Kill All Surfboarders

DATE:

February, 2002

COVER:

IMG_4049

LINER NOTES:

We’ve turned a bit of a corner with these mixtapes.

There’s about 18 separate tapes left to listen through and talk about, but from here on out there’s a unifying quality to all that remain. You see, the tapes that came before this were recorded during different stages of my life, in different locations, and were made for different reasons. There were road trip mixes, ex-girlfriend mixes, be-my-girlfriend mixes and you-must-hear-this-band mixes. Even the physical tapes themselves were a mix-and-match hodgepodge of what was available. A Memorex here, a Maxell XL there. You didn’t know what to expect from one tape to the next. Every part of it was going to be a surprise.

But eventually, a routine started to fall into place.

I started thinking long term about my mixtapes. I wasn’t happy begging and borrowing for blank cassettes, so I invested in multiple TDK CDPower 10-packs. And aside from the occasional gift mixtape, these remaining mixes were all put together for my car– for my rides to and from work, and for those folks that would be sitting in the passenger seat. I sat at the same desk using the same tape deck every time. The routine of these tapes was coming together and it felt comfortable and right. I was even using the same pens to document the titles and song lists.

A lot of things were starting to feel like longterm investments.

After moves from Boston to Los Angeles to home and then back to Boston, I was finally settling in to my new old home– L.A. After jobs in video stores, convenience stores, financial call centers and retail, I was starting a gig in post-production that would last me for years.

There wouldn’t be a lot of surprises going forward. Many routines started to fall into place. Jobs, cars, apartments– they would go unchanged for years, sometimes decades. Taco Tuesdays. Pizza Wednesdays. Antacid Thursdays. Repeat. Every month or two, I would make a new mixtape. And after relationships new, renewed, long-distanced, flinging and one-night-standing, I was now with a woman I moved across the country for. There was no longer a hodgepodge mix-and-match of people in my life. There was Carrie. And Carrie was enough. She was my TDK CDPower 10-pack.

But routine doesn’t mean boring. There’s nothing wrong with the familiar. Because as much as things may stay the same, there are always new and different things passing through. Fine, maybe I kept making mixtapes at the same cadence, with the same cassettes, sitting at the same desk, with the same tape deck for years and years.  But the songs don’t remain the same.

Even in routine, the new melodies of life would now be soundtracking my days.

THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW’S THE MIX?:

SIDE A:

  • “Every Single Day” – Dodgy
  • “Spread Your Love” – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
  • “The Sky is Falling” – Owsley
  • “That Ole Sun” – The Sunshine Fix
  • “Play It Cool” – Super Furry Animals
  • “World Class Fad” – Paul Westerberg
  • “Battle of Who Could Care Less” – Ben Folds Five
  • “Girl From Mars” – Ash
  • “Hazy” – Shack
  • “Slight Return” – The Bluetones
  • “No Static at All” – 3rd Bass
  • “Standing By” – The Actual Tigers
  • “It’s My Shadow” – Ocean Colour Scene
  • “Never Die Young” – The Anniversary
  • “Start!” – The Jam
  • “Fell in Love With a Girl” – The White Stripes
  • “Sugar Blaster” – The Starlight Mints
  • (Oasis radio clips)

SIDE B:

  • “Modern Age” – The Strokes
  • “She’s A Star” – James
  • “Give Me Strength” – The Minders
  • “Circles” – Soul Coughing
  • “Remote Control” – Beastie Boys
  • “Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand” – Beulah
  • “Die, All Right!” – The Hives
  • “Can’t Get a Line” – Old 97’s
  • “True Love Waits” – Radiohead
  • “The Rainbow” – Apples in Stereo
  • “Sing” – Travis
  • “History of a Boring Town” – Less Than Jake
  • “Caught by the Fuzz” – Supergrass
  • “AMPs of Sugarland” – Cotton Mather
  • “Veronica” – Elvis Costello
  • “Song 2” – Blur
  • “Joe Rey” – Fountains of Wayne
  • “Let Forever Be” – The Chemical Brothers
  • (Oasis radio clips)

 

I’ve got nothing against surfboarders. In fact, I wish I knew how to surf. The title of this mix comes from one of the Oasis radio interview clips I used to play out each side of the tape. (Yes, I have Oasis radio interview clips on CD.) The clips are very random, often just Liam and Noel answering unheard questions. There was no conscious choice on my part what section of clips I picked, no great planning. I just wanted something interesting to fill the tape through the end.

That’s a bit how this tape feels. No great plan here, just some interesting sounds to fill the tape through the end. And this makes sense after a string of very purposeful mixtapes. (Go back and read about them. You can start with this one.) No big mission statements here, just some likable music to get me to work and back… every… single… day.

Man, I hope you took the time to play that YouTube clip. I love that song. Such a great way to start a mix. It’s one of the few go-to hits this mix contains. Or a “Me Hit.” Meaning a song I often use on said mixes. But there are a few actual hits on this mix, too. The White Stripes “Fell In Love With a Girl” finally makes an appearance after several tapes highlighting deeper cuts. “Song 2” from Blur is here. Oh, hello nasty, it’s the Beastie Boys!

But other than that handful of tracks, this cassette is filled with either new bands/albums or less-used tracks from mixtape regulars. I don’t know if I ever go back to most of these. “Joe Rey” from Fountains of Wayne is never the first Fountains of Wayne song I think of, but it’s a suitable little rocker. I also didn’t use The Bluetones’ “Slight Return” that often, despite its melodic ease. And “Play It Cool” from Super Furry Animals is, in fact cool.

Another “not-so-often” song from an oft-heard band is “It’s My Shadow” from Ocean Colour Scene. This song is an epic in disguise. It clocks in under five minutes, but feels at least twice that. There are loud/soft movements throughout as the song builds to a repeated refrain that doesn’t quite mean anything, while still being the most meaningful thing you’ve ever heard.

PLEASED TO MEET YOU:

Kill All Surfboarders has a deluge of new-to-me bands and music. In fact, at least six tracks here came from the same single day of purchases at the now defunct Burbank Virgin Megastore. I still have the visual memory of perusing the aisles, examining the CD covers and holding a stack that included The Actual Tigers, The Sunshine Fix, Radiohead, The Hives, and The Anniversary,

By this time, I had an easy ear for the music I liked, and The Anniversary checked off so many of my favorite musical boxes. Beatlesesque? Check. Boy/girl harmonies? Check. Singing? Check. I had the same quick reaction to The Actual Tigers. Their acoustic guitar led jams were fun, folky rockers. Simon and Garfunkel with a backbeat. “Standing By” is a great example of the sound of this band. But it’s not on YouTube, so you’re shit out of luck. Here’s The Hives instead.

Yes, that’s the first appearance of The Hives on a car mixtape. It shan’t be the last. I really dug The Hives. They were my favorite of the garage-rock revival groups that followed The Strokes and The White Stripes into the mainstream. They were goofy and cool and could fucking rock. The Sunshine Fix were nothing like that. Led by Olivia Tremor Control’s Bill Doss, The Sunshine Fix had a more laid back, flower child kind of feel. It’s that kind of juxtaposition that I love when putting these song in sequence.

WAIT. WHAT? WHY?:

When you’re collecting upbeat tunes to inspire you through your doldrum drive to work and back, you should not include a tale of an aged, forgotten, Alzheimer-suffering grandmother.

No matter how peppy the melody.

THE SUPER ULTRA MEGA SONG:

Oh, man. Sometimes it pains me to known how unheard a band is. And right along with that, how unheard a song is. Beulah and “Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand” are exactly what I’m talking about. The music this band makes is going to show up on almost every mix from here on out. They’ve already been on the last two. But it’s this song, this gorgeous little trumpet-fueled toe-tapper of a song about a life that’s passed by that I a.

Listen to this song. Hit play and close your eyes and take in the two-minute wordless intro. Hear how the horns kick in, but remain subdued and welcoming. Hear the lyrics paint a picture of a woman’s life from childhood to “when all you know foreshadows a ghost.” Don’t let it scare you away.

 

 

 

 

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Connick For Carrie

DATE:

November 1, 2001

COVER:

IMG_3900

LINER NOTES:

Two years into our relationship and I had given my girlfriend almost everything. My heart, my geographical location, my… copy of It’s A Wonderful Life on VHS tape. But still, after all that time, no exclusively-Harry Connick Jr. mixtape.

She had Oasis, Ben Folds, Travis and Gomez tapes, but no HCJr. In high school, a Connick collection would have come first. He was, after all, my guiding romantic force from grades 9 through 12. It wasn’t Llyod Dobler or Harry Burns or Kim Howe (though I cribbed from all of them as often as possible). It was Harry Connick’s crooning and his love-soaked jazz.

But a mixtape from a rock band was an easier thing to sell than a collection of piano and sax-fueled Connick tunes. He wasn’t an unknown to Carrie. She had seen When Harry Met Sally. She, from time to time, would channel surf to VH1. Still, this was an artist she wasn’t clamoring for. Never did Carrie utter, “Let’s dim the lights and play some Blue Light Red Light tonight, dear,” and then growl like a sexy tiger. No. In fact, she had very little interest in the music that both I and my mother enjoyed.

But that wasn’t going to stop me.

I wanted Carrie to understand my love of Harry Connick Jr. Though his aesthetic hasn’t fit his songs into too many tapes before this, his music was a big part of my life. Like the pop bands listed above, I had every Harry Connick Jr. album available– soundtracks and all. I owned an album called Lofty’s Roach Soufflé because of this completism, and Carrie needed to know why.

I’m no jazz expert. In the genre, there are better singers, better piano players, better performers. But Harry Connick Jr. hit me during that transitional time in life and he’s stuck. I am fan. A big one. And my goal was to make Carrie a fan, too.

THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW’S THE MIX?:

SIDE A:

  • “It Had to Be You”
  • “Muskrat Ramble”
  • “She Belongs to Me”
  • “Recipe For Love”
  • “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me”
  • “It’s Alright With Me”
  • “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”
  • “I’m an Old Cowhand”
  • “Just Kiss Me”
  • “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans”
  • “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”
  • “Come By Me”
  • “I’ll Dream of You Again”
  • “A Blessing and a Curse”
  • “After You’ve Gone”

SIDE B:

  • “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”
  • “Didn’t He Ramble”
  • “A Wink and a Smile”
  • “I’ve Got a Great Idea”
  • “We Are in Love”
  • “Don’t Fence Me In”
  • “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”
  • “Heavenly”
  • “Nowhere With Love”
  • “I Could Write a Book”
  • “Avalon”
  • “If I Could Give You More”
  • “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans”
  • “With Imagination”
  • “Do-Re-Mi”

If you have to pick just one song to open a Harry Connick Jr. mixtape, it has to be “It Had to Be You.” For several reasons. For many, with the success of When Harry Met Sally, this may be the first HCJr. song they’re familiar with. It’s also a perfect showcase of his vocal stylings (throwing in that “Baby!” towards the end is classic Harry) and big band flair. But that best reason is that rousing 28-second balls-to-the-wall introductory buildup that stops on a dime only to be followed with Harry’s vocal standalone “It had to be you.”

Hell, maybe this song should open every mixtape.

If that was the obvious choice for opener, what should be the follow up? “It Had to Be You” was big band and popular. So for song two, I went with just piano and obscure. As much as Harry Connick Jr. is known for his vocal styles, one sometimes forgets that piano is his thing. So this fact had to be made very clear early on in this tape. And one of my favorite displays of Harry’s piano prowess comes on his take of “Muskrat Ramble,” a Dixieland standard originated by Louis Armstrong and covered hundreds of times over. It’s one of those songs you don’t know the name of, but it doesn’t sound unfamiliar.

Here it’s just Harry and his piano, with none of the Dixieland horns you would hear on most covers. Without those horns and percussion, you might think the song might lose some of its jauntiness. You’d be wrong. Harry kills it. He speeds it up, slows it down, changes styles, and keeps you moving the entire three and half minutes.

Mission statements of Big Band and Piano Man out of the way, it was now time to bring out the hits. These “hits” are relative to my own love of the songs since I have no idea if, how, or when any of these songs charted for the man.

The …Met Sally soundtrack was what I had first, but Harry’s We Are In Love album was the first of his originals I owned. The title track (play it above) was an instant favorite, and a song I had hoped to sing to so many high school crushes. I would have also serenaded that lucky girl with the delightfully sweet “Recipe For Love.”

And that was another selling point for this music– I could sing it. I could do a fairly decent Harry Connick Jr. impression singing these songs. Here’s this freshman dink crooning on about love making and making the girls swoon and it felt great. It probably sounded like crap, but I felt great doing it. HCJR was quite the confidence builder for me. It wouldn’t last, but singing a song like “Just Kiss Me” for all to hear during musical rehearsals was empowering. Also… probably too aggressive.

Then and now.

But, oh, man, those horns.

Honestly, I had forgotten how much I love these songs. The idea of putting the rock/pop mixes on hold for 24/7 Connick was nice, but I didn’t think it could sustain me for more than a few days. I was absolutely wrong. Once this tape was rolling, I was in no hurry to slip it back into its case.

So many of these songs are hits to me. “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” from the …Met Sally soundtrack. “She Belongs to Me” from Blue Light Red Light. The absolutely perfect “Nowhere With Love” from Come By Me. This song– about how it’s better to love and have nothing than to have everything but no love– is a classic. And one that would eventually entertain the guests at my wedding while they waited for the husband and wife to make their entrance.

PLEASED TO MEET YOU:

As this was an introduction to Harry Connick Jr., one would think I’d pull from all available material at the time. This was not the case. You’ll find nothing here from his 1994 release She, or 1996’s Star Turtle. Both of these albums leaned more towards pop and funk, and while I enjoy them both (She more that Star Turtle), I wanted Carrie to get the Big Band/Piano first impression that I had enjoyed. I think this was the right choice. Electric guitars and straight pop drumming anywhere near this mix would have destroyed its horn ladened swagger.

WAIT. WHAT? WHY?:

There are plenty of covers on this mix. One can’t be a jazz musician without spending some time working out their own renditions of the standards. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is here. “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” is here (with Dr. John, no less.) We even get a barebones piano version of “Avalon.”

But it’s the covers of “kid” songs that just don’t mesh as well with everything else. Which is ironic, since it’s the release of the covers album Songs I’ve Heard in October of 2001 that spawned this entire mix in the first place.

They’re not terrible. I don’t mind “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The mixtape closer version of “Do-Re-Mi” is by far the best of the bunch. But when surrounded by the sexier sounds of love and lust and broken hearts, they become sore thumbs. And if I never have to hear this version of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” again, well, that’s alright with me.

THE SUPER ULTRA MEGA SONG:

Going into this tape, I figured the Super Ultra Mega Song would have to be “Heavenly,” for personal sentiment alone. I used to sing this a capella (as the song is recorded on We Are In Love) with a couple friends in high school. We’d pull it out at cast parties and the like to get the girls to swoon. (Typically, it was for the other two, but I was happy to be the wingman.) Later in life, a slowed-down solo version of the tune became my go-to lullaby for my girls.

So this HAD to be the winner, right? Nope. Wrong. No. The Super Ultra Mega Connick Song is this:

“Come By Me” has it all. Another song about love and lust, it opens with Harry’s loosest vocals of any of his hits, accompanied only by his piano. When the singing stops and the piano solo kicks in, the groove only gets sexier. That would have been enough, the song could have ended right there. But instead, the Big Fucking Band kicks in with their Big Fucking Horns. Now the whole orchestra is jamming and the singing comes back and the whole thing is a party.

I don’t follow Harry’s touring career much (if he even tours or performs these days), but if he’s not closing every night with an extended version of this jam, every concert is a waste of everybody’s time.

 

 

 

 

ladies and gentlemen, we are driving a car

DATE:

October, 2001

COVER:

IMG_3778

THE LINER NOTES:

October, 2001 was a whirlwind. Carrie suggested me for a position where she worked. It was in a different department from hers, so I felt okay going for it. Because of my uncanny ability not to vomit on people, I got the job. (the bar was low.)

The only problem was, I didn’t have a car. And this was an evening shift gig– 4pm to midnight. If I didn’t get a car, I would have to drive Carrie to work at 9:00, come back to the office at 4pm and then Carrie would have to retrieve me at midnight. That wasn’t going to work for us for very long. A day maybe.

So for the first time in my 26 years, I bought my very own car. My only experience with car buying came through TV and movies, which meant I was going to get swindled somehow. So I made my car purchase online. I can’t remember the site, but it seemed like a pretty awesome thing to do in 2001. I picked the make and model, the color, the features, all with the click of the mouse. Didn’t need to talk to anybody, didn’t need to haggle, didn’t need to leave the toilet.

When it came to those features, I saved some money by not selecting automatic windows.  I saved some more money by not selecting automatic locks. I also had a choice between a CD player or a tape player. It was 2001, after all– tapes were still a thing. I chose the tape player. There was probably also an (expensive) option for both, but all I needed was the tape player. I would be soundtracking my commute, and the mixtapes held more songs (and were more reliable) than these early years of burning discs.

From now on, my mix making was going to be different. No longer would I be putting music together to listen to privately on my headphones. No, from now on, the music would be public. Every passenger in my ride would be hearing it, judging it, commenting on it. And every passerby or stop-light neighbor would have a chance to hear a portion of the music I was choosing to listen to. I not only needed to entertain myself, I had to impress friends and strangers. My mixtapes were about to go semi-public! I couldn’t just live with my own poor song selections or sequencing. I wouldn’t be the only one experiencing a transition from hip-hop to alt-country to grunge. There was now a potential for an audience, and every tape from October 2001 on was going to be made with this fact in mind.

Nothing would ever be the same again.

THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW’S THE MIX?:

SIDE A:

  • “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” – Spiritualized
  • “Up in the Sky” – Oasis
  • “I’m Finding it Harder to Be a Gentleman” – The White Stripes
  • “She’s Only Cool” – Cotton Mather
  • “Holland, 1945” – Neutral Milk Hotel
  • “No Surprise” – Radiohead
  • “July” – Ocean Colour Scene
  • “Brooklyn-Queens” – 3rd Bass
  • “I’ve Got a Flair” – Fountains of Wayne
  • “Bewilderbeast” – Badly Drawn Boy
  • “When It Started” – The Strokes
  • “Radio Radio” – Elvis Costello
  • “Ants Marching” – Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds
  • “Needles in My Eyes” – The Beta Band
  • “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss” – Built to Spill
  • “Cheapskate” – Supergrass
  • “Sir Prize” – The Starlight Mints
  • “A Good Flying Bird” – Guided By Voices

SIDE B:

  • “Rhythm and Blues Alibi (Pre-Mellotron Mix)” – Gomez
  • “Sir Duke” – Stevie Wonder
  • “She’s Got Spies” – Super Furry Animals
  • “Cornish Town” – Shack
  • “Rockin’ the Suburbs” – Ben Folds
  • “I Can’t Sleep” – The La’s
  • “King of All the World” – Old 97’s
  • “Coming Around” – Travis
  • “The Magic Number” – De La Soul
  • “The Bird That You Can’t See” – Apples in Stereo
  • “What the World is Waiting For” – The Stone Roses
  • “Blister in the Sun” – Violent Femmes
  • “Man in a Suitcase” – The Police
  • “Monday” – Wilco
  • “Charmless Man” – Blur
  • “Time Bomb” – Rancid

 

Since this mix is such a landmark event in my mixtape history, let’s go through it song by song. The title of the tape, if you haven’t figured it out already, is a spin on the title of the opening track, “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.”

This is a typical opener for me– something that builds slowly to a rousing symphonic cacophony. Spiritualized is still a newer band for me at this time, so picking this as an opener was also meant to show I was hip to the cool bands. Or at least the cool bands featured in Volkswagen Bug commercials.

In all honesty, this is a lovely, heartbreaking song. The melodic lyrical layers remain effectively moving every time I hear it. And in my car these last few months, I’ve probably heard it around 80 times, minimum.

Still beautiful.

The opener shifts abruptly, to a band you may have expected to lead off this First Car Mixtape:

Having not heard this tape until just recently, I had forgotten about this great one-two opening combo. “Ladies and Gentlemen” is warm and complicated. “Up in the Sky” is straight ahead Oasis rock. Oasis was still the band I was listening to most, so they had to represent early on in the mix. And I made a very conscience decision with this song choice, picking a track I love, but not a hit that an average listener might already know. But’s it’s still an album track, so I didn’t get too obscure with a B-side or something bootlegged. It was a statement of fandom, but not yet a public confession of undying passion.

