s actual meaning. This will emerge again soon. This song I’m not sure of the actual meaning of but in the context of the cd it feels like a cry. It’s very dark. The next few songs are fairly unified in tone and it starts here. This is a song that makes me feel alienated, lost and ok that I am. I love it. I needed it.
Track 5: The All-American Rejects–Swing Swing Emo as we know it arrives with this song. It’s honestly still a hell of a song. Nice instrumental work, a nice tight pace, and lyrics that capture someone in pain and desperately seeking to rebuild from it. I’ve just realized my world as I know it is over. This song felt so very good to listen to in that moment. It’s raw, unabashed screaming about how much you’re hurting. I can’t mock emo for that.
Track 6: Godsmack–I Stand Alone This is so not a good song. But context is everything. I’m mad, I’m angry. I’m depressed. I’m confused. Yes this felt good. The song isn’t.
Track 7: The Calling–For You Alex Band, whose work isn’t that interesting, is the scion of the Band family. The creators of Empire and Full Moon pictures. I just have to note that. He’s the son of Charles Band, one of the last great exploitation gods. Seriously. Oh and this song actually holds up. It’s a song about love off the Daredevil soundtrack with countless references to that underrated film. In context it feels like I’m in the gutter looking up. I want hope. I’m struggling with it though. I want to be saved from my pain, but I won’t be.
Track 8: Nelly Furtado–…On the Radio Consider this a weird oddity that should be struck. It’s not a good song and in theory of the CD it doesn’t fit. Except that as I listen to it I can’t help but think it does. It’s someone looking at their critics and former friends and deciding to stand for themselves instead of what others want. It’s empowering.
Track 9: Pete Yorn–For Nancy Again, the literal meaning of these songs doesn’t matter. This is a song about a woman in an abusive relationship. But there’s something about the lyrics “convince yourself that everything is alright/cause it already is” that fits my narrative. I’m depressed. I’ll lie to myself that I’m not. If I pull it off I’ll be better. That’s heavy stuff.
Track 10: Zwan–Honestly Notice an upswing in the music. I’m telling myself that I can pull through this. I’m going to make it.
Track 11: John Mayer–Why Georgia An upbeat song but the lyrics give away the game. I’m definitely still unsettled. No song with the refrain “am I living it right” cam be considered a song to listen to thinking everything’s ok. The music is a mask for the emotion. I don’t know in on this day, but I’ll be doing a lot of faking my emotions for the next few months. This is whiny white boy music but I was one.
Track 12: Blues Traveler–Back in the Day Who the hell am I kidding? This is another upbeat song with a dark meaning and it’s the single most relevant one to this day. It’s a song about revisiting your past and knowing you can’t go back. It’s openly frustrated about that. But it’s so much fun to listen to. Blues Traveler didn’t stop being awesome after Hook though we act like they did. John Popper sells this thing.
Track 13: Foo Fighters–Times Like These OK, we hit on the best known song. I doubt I need to explain why this is here. This is the ultimate “I’m in pain and I know it but I will get through it” anthem. This is the best song on the whole CD. It’s the one I returned to the most. Note: I included the live version from 2007 because it’s the best version. Foo Fighters kill it live.
Track 14: The Calling–Could It Be Any Harder Here’s the truth of depression: There is no clear arc. That’s why sad songs like this bump in. And yes, of all artists this is the one that repeats on this CD. But you know what? A raw, honest admission of pain was what I was feeling. This song captures that moment. Because after the sarcasm fades and the lies stop, I was still hurting like I’d not hurt in years. BTW, speaking of Band’s family, this is about his mother abandoning him. There is real pain in this song.
Track 15: London Philharmonic Orchestra–Kashmir As apocalyptic songs go, Kashmir is the top of the top. There are several covers in this style but this is the one on this CD and it fits. I’m in an apocalyptic mood.
Track 16: Sister Hazel–Happy Not exactly a song that sits its title. This is someone feeling frustrated in a bad relationship. It’s angry despite their standard feel good upbeat tone. It’s an ok song but kind of a filler really.
Track 17: The Beach Boys–Good Vibrations OK, this is really the best known song on the disc. This song has a dark connotation in light of Brian Wilson’s reality and Cameron Crowe’s career best use of a song when it plays over the deconstruction of reality in Vanilla Sky. Everything is not okay. Things are VERY bad. But it’s the sound of riding that as it comes. Also this song is an all time classic.
Track 18: Bruce Springsteen–Atlantic City We close on a fitting note. What matters to me now won’t matter as much anymore. There’s one more competition I’ll barely care about going to and won’t win at ahead of me. It’s over. So a song about the end of a world fits. There’s the standard darkness and rawness of Springsteen on this track. There’s another connotation though. I heard this song through Ryan who was and still massively is a Springsteen fan. My friends represent my future.
So what can one conclude from this set? It’s not perfectly set up. I’d omit a few tracks. But what is here is indisputable: A set from someone coping with pain in the moment. The truth is all of these emotions are hitting me from faking it to not faking it at all. I hurt. I can’t fix that. But I had to go on. So I did