Infinite playlists a labor of love

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Remember mixed tapes? To paraphrase the Beastie Boys, one of my favorite bands, you need a good mixed tape to get you in the right mood.

One of our district technology experts was in my classroom recently, and as he worked his magic creating a Frankenstein-type combination of projector/VHS/speaker so I could show a Spanish-language telenovela to my students, we had a conversation about mixed tapes. He’s a young guy, so right after I mentioned tapes and what a pain they were, cueing them or getting tangled up, I realized he might not know what I meant. But he understood and then even mentioned how cool mixed tapes used to be.

We reminisced about how much effort it used to take to make a mixed tape, so different from downloading files and burning a CD today. Back then you actually had to sit and carefully cue each song, stopping and starting at precisely the right moment. Twice. Once from the original tape then again onto the mixed tape. You had to sift through different tapes, looking for exactly the right song, deciding where it should go on the mixed tape. Plus there was all the effort of labeling and writing down songs. And of course there was always the little note that accompanied the gift of the mixed tape.

I had a young man give me a mixed tape once, years and years ago. Even though he was actually not a very good boyfriend — one of those who would disappear for days on end with no explanation and who never had money to pay for himself — I swallowed my self-respect long enough to date the guy, even though he was a loser. Why? The mixed tape.

I went out with him a few times, then told him it was over. But he made me a mixed tape that night and presented it the next morning with a love letter. Songs like “Wish You Were Here” and “Being with you is like being stoned” (is that romantic?) were not really that persuasive — it was merely the idea that this guy had most likely stayed up all night thinking of me making a mixed tape. So I continued to go out with him for awhile. Hey, a little effort can go a long way.

I asked some of my students if they knew what a mixed tape was and they seemed surprised I would ask. Of course they know what a mixed tape is. A couple were proud to admit they have even seen a tape deck. Ricky’s sister used to have a Nissan with a tape deck in it. Brian even used to OWN a tape deck. Whoa. Then they all went back to the videos they were creating on iPads.

I couldn’t really get any 14-year-olds to engage in conversation about mixed tapes, so my assumption has to be they probably don’t have a lot of experience with the tedious experience of actually making them. And why would they? They have plenty of technology to be absorbed by now, so of course they don’t bother with this relic any more than I do. But it’s good they are aware that there is a thing that exists called a mixed tape. The generation gap isn’t that big yet.

Sara Van Donge is a Walla Walla native, middle school dual language teacher and mom to two children. She is currently working on publishing a larger project, which will be available this summer. She can be reached at saravandonge@gmail.com.

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