The next selection was me showcasing what I thought was my ability to stay ahead of the musical curve. The White Stripes hadn’t quite broken big yet, but they were bubbling up. So here’s a deeper cut off their soon-to-be breakthrough album. See how cool I am?!

“See how cool I am?” That’s a question that would drive many of these earlier car mixtapes. (if not all of them) I truly believed people would be hearing these mixes. I was making these tapes as much for these phantom passengers as I was for myself. And in doing so, I was seeking their approval. I’ll admit it. I wanted them to tell me the songs rocked, that the order they played in made them better, and that they saw me as somebody with a good ear for tunes. I don’t know why this was important to me. Music wasn’t my career. Perhaps it was because I came to discovering bands later in life than most and I was trying to catch up. I wanted to earn acceptance into a world I felt everyone else was already in.

Or, more likely, it was from a deep-rooted psychosis caused by growing up in a broken home, unloved and unwanted by an absentee father. And since I’m writing a mixtape blog that screams “See how cool am I?” this appears to be a psychological problem I have yet to resolve.

Which is why the little underground band called Cotton Mather is next.

Have I sung the praises of their album Kontiki enough in this blog? It’s fantastic. A Desert Island Disc for me, absolutely. And this will always be my favorite song of theirs.

I stay with American indie rock for the next track from Neutral Milk Hotel, “Holland, 1945.” I’m kind of surprised by this last three string of bands. The “Today Me” would find them too similar to go back-to-back-to-back. American. Indie. Rock. Radiohead’s “No Surprises” comes next, to cleanse the palate. I like this shift, too, from roughshod, do-it-yourself rock, to clean, orchestral production.

I stay British (really?! who was I?!) with Ocean Colour Scene’s “July.” It picks up the pace after the little Radiohead breather. It’s got a nice groove that breaks loose around one minute, 40 seconds in– a spot I always enjoy.

One surprising thing I’ve learned while listening to all these old mix tapes– I really listened to a lot of Ocean Colour Scene. They have been represented nearly as much as Oasis on each of these mixes. I couldn’t have predicted that before I started this experiment.

Oh, look! White rappers!

Misogynistic but groovy. The song is built around The Emotions’ “Best of My Love,” which might be the ironic twist they were going for. I do so enjoy the quirky NYC ’90s rappers. More to come on Side B.

Speaking of “quirky,” this was a perfect moment to throw in Fountains of Wayne. When this tape was made, their second album was in heavy rotation and “Stacy’s Mom” was a bit of a hit. So for my Phantom Passenger, I include a non-single deep cut from their debut.

WAIT. WHAT? WHY?:

I think this is the first Badly Drawn Boy track to make it on a mix, but I’m not sure. And since it’s taking me forever to finish this entry, I’m not going to waste my time scrolling back through old tracklistings. But instead of flagging this as a “Pleased to Meet You,” I’m questioning its inclusion. First, listen:

That’s a fine little instrumental, sure. But why is it in this mix? It’s very out of place. It slows down the pacing of songs, and there isn’t even a second instrumental on the flip side to balance it out. I like the track, but it doesn’t work here. I feel like I might have hit record thinking I had set up another song to play… but then didn’t bother to go back and fix it.

THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW’S THE REST OF THE MIX?:

The Strokes pick things up again after the misstep. And again, I pick a song that’s not a single off their debut. And why wouldn’t I? Part of my responsibility now, with these car mixes, is to introduce songs and/or bands that my mystery guests may not know. Or my duty to remind them of the classics:

I love how the end of “Radio Radio” segues to the live opening chords of “Ants Marching.” And I just I love this Dave Matthews/Tim Reynolds version. The lively live vibe of this track hits a hard stop with the start of “Needles in My Eyes” from the Beta Band. I usually use a track like this for a moment to catch your breath after a string of more upbeat tunes. It fits well here. And I immediately pick up the pace again with Built to Spill’s “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss.”

That’s probably the most “pop” song Built to Spill has ever recorded. It’s such an upbeat, hand-clapping, good-time of a tune. It’s the antithesis of “Needles in My Eyes.” It’s followed by a bit of a lost Supergrass track, “Cheapskate.” I call it “lost” because it’s not one I often go back to for these mixes, but it works well in combination with the songs around it.

PLEASE TO MEET YOU:

I can’t remember what made me pick up the debut album from The Starlight Mints. Did I read a review somewhere? Did I like their band name? Was I tickled by their album name– The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of? Did I sample it at a listening station? I honestly can’t remember. But it doesn’t matter, because I absolutely fell in love with their  brand of eclectic, string-infused indie pop. “Sir Prize” is a fine example:

THAT’S GREAT, BUT THERE’S STILL A LOT OF TAPE LEFT:

Man, there sure is. And we’re only now finishing Side A… with another “last song” selection from Guided By Voices: “A Good Flying Bird.” Run time: one minute, nine seconds.

A smarter blog my have split out Side B into a separate entry. But this is not a smarter blog. So let’s roll right into the second half of the tape with a B-side version of a Gomez album track. This is “Rhythm and Blues Alibi (Pre-Mellotron Version)”:

This mellow opener was a nice palate cleanser, and a good lead in for another classic track from a recently purchased album:

This was an era of music buying where I was trying to collect some of the classics from bands and artists I didn’t grow up with. My appreciation for music was growing and I wanted to hear more from its history. This is why we’re now seeing Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello and in a few tracks from The Police, among others. My focus was still on the new, but when inspired, I was trying to catch up on the classics.

On this mix, there’s no better song-to-song transition than from sudden stop of the horn-filed precision of “Sir Duke” into the mellow, opening vocals of Super Furry Animals’ “She’s Got Spies.” And what’s great is that “She’s Got Spies” doesn’t stay mellow for long.

And now… the super, ultra, mega song!

THE SUPER ULTRA MEGA SONG:

I don’t know what it is about Shack’s “Cornish Town.” It’s not the flashiest song. It’s not the rockingest song. It’s not the cleverest or the sweetest or the Britpoppiest. But it does have this part, starting about two minutes in, where the music and vocals get all dreamy and they build and build to a rousing chorus of “Nah-nah-nah’s.” And it’s magnificent.

THAT’s GREAT, BUT CAN WE PLEASE FINISH THIS UP ALREADY?:

“Rockin’ the Suburbs” pops up next. Clearly this was the standout track (at the time) from the now two-months old Ben Folds debut, having been included on almost every mix tape made since the album was purchased. It fits well into this current string of tracks. Its crashing drum outro leads perfectly into what almost became this entry’s Super Ultra Mega Song– The La’s “I Can’t Sleep.” If you don’t know it, listen below. I can’t help but clap, slap, and tap along to this rhythmic, angular song. The drum rhythm starts and stops, the bass and guitars bounce simple notes back and forth, and even the vocals rise and fall with angular precision. My steering wheel has taken a beating these last several weeks as I try to play along with the rhythm section of this band.

This really is a strong set of songs. We move from The La’s to Old 97’s poppy “King of All the World.” If you remember, this is the first song I heard from the band way back when. Sure, it rhymes “world” with “world” in there, but man the song feels good.

The next song, “Coming Around,” slows the tempo down just a bit, but in a soaring, Travis kind of way. Of course I needed to add Travis to this mix. I couldn’t let an opportunity to introduce the band to a new listener pass me by. In my arrogant Travis-fandom smugness, I feel playing any song from the band would make the listener want to hear more. There’s hardly a bad tune in the bunch. “Coming Around” stands out as the choice here because it’s me showing off that I have the non-album import single of a stopgap tune between albums two and three. Because I’m the coolest, just like the band Travis.

De La Soul’s “The Magic Number” is next, providing the Side B hip-hop balance to Side A’s “Brooklyn Queens.” And that’s followed by the always exuberant “The Bird That You Can’t  See” from the Apples in Stereo. That’s a fun one-two punch right there. And for my non-existent passenger seat guest, a couple of very hip tracks to leave them impressed, I hope.

I throw the Stone Roses in next, a deeper cut than what an average listener might know– of course. This is a fine track, but as this tape is closing out, this song sort of breaks the momentum. It’s not as eager and driving as the songs before it.  It’s a bit of a hiccup here before the closing handful of tracks.

I’m not sure where my thoughts were for the next two tracks. I do know that both songs came from my recent drive to pick up music I missed from my youth. I had heard people talk about The Violent Femmes in high school, but the name scared me. And I knew the hits from The Police, because who didn’t. But “Blister in the Sun,” as great as it is, was not a song I had heard that often before this. And I hadn’t heard “Man in a Suitcase” until I bought the Message in a Box boxset on the cheap somewhere. I do still need to get more Violent Femmes.

Overall, I consider this to be a VERY strong mixtape. And of course it would be. This had to be great, being the very first tape made for my very first car. I had to make it something special. And, of course, there was the phantom passenger(s) that I was putting this together for. I wanted to entertain myself, and impress my guests. And this tape, I think, does that near perfectly.

Which might be why I think the last songs on Side B just sort of peter out. “Monday” from Wilco is great anywhere, anytime. But for me personally, it’s a song that’s gotten a lot of airplay on past mix tapes. So it loses some luster here. In fact, that’s what’s hurting “Charmless Man” and “Time Bomb” as well. They are mixtapes regulars, and while great songs, it lets the tape end on an average note.

I guess, much like this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Safe

DATE:

September, 2001

COVER:

IMG_3587

THE LINER NOTES:

I miss making mixtapes. That statement will surprise no one that knows me or anyone that’s been following this blog. I miss making mixtapes, but maybe more, I miss having the gaps of time with nothing to do where I COULD make mixtapes. Where I could just sit at my desk or on the floor, piling CD cases into tracklist order as I listened to the song currently being transferred from disc to tape. I have nowhere near that much free time anymore.

Hours. It would take hours to put a mixtape together. Not just a couple hours, but at least three, sometimes four hours. And you couldn’t watch TV while putting the mix together. You couldn’t read a book between the pressings of “record” and “pause.” That four hour block was only about the music.

