Life, One Song at a Time: Road Music, Summery Pop,
a Sad Coda

My life in mixtapes, continued.

Editors’ note: This is the second in John’s occasional series of reflections on his autobiography as written on old magnetic tape through carefully curated collections of music — that is to say, his old cassette mixtapes.

I still make mixes. They live on my iPhone now — no more squelchy cassette — but some things never change.

Sometimes my younger colleagues laugh. For them, it’s all too “High Fidelity” for words. But if you’re a guy who grew up believing a four-minute pop song could change the world — or at least get that pretty and painfully smart girl to like you — then it’s a hard habit to give up.

A few more from my collection:

“Goodbye Connecticut, Songs for the Road”

This one was made in December 1996 on a 110-minute cassette. And it was meant to fill up the long hours on the interstate as I moved from Hartford to Chicago to start grad school. It also filled up the miles between Chicago and Sarasota, FL, where I spent the Christmas holidays with my recently relocated parents. It was the first time I’d ever seen the Gulf of Mexico. And I’ll never forget the palm trees wrapped with fairy lights or swimming in the clear blue Gulf with my father on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. It was like landing on another planet.

Some favorite tracks: “What I Got,” by Sublime; “Collision Course,” by Steve Wynn; “Be Mine,” by R.E.M.; and “October in the Railroad Earth,” a poem that Jack Kerouac recorded to the piano accompaniment of Steve Allen.

“Music for the Smart”

This one was made, if I had to guess, sometime in the summer of 2000 when I had just started dating the girl who’d eventually become my wife. The mix is filled with summery upbeat pop, reflecting the warmth of that very hot summer and the promise of that new beginning.

Some favorite tracks “Troubled Times,” by Fountains of Wayne; “Down in Your Dreams,” by The Orange Humble Band (look ’em up, it’s worth it); “Here Comes Your Man,” by The Pixies; and “Get Free,” by Shalini. To me, this is the sound of falling in love captured on a C90 cassette.

“I Remember New York”

Made sometime in that horrible autumn of 2001, right after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 in Somerset County, PA.

What I remember most from that time is the silence, the sense that someone had thrown a blanket over the world. But in the midst of all that sadness was the hope that maybe, with the violence and trauma of the attacks, we’d finally get our shit together as a species. I really believed it at the time. Unfortunately, and inevitably, I would be proven wrong. Within two or three years we’d be more fragmented than ever.

I made this cassette for a train trip from my home in Harrisburg, PA, to New York City. So maybe it’s no surprise that “New York, New York” by Ryan Adams is the lead track. My colleague and I visited the WTC site that cold weekend in December 2001. It was early morning. These tunes remind me of that time.

Article © 2013 by John L. Micek