I overheard a woman telling her friend about a Spotify playlist that her new boyfriend has curated for her. She practically swooned as she rattled through the list of songs. And yes, she used the word "curated."
I rolled my eyes, not because I don't approve of young love or romantic gestures or the power of song. I rolled my eyes because of how easy it is to create a playlist on Spotify. My seven year-old daughter has been making playlists using Spotify for years.
The greatest romantic gestures are the ones that require time, effort, creativity, inspiration, and perseverance.
Spotify playlists require almost none of these.
But the mix tape required all of these things.
Back in the days before the Internet, MP3 players, and streaming services, there was the mix tape: a compilation of music, typically by different artists, recorded onto a cassette tape and imbued with love.
The mix tape was one of the greatest romantic gestures of all time. It required the creator to sit beside the radio and listen, waiting for the perfect song to come on, hoping against hope that the goddamn DJ would not speak through the song's opening bars. Mix tapes in the analog age took hours to create. They demanded that the creator make difficult and instantaneous decisions. Space was at a premium. Song choice was often limited and random. There was no means of editing. No way of eliminating gaffs unless you recorded over the last bit with something new.
The mix tape was difficult to make and impossible to do well and therefore the ultimate romantic gesture.
I received mix tapes from two girls in my day.
A girl named Nicki Blais made me a mix tape to listen to on the ride home after spending a weekend in New Hampshire with her. I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time on that tape and feared that my '80's metal bands were doomed. I also heard Trisha Yearwood's "She's In Love With The Boy" for the first time, a song my kids and I still sing to this day.
My high school sweetheart, Laura, made me three mix tapes to listen to while we flew to California with the marching band in separate planes. Laura combined music with spoken word. She told me stories, read poetry, and even sang a little in between songs recorded off the radio. I probably fell in love with her while listening to those tapes somewhere over the Rockies.
I wish I still had those mix tapes today. They were that precious to me.
The Spotify playlist is easy and unrememberable. A person could make hundreds of them in no time.
The mix tape was unforgettable.