For me, the mixtape was often built as I went. I would have a decent idea of the bands I wanted, and usually a few keys songs that HAD to be included, but I was never locked into a sequence of songs. I had a standard method for my mixtape tape creation, which allowed for sampling multiple tracks before deciding on the next best song. And it was always about how the beginning of that next song will sound next to the fade out (or hard stop) of the previous. Transitions were very important to me.

I’m less of a fan of transitions in real life. Especially the big, obvious ones. My transition back to Los Angeles (or really, we could just say “to Los Angeles,” because I never actually established anything there the first time) happened so quickly and was so heavily based on emotion that there was little time to consider if it was the right thing to do. I was in love, so nobody was going to convince me that I was wrong.

But by the end of September, after being there a few months, the exciting newness was fading and September 11th had just happened. The reality of this big change was quickly setting in. I wasn’t reconnecting with any of my old friends, I was unemployed and I didn’t even have a car. The whole world had just made an enormous transition and, yeah, I was starting to freak out.

Thank god I still had plenty of free time to make mixtapes.

THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW’S THE MIX?:

SIDE A:

  • “The Universal” – Blur
  • “Bastards of Young” – The Replacements
  • “Glowworm” – The Apples in Stereo
  • “Tonight” – Supergrass
  • “The Naughty Villain” – Elf Power (listed as The Minders on the sleeve)
  • “Dumb Dumb Dumb” – Teenage Fanclub
  • “Stop Breaking Down” – The White Stripes
  • “Crossroads” – Dodgy
  • “Distopian Dream Girl” – Built to Spill
  • “Beyond Belief” – Elvis Costello
  • “Way Out” – The La’s
  • “Not the Same” – Ben Folds
  • “Rings Around the World” – Super Furry Animals
  • “The Best of What’s Around” – Dave Matthews Band
  • “Better Things” – The Minders
  • “Dog Gotta Bone” – The Beta Band
  • “She’s Automatic” – Rancid
  • “Greyhound Bus” – The Moldy Peaches

SIDE B:

  • “Rollerskate Skinny” – Old 97’s
  • “Cut Your Hair” – Pavement
  • “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” – The Lemonheads
  • “That’s Entertainment” – The Jam
  • “Ballad of the Lonely Argonaut” – Beulah
  • “Dumb Jam” – James
  • “Change in Speak” – De La Soul
  • “Something For Me” – Ocean Colour Scene
  • “Barely Legal” – The Strokes
  • “I Want You Back” – The Jackson 5
  • “Paranoid Android” – Radiohead
  • “I Spy” – Guster
  • “Do It All Over Again” – Spirtualized
  • “Yeh Yeh” – They Might Be Giants
  • “Hollow” – Remy Zero
  • “The Charm” – The Cosmic Rough Riders
  • “Safe” – Travis

 

In a lot of ways, I feel like this is my first L.A. tape. Not the first one I made here, but the first one that is distinctly of Los Angeles. This comes from the songs included here off the albums purchased after the move. As we move forward in time, I imagine we’ll find that all the subsequent tapes become top heavy with, and possibly eventually filled with, post-move albums.

But let’s start with some pre-move music, much like Side A does.

Blur’s “The Universal.” What a fantastic way to open a mix. A slow fade up to some reserved strings and then crooning vocals, all building to a rousing, horns-laden chorus. It’s a song of sheen and pristine. Which makes the roughshod rock of The Replacement’s “Bastards of Young” a perfect follow-up.

Again, this kind of transition/juxtaposition was something I was very conscious of when making my mixes. Especially if the mix was for me. Very rarely would I go from a a ’90s Britpop song to a ’90s Britpop song, or grunge to grunge, or hip-hop to hip-hop. And I believe this will be especially true going forward, as my music collection was expanding and the variety of choices made it easier to do.

There are other “Me Classics” from from the pre-move collection: Rancid, Dave Matthews Band and Built to Spill are all here. And there are quite a few “moments before the move” albums represented here. The Strokes and The White Stripes we’re just starting to make waves in early 2001, and I was jumping on board. This is right at the head of the “garage rock” revolution, or whatever it was called. Which basically means, “The Strokes and The White Stripes had some success, so let’s sign all the other bands that sound vaguely like them. Like we did with grunge!” But, come on. Nobody sounds like The White Stripes.

Ooooh! I want that art on a t-shirt!

Another “moment before the move” album I’ll highlight gives us this mixtape’s namesake. In June of 2001, Travis release their third LP, The Invisible Band. I spent hours lying on my bedroom floor listening to this album. Travis was the band Carrie and I had listened to most often, seeing them live together at least three times in less than a year. They soundtracked our courtship and breakup and long distance relationship. So, of course, now that I was with her in a new city and state, I leaned on Travis to make me feel at home.

FUN FACT: While “Safe” is the song that ends this tape, I often use the song to open Travis mixes I make to introduce the band to someone. Let me know if you want one.

But it’s the Post-Move Music that stands out here, even in its smaller number. This is because when I hear the songs, I can better place the moment in time when it entered my life. I spent a lot of money to make my cross-country  move, on plane tickets and shipping and now new rent. So now, instead of eating meat and purchasing a car, I spent what little money I had on continuing to grow my record collection. So there is a clear starting point for this post-move music.

Though an older album (1996), I bought Lemonheads’ Car Button Cloth in L.A. And the song “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” is a favorite. The melody is sweet and dreamy, while the lyrics nonsensically combine turns of phrase with dark references. But it’s the the chorus that always gets me: “If I could talk, I’d tell you… You are far and away my most imaginary friend.” I don’t know what it means, but it sure does melt the heart.

Sometimes I try to get into a band because I think I have to– they’ve been around for a while, they’re critically acclaimed, everybody’s talking about them. There was a time this was true of They Might Be Giants. I had first heard of them in high school when my friend Jeff was listening to them. But I wasn’t buying a lot of music in high school, and what music I was buying wasn’t anything underground or indie or whatever TMBG was considered at the time.

So when I was perusing the aisles at the Virgin Megastore and saw the band had a new album out, I felt now was the time to make my first They Might Be Giants purchase. It was their eighth official full length, Mink Car, and it was fine enough. I shouldn’t have started with their eighth, but it was on sale. It’s not an album I go back to often, and they’re not a band I have put any retroactive effort into. It says something, I’m sure, that the song of theirs I chose to put on this tape is their cover of someone else’s.

PLEASED TO MEET YOU:

Starting late into the discography again, my first Spiritualized album was Let It Come Down, their fourth album. I remember the aforementioned Virgin Megastore near Carrie’s work was pushing it, with huge posters and a sale price. I think I bought this album and their previous one at the same time. Might have been a buy-one-get-on kind of deal. Space rock, as they are often described, isn’t immediately my kind of thing. But remove that shortcut descriptor and this is just a band making moving music. And that I do like.

Elf Power was a band always mentioned in articles about the Elephant Six Recording Company, which was a collection of musicians that spawned others bands I already enjoyed like Neutral Milk Hotel, The Apples in Stereo and more recently, The Minders. As I often did, I came to Elf Power for the first time late, with their sixth album. They surprised me, because their sound wasn’t what I expected based on the three E6 bands I already knew. It took a little time, but they did grow on me.

WAIT. WHAT? WHY?:

As I wrote earlier, about four paragraphs above this, sometimes I try to get into a band because I think I have to. I kept reading a lot about The Moldy Peaches after I moved back to Los Angeles. The music magazines I was reading, especially those from the UK, were hailing them as the next big thing, the start of a new wave of freak-folk. And since I generally pick up multiple albums at a time, their debut, lo-fi disc likely came home alongside the slickly produced Spiritualized and They Might Be Giants albums. So their home-recordings sound didn’t grab me at the time. I ended up selling the CD months later in order to buy something new… probably Oasis. I dig their aesthetic now and wish I had held on to that album.

 

THE SUPER ULTRA MEGA SONG:

This week’s pick was also on the last mix, but got beat out by the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” But I knew there would be another chance for it to take the Super Ultra Mega Song spot. And here it is, on the very next tape.

It’s quick return is because I absolutely love this song. I put it on a lot of the tapes I made for my self and others from 2001 to whenever it was I stopped making regular mixtapes. Listening to “Rollerskate Skinny” these past several weeks while driving to and from work, I still got excited every time it came on. This song makes me feel good. This is a song I love to sing along to. It’s in my vocal range, the lyrics are clear and fun, there’s no guilty pleasure. It’s just pleasure. I sing this one loud, windows down.

If you’ve never heard it, here’s your chance for play number one. I hope it leads you into the thousands eventually, too.

 

Skyline

DATE:

September, 2001

COVER:

IMG_3026

THE LINER NOTES:

September 11th changed America. It changed the world. It changed lives directly and indirectly. My life was already in transition, so I didn’t noticed a big, personal shift. But looking back, it of course had an affect on my little corner of the world.

Before 9/11, I had just returned to Los Angeles with little footing besides my growing love for Carrie. Yes, old college friends still lived in the area, but I hadn’t stayed in touch with them and they were now four years further along establishing themselves in Hollywood. I was starting over, mostly from scratch. I had no job prospects prior to the move, no car, little savings. It was terrifying, to say the least.

But there was something coming that I thought would help make me feel more at home, and help rebuild my confidence– Tim.

Yes, my Boston roommate was relocating to L.A. just a couple months after I did. This was what I needed. With Tim in town, I wasn’t going to feel as lost. And everything we talked about in college and in Boston– all the creative things we wanted to write and film and perform– we might finally be able to do it. This was a plan we never actually discussed, but to me it felt like the inescapable next step.

With Tim’s move, my old Boston life would be surrounding me again. I was with the woman I loved, and I would still be hanging out with a creative force who could inspire me. I still had no concrete life plans, but the environment that was starting to materialize around me was exciting.

Then 9/11 changed the world– big and small.

Everything became very uncertain in the days and weeks and months after the events of that day. Would the country be going to war? Would it be happening again? Would normalcy ever return to our everyday lives?

Tim had arrived in Los Angeles only a short time before the 11th, already nervous about his decision to move. We had already made plans for some sightseeing with some other friends on the 12th (or maybe it was the 13th) and we found ourselves walking around Old Town Pasadena. It was a solemn walk, filled with deep conversations about the state of our world. Later that week, Tim was crashing in our apartment and he was preparing for his trip back home. The entire world was reeling and that’s simply where he felt he needed to be. And who could blame him? There were too many unknowns in the world to add starting a new life to the list.

Looking back on that now, I wonder how differently our lives could have turned out had he stayed. And would he have stayed if September 11th hadn’t happened? It’s a selfish, stupid thing to think about now, some 16 years later, but since this blog is all about looking back, it’s what has come to mind. Certainly, I could sit here and hypothesize on all sorts of “what if” moments from my life. But this tape has taken me back to September of 2001, to events that I never realized had a direct affect on me.

But perhaps it changed my life more directly than I’ll ever know.

THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW’S THE MIX?:

SIDE A:

  • “Is This It” – The Strokes
  • “Long Life” – Dodgy
  • “Castaway” – Green Day
  • “Give Me A Letter” – Ocean Colour Scene
  • “Sparky’s Dream” – Teenage Fanclub
  • “Hotel Yorba” – The White Stripes
  • “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss” – Built to Spill
  • “The Bandit” – Starlight Mints
  • “Rollerskate Skinny” – Old 97’s
  • “Cornish Town” – Shack
  • “Who Would’ve Thought” – Rancid
  • “The Pain Inside” – Cosmic Rough Riders”
  • “Girlfriend” – Matthew Sweet
  • “Cruel Minor Change” – Beulah
  • “Knives Out” – Radiohead
  • “The Ascent of Stan” – Ben Folds
  • “Killer Queen” – Travis
  • “Photograph” – Weezer

SIDE B:

  • “I Want You Back” – The Jackson 5
  • “Play It Cool” – Super Furry Animals
  • “Next Year” – Foo Fighters
  • “Right As Rain” – The Minders
  • “I’m Not Afriad” – Remy Zero
  • “Pump It Up” – Elvis Costello
  • “Freedom of Speak (We Got Three Minutes)” – De La Soul
  • “Tender” – Blur
  • “The Not So Pretty Princess” – Jude
  • “Sitting Up Straight” – Supergrass
  • “Get Off This” – Cracker
  • “Glowworm” – The Apples in Stereo
  • “Higher State” – Toploader
  • “Cut Your Hair” – Pavement
  • “If We Can Land a Man on the Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart” – Beulah
  • “Perfect Sin” – The Amazing Crowns
  • “A Good Flying Bird” – Guided By Voices

With everything changing around me, I still had my music. And while I wasn’t consciously reacting to the terror attacks, there are certain choices here that must have been a subconscious reaction.

The choice of cover and title, for one. The original picture was a stack of CD cases, but I clipped it, turned it on its side and saw a cityscape, a dreamlike skyline of music. Was this a gesture towards replacing the fallen buildings in New York?

And what of some of the song choices here? I open with a New York City band on the rise.  True, this isn’t the first time The Strokes have appeared on a mix, but maybe putting them first was a nod to the greatest city in the world.

Are there other post-9/11, subconscious mini-statements on this mix? “I’m Not Afraid” seems like it could be. This Remy Zero song doesn’t quite fit the mold for what I usually add to personal mixes. I generally want upbeat songs to drive me through my day. So it seems there may have been something more to this song’s inclusion. And if memory serves, I never again add it to another mix.

Pretty song… but all of this is likely stretching things a bit. If anything, I was just hoping to lose myself for a couple hours, trying to go back to something that brought me familiar comfort. And since I had clearly been doing some CD shopping, it was a perfect time to put another mix together.

As I was growing my collection, there was a time I refused to purchase “Best Of” compilations. The completist in me wanted to get the old albums and hear the songs that weren’t radio singles, the hidden gems. But I eventually realized I didn’t have the money or patience for that. And this mix shows the first two compilations I picked up once I had released myself from this self-imposed rule: The Jackson Five and Elvis Costello. And the first tracks to pull from these discs were not hard choices.

I was done writing this portion of the blog– but then Dodgy’s “Long Life” started playing again. (I listen through the mix on iTunes as I write these.) This song is off of their stellar third album, Free Peace Sweet. And it has an opening that sets a sweet tone and saddens me every time I hear. The lyrics start with:

“Jack you’ve been spreading round for so long, now I’m so tired/
The only thing you can go and do is get yourself fired/
And with your paycheck, just like the last one/
When tonight’s through it will be gone and so will I”

Then as the music continues, there’s the digital ring of a phone. A ringing that goes unanswered. It’s a subtle little addition here, but one that puts you directly into the world of this song. I think Dodgy is a woefully under-appreciated band. And I site songs like this when making my argument.

PLEASED TO MEET YOU:

The move to California, as I think I’ve stated, brought with it a surge in CD buying. There was a Virgin Megastore near Carrie’s office, and I would shop there frequently. And I was more actively researching for new and backtracking for old.

Among the “old” were the aforementioned Best Ofs, along with picking up music from more contemparary bands I didn’t get into when they were new. Pavement was one of these bands.

Being late to the Pavement party pushed me to try and stay abreast of newer, breaking bands. In all the reviews of The Minders’ Golden Street, references to the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Apples in Stereo were constantly used. So it was a no-brainer to seek out this album, and I was not let down.

But my favorite find this year was another album released on September 11 (just like the Ben Folds solo debut.) The Coast Is Never Clear was Beulah’s third album. I hadn’t heard of the band before reading a short, little music review in the back of an issue of Entertainment Weekly. Now, usually, I sought out my music reviews in strictly music magazines– Q, NME, Spin. Their reviews were longer, more in depth, and they usually featured bands you wouldn’t normally find in a mainstream, all-things-entertainment magazine like Entertainment Weekly. I honestly don’t know how a band like Beulah got featured in EW. They were quirky unknowns that had no chance of getting played on the radio. But that’s where I first heard of them, and from that review I bought the album.

From the strength of that album, I immediately picked up everything else they had out there. Beulah became my “moved-to-California” band. In that first year, I might have listened to their tunes more than anything else. And now every time I hear them, those memories of moving back to Cali are instantly stirred. Thank you, Entertainment Weekly.

WAIT. WHAT? WHY?:

Man, this is actually a pretty fine mixtape. It’s not perfect, but the variety is expanding and that’s very exciting. I mean, I still have 15 to 20 of these to go (I think… they’re across the room and I don’t want to get up to check right now) and song selections like this have me excited for revisiting this era of mixes.

Truth is, I wish I could highlight more above. Like the bonus track from De La Soul’s 3 Feet High & Rising re-release, Shack’s surprising “Cornish Town,” more from The Starlight Mints, and my favorite Old 97’s track. But I can’t put every song from the tape in this blog, so I must now move on to what doesn’t work.

On this one, it’s the Cosmic Rough Riders. I’m finding that their songs haven’t aged well. Their British electric folk pop is fine enough, but sandwiched between Rancid’s fun, driving “Who Would’ve Thought” and Matthew Sweet’s magnificent “Girlfriend,” the shortcomings of the nasally, mid-tempo, woe-is-me of “The Pain Inside” became apparent. Fine enough on its own. Just don’t follow it with a bonafide classic.

THE SUPER ULTRA MEGA SONG:

Again, there were a few here vying for the top spot– the super ultra mega song of this tape. And many of those in the running will have opportunities pop up again, because these are the songs I would go back to often. I never tire of them.

But I had to go with this song on its first appearance on one of these mixtapes. Its groove cannot be denied. No matter where I am when I hear this song, I suddenly believe I can dance and I bust my moves. And damn if I don’t try singing along with young Michael. I can’t, but I try.

Because we all try. We can’t help ourselves.

Also– “air bass.”

Also– “air drums.”

Ben Folds

DATE:

September 11, 2001

COVER:

IMG_2977

THE LINER NOTES:

Carrie would let me sleep while she got ready for work. No TV or noise. Just a shower and a quick breakfast, then she was out the door. And, God bless her, she would listen to a mixtape I made her on the car ride in.

That’s how she got to work without knowing two Boeing 767 aircraft had been hijacked and piloted into the World Trade Center towers. She didn’t know that both buildings had collapsed, killing thousands of people. She didn’t know another plane crashed into the Pentagon, or that a fourth hijacked plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. She didn’t know.

Carrie spent the first hour and half of September 11 completely oblivious to the horror unfolding across the country.

And I was asleep.

“We’re under attack.” Those were the words that greeted me after the phone woke me up that day. Carrie tried to explain, but ultimately couldn’t find the words. She told me to turn on the TV. And as I did, a tower went down. I thought it was live, but it must have been a replay. I was stunned. Confused. Terrified. I stayed there in bed, glued to the television like the rest of America.

Eventually I found enough awareness to call my mother. I have zero recollection of what we said to each other. I don’t think it was a long call. Just an acknowledgement of being there for each other if we needed it.

Hours passed and all I could do was watch. There was no work being done at Carrie’s office so everyone there was sent home. A coworker of hers, who I had yet to meet, came home with Carrie. He had no roommate and didn’t want to be alone in his apartment at that moment. We welcomed him into ours.

And we sat there watching. Slowly learning new information just as the anchors were learning it on live television. Bewildered. Sad. Scared. Angry. So much unknown.

We sat there watching.

We sat there watching until our friend had to leave. The hugs goodbye were extra strong.

Eventually, Carrie and I made it back to our bed, still watching the unending coverage of the day’s unbelievable events. We were just two people lucky enough not to have been on any of those planes or working in any of those buildings. Like millions of other Americans, all we could was watch.

So we watched.

I laid there, watching. Until I fell asleep.

BUT HOW’S THE MIX?:

SIDE A:

  • “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces”
  • “Julianne”
  • “Still Fighting It”
  • “Emaline”
  • “Fair”
  • “Magic”
  • “Underground”
  • “Annie Waits”
  • “Kate”
  • “Jackson Cannery”
  • “Lullabye”
  • “Gone”
  • “Tom & Mary”
  • “Uncle Walter”
  • “Battle of Who Could Care Less”
  • “Zak and Sara”

SIDE B:

  • “Eddie Walker”
  • “Rockin’ the Suburbs”
  • “Philosophy”
  • “Brick”
  • “Song For the Dumped”
  • “Your Redneck Past”
  • “Best Imitation of Myself”
  • “Evaporated”
  • “The Last Polka:
  • “Army”
  • “Fired”
  • “Steven’s Last Night in Town”
  • “Video”
  • “Bad Idea”
  • “Where’s Summer B?”
  • “Cigarette”

September 11 was a Tuesday. I know this not because the memory of it is etched in my memory, but because new albums were released on Tuesday. And Ben Folds first solo album, Rockin’ The Suburbs, came out September 11.

I believe I received the album early, having pre-ordered it via some newfangled internet everything store. This was an album I was very excited about. I’d been a huge Ben Folds Five fan since seeing them in 1997. (This was the same concert that introduced me to Travis.)

I’m not sure if this was the very first mixtape I made post-9/11, but it was shortly thereafter. It’s between this tape or one of the next two installments. But writing about this mixtape first feels right. Instead of jumping into the probably chaos of multiple bands and multiple sounds, we have single artist compilation. With three band albums, one rarities album and now a solo album, there was enough to choose from for this mix to still have some variety.

I made this one specifically for Carrie. I had already introduced her to Oasis and Travis via mixtape greatest hits (and I’m sure I shared my Gomez comp as well), and Ben Folds Five was my next favorite band on the list. I opened the mix with a clear mission statement song. “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” starts with Ben banging the keys solo, with Darren Jesse and Robert Sledge soon joining with their throbbing rhythms on drum and bass, respectively. The lyrical tone is also set here, with a snarky, humorous kiss-off song to those who may have dissed the singer in his youth. Typical Ben Folds.

I kept the piano punk going with “Julianne” as track two, but followed these two early tracks with an easy standout off the new solo release. “Still Fighting It” starts off sweet and subdued– a song from a father to a son. It builds slowly to a rousing chorus lamenting the fact that we are all supposed to grow up eventually… but we’re still fighting it.

“Still Fighting It” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs” were easy standouts from the latest release. The previous albums I had lived with for quite awhile, so choosing tracks to add from the latest was all based on first impressions. And, damn, were these some great first impressions. “Gone” is a phenomenal post break-up song. “Annie Waits” is a lovelorn tale of a woman let down by her man. And “Fired” is about, well… being tired of who/where you are in life… I guess. But, man, it’s peppy as hell.

Since I can’t embedded every one of those songs here, I picked one standout I’ve loved since the first time I heard it– “Zak and Sara.” This one is a beautiful, mysterious short story encapsulated in a three-minute song. Musically, it opens with purpose that carries’ through the entire track. Lyrically, it shares a small moment in the lives of the song’s namesakes, but mostly focusing on Sara and her… gift. The song rocks, and it’s an atypical tale being told.

Elsewhere, I of course included the “hits.” And by “hits,” I mean the obvious choices that any Ben Folds Five fan would be remiss to exclude. So we have “Underground,” “Army,” “Battle of Who Could Care Less,” “Kate,” and, yes, the actual hit of the bunch, “Brick.”

But it was most fun to introduce Carrie to some deep cuts and rarities. There are a few tracks included here from the Five’s B-sides and live compilation Naked Baby Photos. Three of these, to me, rate high in the overall Ben Fold’s pantheon. I could highlight any one of them here. I could choose “Eddie Walker” for its slow build confessional, or “Tom & Mary” for its thrilling piano vibe. But I’ll pick “Emaline” for that rare addition to a piano/drum/bass three-piece: an acoustic guitar.

WAIT. WHAT? WHY?:

But there is one track from that rarities release that has not withstood the test of time. “Bad Idea” is a slam bang crash of a rock song. And I’d probably love it to this day if not for it’s choral refrain of “You make me feel retarded.” Terrible choice of words here, for a man that usually has a way with words (see the Super Ultra Mega Song below). Honestly, I love the rough and tumble music in this song. It’s just the sentiment I can’t get behind.

THE SUPER ULTRA MEGA SONG:

I had to double-check that I hadn’t already picked this song, because it’s been a favorite of mine for a while. (“Kate” got the previous honor.) “Best Imitation of Myself” hit me right after college, during a time of major transition. From college to real life. From living on my own to loving back at home. From being in a relationship to suddenly not. Still trying to figure myself out, but not having the foundation to put it all together. (But honestly, I’m still lost.) And this song soundtracked me through it all. It’s a smart, conversational song, with  some of my favorite lines of any Ben Folds song.

(Editor’s Note: I started highlighting a few of the lines and couplets, but realized I had pulled most of the song. So instead, here’s the entire song. Read along as you listen.)

I feel like a quote out of context
Withholding the rest
So I can be free what you want to see
I got the gesture and sound
Got the timing down
It’s uncanny, yeah, you think it was me
Do you think I should take a class
To lose my southern accent
Did I make me up, or make the face till it stuck
I do the best imitation of myself

The “problem with you” speech
You gave me was fine
I liked the theories about my little stage
And I swore I was listening
But I started drifting
Around the part about me acting my age
Now if it’s all the same
I’ve people to entertain
I juggle one handed
Do some magic tricks and
The best imitation of myself

Maybe I’m thinking myself in a hole
Wondering, who I am when I ought to know
Straighten up now time to go
Fool somebody else, fool somebody else

Last night I was east with them
And west within
Trying to be for you what you wanna see
But I can’t help it with you
The good and bad comes through
Don’t want you hanging out with
No one but me
Now if it’s all the same
It comes from the same place
And if my mind’s somewhere else
You won’t be able to tell
I do the best imitation of myself
Yes it’s uncanny to see
You’d really think it was me
The best imitation of myself
The best imitation of myself

 

 

Lola

DATE:

April 9, 2001

COVER:

IMG_2805

THE LINER NOTES:

It’s taken me a while to write this post for a few reasons.

First, my present-day life took an uptick. Things got busy and free time has been hard to come by.

Second, this earlier period of my life has been a bit hard to pin down.

Carrie was gone. After nine months of getting to know her, she left Boston and moved to Los Angeles. It was expected, and if you’ve been following this blog, you know that we had put a plan in place to stay close. Not as boyfriend and girlfriend, but as good friends.

She was gone and I was a bit lost. The job was going well (I had been promoted to a manager), but it wasn’t a job I really wanted. I still had visions of entertaining people, and with Carrie’s encouragement, I tried out for a Cambridge-based comedy troupe. And I made it! I think it helped that very few people actually knew there were tryouts being held. And by “tryouts,” I mean I met with the guy who was forming the troupe, told him I liked Monty Python and he gave me the date and time of the first rehearsal.

So now, with Carrie in California, I was filling my nights with awkward improv with people I didn’t know. It didn’t go well. We had a few good moments here and there, but ultimately we never gelled. And, like my post-college comedy troupe in Los Angeles, I never performed with them publicly.

Before my time with Carrie, I was out there successfully sowing oats. With her now living across the country, I figured I should probably be sowing again. So I flirted and canoodled and went out and threw parties. But none of this went as well as the Pre-Carrie/Basement-Apartment shenanigans of yore. There was doubt and confusion and guilt.

Carrie and I had officially broken up, but it was the “friends-with-benefits” kind of break up. She flew back once. I flew out there once. And we were constantly in touch via phone and email. She reached out to me for support when the unknowns of her big move started to bring her down, and I would reach out to her when I needed to fill my heart with joy and happiness.

Eventually– as much as I was trying to prevent this from happening– eventually I realized why I was feeling so lost, why nothing seemed to be falling into place.

I was utterly, wholly, emphatically in love with Carrie.

Distance be damned.

So at this point, any personal decree of never again returning to California was moot. California was where the love of my life was now living, and California is where I had to be.

THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW’S THE MIX?:

SIDE A:

  • “Untitled” – Neutral Milk Hotel
  • “Up in the Sky” – Oasis
  • “Big Dipper” – Built to Spill”
  • “Homegrown” – Dodgy
  • “El Scorcho” – Weezer
  • “Twisted” – Sleeper
  • “Mrs. Robinson” – The Lemonheads
  • “Ruby” – The Apples in Stereo
  • “Optimistic” – Radiohead
  • “Hoodoo Voodoo” – Bill Bragg & Wilco
  • “Give Me a Letter” – Ocean Color Scene
  • “Sparky’s Dream” – Teenage Fanclub
  • “Victoria” – The Kinks
  • “Janie Jones” – The Clash
  • “Round the Bend” – The Beta Band
  • “Problem” – Remy Zero
  • “Hit On the Head” – Gomez

SIDE B:

  • “All Up” – Ocean Colour Scene
  • “Gasface Refill” – KMD
  • “G-Song” – Supergrass
  • “When I’m Feeling Blue (Days of the Week)” – Travis
  • “Try to Remember” – The Apples in Stereo
  • “Hail, Hail” – Pearl Jam
  • “Making the Most Of” – Dodgy
  • “Lost Myself” – Longpigs
  • “Car” – Built to Spill
  • “Password” – Cotton Mather
  • “Get Blown Away” – Ocean Colour Scene
  • “Shake Your Rump” – Beastie Boys
  • “The Pain Inside” – Cosmic Rough Riders
  • “Video” – Ben Folds Five
  • “Ripcord” – Radiohead
  • “Lola” – The Kinks

So, clearly, this tape comes at a transitional part of my life. My world was spinning and would definitely, maybe be coming to a stop in Southern California. And while many decisions were left to be made, I still needed music in my headphones.

I had to have a new mixtape and Lola was it. And as you can tell from the lack of cover art or handwritten track listing, I wasn’t putting as much care and effort into the compiling of this mix as I am known to do. I had grown my collection enough to not have to repeat artists, and yet… here’s two from Built to Spill, two from Radiohead, two from Dodgy and others. And we have three songs from Ocean Colour Scene! I mean, I like Ocean Colour Scene, but three?

“Give Me a Letter” was from their most recent release, Mechanical Wonder, and perhaps I was on an OCS kick due to the new album. This song has a decent, mid-tempo groove to it, but it doesn’t quit match the earlier rock charm of “Get Blown Away,” from their 1997 release Marchin’ Already. Melodically and lyrically, it’s the superior song.

The above should be the only Ocean Colour Scene needed for this tape. But I can understand why I tripled up here, and doubled up on so many other bands. As stated, I was growing my collection, loading up on “new-to-me” albums from bands I’d recently discovered. So while my first Built to Spill purchase was their fourth– Keep It Like a Secret— I was backing up trucks of bucks to backtrack their back catalogue. This mixtape comes post my There’s Nothing Wrong With Love purchase, which turned out to be one of my favorite albums of all time. I honestly don’t think there is a song on the album I do not love. “Car” is a classic for all Built to Spill fans, and rightly so.

I’ve also picked up more from Dodgy by this stage. This is another band where I started with a later release (in this case, their 1998 singles and B-sides collection) and was inclined to collect all other known works. Both tracks on this tape come from their second full length, 1994’s Homegrown, and both are chill representations of this band. “Making the Most of…” is the peppier of the two, with soaring vocals and just the right amount of horns. But it’s the laid-back title track that we should all try to emulate. This song doesn’t have a care in the world. I imagine it’s all marijuana related, but I’m naive to that sort of thing. For me, the explicit message of the song works just as well as the implied:

“Step further down the line, carry on, everything’s just taking time/Step further down the line, carry on, everything’s gonna be just fine.”

Also horns.

While I was doubling up on the new, I made sure to fill out the tape with some singular tunes from tried and true favorites. There’s “El Scorcho” from Weezer, “Shake Your Rump,” from the Beastie Boys, and “Up in the Sky” from Oasis. This Oasis choice really pleased me on this tape. From my personal mixtape collection perspective, it is an underutilized Oasis tune, so every time it started in (especially after Neutral Milk Hotel’s far more eclectic instrumental soundscape of “Untitled”) I reacted with surprised excitement. Even after the 12th or 15th play through of this tape in my car.

PLEASED TO MEET YOU:

By the turn of the century, I had gone through enough music and mixtapes to know what I really liked. This made it easier for me to read about a band and be fairly confident I would enjoy them. Plus, I wasn’t too concerned about throwing money at untested bands. So this is way I have the Cosmic Rough Riders in my collection (play song above). The British press hailed them as the second coming of something, their label was Creation Records, they have a song about Glastonbury– I was destined to love them. And I do like them well enough. (Not enough to pick up any of their subsequent albums, but still.)

I was also taking advantage of Q magazine’s quarterly (it seemed quarterly… maybe it was just annual) “100 Greatest Albums of All Time.” Or “British Albums of All Time.” Or “Britpop Albums of the ’90s” and so forth. And one album that was always popping up on those lists was Grand Prix by Teenage Fanclub. Now, I don’t know the root cause of it, but somewhere along the line, before 2001, I had it set in my mind that I couldn’t like Teenage Fanclub. I had likely associated the band name with some other band at one point and moved forward in my life thinking I shouldn’t waste my time with Teenage Fanclub.

But they kept coming up, and this album in particular. So with no pre-listen, and likely on sale at Newbury Comics, I bought the album. Maybe I even found it used at Second Spin. However it came into my possession, I was able to listen and realize how very wrong I had been. The immediate guitar jangling and harmonies of album opener “About You” instantly grabbed me. Then the angular power pop of “Sparky’s Dream” hit. Two songs in and I LOVED Teenage Fanclub.

Grand Prix was their third album of four at the time. I had them all by August.

WAIT. WHAT? WHY?:

So, yeah, it’s clear I haphazardly threw this mixtape together, with an emphasis on repeating bands I was really enjoying at the time. And while this isn’t generally how I like my mixtapes, the songs at least play well together and keep things upbeat.

Until you hit the Travis song. “What?! The Travis song? But you love Travis!” Yes, I do. Indeed, I really do. And I really like this Travis song. But its melancholy is poorly timed and poorly placed here. Overall, its a poor fit.

Enjoy it now, won’t you?

THE SUPER ULTRA MEGA SONG:

We can all agree that The Kinks are great, right?

In my “new music” quest of this era, I rarely went that far back in time. The Beatles were an exception. The Clash, too. And I picked up The Jam based on Noel Gallagher’s fandom. I also knew I had to get The Kinks and I started with a greatest hits collection. (Not sure if it’s the one I still have or not.)

I remember hearing “Lola” for the first time at summer camp, when I was at an age where a song like “Lola” felt dangerous. I remember the older counselors talking about what the song meant (or might have meant) and felt like I was joining a secret club. This was also the year the counselors were sharing bootlegged bits from new comedian Andrew Dice Clay, so it was a very pivotal summer.

But I’m not choosing “Lola” as the Super Ultra Mega Song. No, I doubled up on The Kinks here, too, and I’m going with “Victoria.” While “Lola” has the wink and the groove, “Victoria” taps the toes. The fondness of Queen and country swells, the guitar solo shimmers, the lyrics charm. It’s everything a Kinks song should be.

Christina Aguilera’s Bellybutton

DATE:

September 25, 2000

COVER:

IMG_2294

THE LINER NOTES:

The last tape we talked about was Baby’s First L.A. Tape, which was a June 2000 departing gift for my ex-girlfriend Carrie. This entry jumps ahead three months to the fall of that year. And somewhere in that time frame, I moved.

But not to California. I wasn’t going to be doing that. No, Tim and I left our legendary basement bachelor pad in Allston/Brighton and moved into the bottom floor of a three story house in Malden, Massachusetts.

Malden– come for the relatively affordable rents outside of the city, stay for relatively affordable rents outside of the city.

In our new living situation, we were not alone. Our sitcom roommate lifestyle now had a third– Tim’s little sister. Or rather, “younger” sister. She wasn’t five. And since I have not yet reached out for permission to use her real name in this blog, I’m going to call her Ruth. Soon after we moved in, Ruth adopted a cat that she named Lucy (that’s the cat’s real name.) And since we were kind of co-parenting this cat, I went on to name her Lucy McClane. Tim took it a step further and named her Lucy McLean Stevenson. And the world’s greatest sitcom cat was born.

Our life in Malden was fairly similar to whatever it was we left behind, save for the fact that we were further away from the bars and restaurants and the city proper. This meant we had to think long and hard about actually leaving the house. Therefore, in this suburb situation, we did the only reasonable thing– we bought a used ping pong table that just barley fit, taking up two-thirds of the living and two-thirds of the dining room. And the world’s greatest sitcom obstacle was born.

And since we’re continuing with the sitcom analogy, let me say that I was having a pretty decent third season. Like, I said, we brought in a new roommate and a pet, but we also added hilarity to the workplace portion of the show. I was promoted and suddenly found myself responsible for 15 people that, in all honesty, I had no right to be responsible for. At this point in my life, “work” was really just the eight hours we had to endure before drinks and chicken fingers. And since my second season love interest had left the series for her own spin-off, there were suddenly a lot more guest stars dropping by for post-chicken-fingers hijinks.

Life was good. Malden, or not.

THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW’S THE MIX?:

Carrie and I didn’t have a lot of crossover episodes that year. (And with that, I’m going to stop with the sitcom thing). But we stayed in touch.

During my down time at the job, I was sending hilarious, supportive emails. We would talk on the phone fairly regularly. And I was still making her mixtapes. This one– Christina Aguilera’s Bellybutton– was the first one I ever mailed to her. And as an example of my mixtape geekdom, when she called me to tell me she got it, I made her pop it in to her tape deck so I could listen to her listen to the first song.

Read that again. I made her play the tape, while on the phone, so I could listen to her listen.

Go ahead and play the song above for me. It’s 50 seconds of acoustic guitar intro, and some subtle strings before the first lyrics are sung. “Nice.” she probably said. “No, wait. Listen.” I probably replied. The sweet melody continued. We don’t speak. At around 1 minute, 43 second, I likely said, “Okay, here it comes.” Ten seconds later, tempo change and electric guitars.

Me: “Ah? Right? Yeah?”

Her: “That’s nice.”

Whatever. It was nice. It IS nice. I have no idea what Tim Burgess is actually saying, but I love that song.

In fact, I love ALL THE SONGS on the mix! This mixtape is outstanding. The palette of sounds have expanded. The band choices have expanded. The “Pleased to Meet You” section of this blog has expanded.

PLEASED TO MEET YOU:

On this mix, we welcome not one, not two… but six bands to the record collection.

With my Britpop leanings, I was an early adopter of a little band called Coldplay.  I introduce them to Carrie with this tape. And with that, I created a mega band.

Another British band hitting my mixtapes for the first time here is Doves. One might say they were Coldplay-esque, and there’s some truth to that, though Doves have an edge to them the other band is missing. “Melody Calls” is my favorite off their debut Lost Souls.

Keeping things British, this tape also marks the debut of Badly Drawn Boy. And again, here’s an artist that could fit into that Coldplay camp (though not exactly). I can’t recall if this is true, but I can imagine I read through one issue of Q magazine that featured all three of these bands and subsequently stopped at Newbury Comics to pick up all their import CD’s. There were occasions I would do this and end up wasting my money. But with Coldplay, Doves and Badly Drawn Boy, I got my money’s worth, taxes and all.

But the new hits don’t stop there!

I think this is the first mixtape to feature The Super Furry Animals as well. And if that’s right, I find it strange that I chose to introduce the band to Carrie with their all-Welsh sung “Torra Fy Ngwallt Yn Hir.” Except it makes perfect sense because it’s awesome!

Equally awesome, and finally showing up, are The Apples in Stereo. I had this album long before making this tape. In fact, I remember reading the review of the album sitting in that basement apartment of yore. Only days later, I had the album in my hands, songs still unheard. And then, 23 seconds into the first song, they were one of my favorite bands. “The Bird That You Can’t See” was a go-to for all my shared mixtapes of this era, so of course we were going to find it here. After the two moodier songs that opened the mix, the party needed to start.

The last new band to welcome, is actually an old favorite of mine. I had the Mr. Hood cassette from KMD back when I was in high school. I absolutely loved it then. And I have no idea how I had lost it. But years later, likely lying on the floor with Carrie, naked, listening to The Man Who, I brought up the band and the album and the lost cassette. Carrie listened. And while I was the guy mailing her homemade mixtapes, she was the girl tracking down and ordering this album for me on CD. She was a nice friend to still have.

WAIT. WHAT? WHY?:

There’s really not one song on here that’s problematic. Some of you might be leaning towards Kula Shaker, but I like that album and absolutely love the summer sunniness of the “Tattva” verses (chorus?).

But what I really question here is the doubling up of bands. Travis, Ben Folds Five, and Built to Spill each have a song per side. And Gomez and two (2!) on Side B. Two! Generally, I didn’t like to do this. I figured, if someone was actually going to take the time to listen to the mix I’m making, I’m going to use the opportunity to fit in as many bands as possible.

But it’s a minor complaint here, as the songs from each band are fantastic.

I had a CD single from Travis that didn’t always play in my stereo. If it did play, you couldn’t skip forward to the next song because then nothing would play. The third song on this disc was “Whenever She Comes Around.” So if I wanted to add this song to a mix, I would have first get the disc to play, then listen through the first two songs, then be at the ready to release the pause button and start recording at the perfect moment. If I missed the beginning, or caught the end of the previous track, I’d have to start to entire process over again.

Take a listen to the song and let me know if it was worth it.

I’ll highlight a fun little Gomez song here, too.

Less than 90 seconds long, this track will be turning up often to close out many an upcoming mixtape. It’s a silly, odd, bouncy, conga-driven ditty.

THE SUPER ULTRA MEGA SONG:

Almost every song highlighted so far is a contender for this tape’s Super Ultra Mega Song.   And when it first came on, I really thought it was going to be “The Bird That You Can’t See.” But then I locked on to Ben Folds Five’s “Philosophy,” especially the punk piano thrashing at the song’s end.

But after the last couple weeks of listening through this phenomenal tape, one song kept bringing me the most joy. “The Day We Caught the Train” originally appeared on Ocean Colour Scene’s debut album. It’s a bit of a stomper in it’s original version, upbeat and fun. This acoustic version is off of their collections album “B-Sides, Seasides & Free Rides.” This still a bit of stomp here, but overplayed with a melodic melancholy. I prefer it to the album version.

And as I’m leaving work singing along to “You and I should ride the coast and wind up in our favorite coats just miles away,” you can’t help but want to get away. Riding a tune as wistful as this.

“When you find that things are getting wilder, don’t you want days like these?”

Baby’s First L.A. Tape

DATE:

June, 2000

COVER:

IMG_1779

LINER NOTES:

I think I mislabeled my tapes.

I did not date these tapes as I made them. Just a title, a random picture and a tracklist. So when I decided to listen through all of them chronologically and write about it, I had to go through every tape and roughly guesstimate when it had been made. I did this using two methods. For the most part, I read through the songs and determined which was the newest on each mix. Then I looked up that song’s release date and could assume this tape was made after that date. I wouldn’t have had the song before that. Then, of course, I had to cross reference the other tapes, comparing those songs’ release dates and put them in order from first to last.

So now, looking at the dates of tapes coming up, I’m realizing there is a giant gap. We jump from June 2000 to September 2000 to April 2001. This doesn’t seem right or realistic. I know I must have made more than just three mixtapes in that 11 month period. So either my guesstimates have been inaccurate, or I’m simply missing a lot of tapes. Overall, though, the general order of what I have is still correct. I probably should have just spread them out a bit more here and there.

The second guide I used in establishing the order of these tapes was far more reliable. Several of these mixes came with obvious markers. The “Christmas Mix” was clearly made in December, the birthday mix was formed in October, and so on. These are the tapes that I can say for certain are the most accurately placed.

Baby’s First L.A. Tape is one of those accurately placed tapes. Carrie left me in June, 2000.

The breakup experiment before her departure seemed to have worked. Sure, we had gotten back together and were hooking up as often as possible prior to her hopping on that plane for Los Angeles, but we were hooking up as just regular friends, not “dating” friends. We were splitting up on good terms. We were going to keep in touch, but we were not going to bother with trying to maintain a cross-country relationship. And I wasn’t going to be following her. I had been to L.A. before and it was a disaster. I was loving Boston too much. Life was good.  I had a good job, great friends, a best friend sitcom roommate and an annual T Pass I wasn’t about to waste.

I didn’t like seeing Carrie go, but it had always been expected. It was one of the first things she told me when we went out for our very first pizza only eight months earlier. “I’m moving to Los Angeles in the summer.” Funny how friendships start.

And since we were going to stay friends, I gifted her several going away presents. I gave her a Boston-themed Monopoly game, a Boston-themed calendar, and a Boston-themed mug filled with Boston-themed baked beans. I also gave her a Los Angeles Thomas Guide and this mixtape. Baby’s First L.A. Tape. A tape containing five different movements. In retrospect, the tape is the only thing I should have given her.

You know, ’cause we were just regular friends.

THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW’S THE MIX?:

SIDE A:

  • “L.A. Woman” – The Doors
  • “Going to California” – Led Zeppelin
  • “Santa Monica” – Everclear
  • “California” – Gomez
  • “Another Day in L.A.” – Indigo Swing
  • “California Stars” – Wilco
  • “California Sun” – The Ramones
  • “So Long” – Guster
  • “She’s Leaving Home” – The Beatles
  • “Last Goodbye” – Jeff Buckley
  • “Stop Your Crying” – Sleeper
  • “Go” – Pearl Jam
  • “One For the Road” – Ocean Colour Scene
  • “Time to Go” – Supergrass
  • (Monty Python)

SIDE B:

  • “It’s Your Thing” – The Isley Brothers
  • “Destiny Calling” – James
  • “I’ll Back You Up” – Dave Matthews Band
  • “Your Star Will Shine” – The Stone Roses
  • “I Love You” – Longpigs
  • “Super Rad!” – The Aquabats
  • “Anything, Anything” – Dramarama
  • “Round Kid” – Buck-O-Nine
  • “Garden Grove” – Sublime
  • “Here in Your Bedroom” – Goldfinger
  • “Only a Lad” – Oingo Boingo
  • “Design For Life” – The Manic Street Preachers
  • “Devil’s Haircut” – Beck
  • “Wonderwall” – Oasis
  • “Slide Show” – Travis
  • (Monty Python)

Of course I was going to make her a mixtape. OF COURSE I WAS!

We had spent the last eight months in my room talking, making out and listening to music. I would often interrupt the making out to make sure we got to listen to the song that just came on. “Wait. Listen to this.” “Here comes the best part.” “How can you not love this song?”

So, yeah. A tape was inevitable. But it had to be something more than just a random collection of songs I thought she had to hear. It needed to have a deeper meaning. It needed to say something. There needed to be a theme.

My girlfrie… I mean, my “just-a-friend” was moving to Los Angeles. So my first thought was to put together a collection of songs about L.A. and California. But as I was rummaging through my CDs to find such songs, I realized I was gravely short. My British-heavy stack of albums didn’t contain a lot of references to the Golden State. So instead, I made do with what I had and decide to break up the tape into five segments: “California,” “Goodbye,” “Support,” “Sounds of L.A.” and “Nameless Little Bonus Section.”

Of the first movement of tunes, songs 1 through 7 on Side A, three of them are from Tim. In 2000, I had yet to add the Doors, Led Zeppelin or The Ramones to my collection. (Don’t worry, they’re all there now). I know I wanted “L.A. Woman” on this mix, but Tim suggested the other two. The Ramones was an easy add, since I was a fan and the song is fun.  I wasn’t really into Led Zeppelin at the time, but “Going to California” was an easy song to fit in as well. The mood was right, as was the destination.

 

With California taken care of, it was time to acknowledge Carrie’s physical departure. And I started this with one of the greatest breakup songs ever recorded. In retrospect, this was not a good idea. The lyrical tone of “So Long” is very cold. It’s heartless. It’s a song about being completely done with the woman involved. It opens with, “Yes, I heard all that you had to say/That’s when it all fell apart/Might be hated, but I can’t pretend/I liked you better before.”

It’s a gorgeous tune, yes, but not exactly the message I wanted to give to Carrie. But I included it because I knew she wasn’t going to take every line of dialogue literally. “She’s Leaving Home” has a title that is completely accurate. But lyrically the song has nothing to do with her situation. Pearl Jam’s “Go” might be written about Eddie Veddar’s pickup truck. So, yes, there are some weird, mixed messages in the lyrics all over this tape. But Carrie was leaving home. She had to go and I had to say, “So long.”

Moving to Side B, it was time to remind my friend that I believed in her and I would always be there for her. She had her thing to pursue, and no matter what, I would back her up. Even in our short time together, I knew she was destined for great things. Indeed, her star would shine.

PLEASED TO MEET YOU:

I’m bending the rules a bit for this installment’s “Pleased to Meet You.” Monty Python bits have already been included on previous tapes. In fact, they were a filler track on the tape before this. I can only assume I had just recently purchased their double-disc release The Final Rip Off and I was happily filling in the dead space at the end of my tapes with my favorites from this compilation.

For Carrie’s goodbye mixtape, Monty Python was the perfect pick for some levity and a little bit of torture. At the end of Side A, I gave her “Sit On My Face,” plus my favorite Python song of all-time:

And for torture, I ended this tape (the last one I may ever give her) with a song she despises. Because I’m the kid on the playground throwing acorns at the girl I have a crush on.

WAIT. WHAT? WHY?:

With my limited CD collection, I wasn’t able to find anymore inspiring tunes to pad out Side B to reach the closing movement. So to fill in that gap, I opted to give Carrie a taste of Southern California music from bands local to the scene. Again I need Tim’s assistance. I borrowed his Oingo Boingo and Dramarama. (Another mixed message with “Anything Anything.” Shouldn’t have added a song with the line “Marry me, marry me, marry” shouted so passionately.)

I added a few ska punk bands here, a genre I was just getting into in 2000. But I do wish I had more variety at the time of making this tape. I probably would have left off “Garden Grove” if I had had more to choose from. Not that I hate the song, but it slows the groove down a little too much here.

THE SUPER ULTRA MEGA SONG:

The last four songs might have been the first four songs I knew I wanted to include on this tape.

I think I’ve made this clear, but in case you didn’t know, my brief relationship with Carrie was soundtracked by the band Travis. I played their albums and singles nonstop. We went to every concert and in-store event in the greater Boston area. We triumphantly sang their songs together– drunk and sober. And one of their tracks had this gorgeous refrain: “There is no design for life/There’s no devil’s haircut in my mind/There is not a wonderwall to climb or step around.”

I love songs that reference other songs. I love stories that reference pop culture. And I love (LOVE) Travis’ “Slide Show.” It’s simple perfection.

So when it came time to make this tape, I knew I wanted the referenced songs to play in the reference order, leading up to the closing number. To do this, I had to go out and buy the Manic Street Preachers’ album that contained “Design For Life.”

I never did get into the band, but this is a great song. And one that played often while Fran Healy was strumming his acoustic guitar and writing down the songs that would eventually change my life.

“There is a slide show and it’s so slow, flashing through my mind.”

Seemed an appropriate send off for a woman that I would never forget. Always to be flashing through my mind.