On Mixtapes

Last Dance, Federico Bebber

Music is incredible. Enchanting. Haunting. The way it can make you feel–something, anything, an emotion that may be intangible, that you can’t put into words but you can feel pulsing through your veins like the humming of a melody, the beat of a chorus. One of my favorite things about sharing music, whether through sharing platforms, playlists, or old school mix tapes, is that you can learn so much about another person just through what songs they have selected to put together. The sharer may not even realize it, but their choice of song order and song type, even if totally “random” was still directed by some subconscious force that knows what soothes your brain, what your soul grooves to. A dear friend of mine in high school used to make me mixed CDs, and through these I learned about the art of song order and album making. My friend used to sprinkle intros, interludes, three second commentaries strategically throughout the playlist, making the sides of my mouth turn up because it was like he was in the car next to me, playing DJ. He introduced me to songs that I would have never considered listening to, solely because I would have only given them five seconds before deciding I wasn’t into them and hitting next. My friend hated that–he made me give every song a far chance, and  I had to listen to the playlist in order, from start to finish. Couldn’t interrupt the rhythmic flow he had crafted–and crafted he had. 

Unbeknownst to him, those mixed CDs got me through daily hour long drives to appointments I didn’t want to attend, people I didn’t want to see, conversations I didn’t want to have. That song I wouldn’t have given a first chance thanked me for its second chance by being the soundtrack to my muffled cries under the steering wheel, the bridge rising as the windshield wipers kept the time better than any metronome. That song with only one sentence of lyrics was the mantra of my long drives home–I didn’t care what they said, only that I could repeat them the whole way home, like the string of words was the kind of numbing fuel I needed to put myself on autopilot. That last CD, that was the one I played when it was sunny and I would roll the windows down and make myself smile. Then after a while, I didn’t have to force it–Track 01 began, smile immediately formed. A Pavlovian thing, almost, to condition oneself to forget the bad and the words and the feelings as soon as a certain string of chords is struck. 

But the songs that really intrigue me even still are what I call the “filler” songs. You know what I’m talking about–those songs on a certain playlist that you would never listen to just on their own, you’d never actually seek out probably, yet they fit perfectly right there on Track 05, not the beginning and definitely not the end. Not striking enough to be the intro, but also not punctuating enough to be the finale. They kind of just keep that flow going, a steady transition. A la Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (looking at you, psychology people), these are the songs that put you in the zone and can continue to play while you are there. You don’t want anything too loud, but you also need that steady beat to keep you going. No annoying lyrics, but still something to inspire. I have so so many songs like this floating around in the back of my head, the songs that I immediately know I know but have no idea what the name is. They are those songs that sometimes come on in places like the little independent coffee shop downtown or at that random person’s backyard barbecue you were somehow invited to. You bob your head and surface from your conversation for a second–“hey, I know this..”–but then, you’re back under, dipping down below the melody, ears hearing but brain tuning out, because that’s what fillers are for–background, flow, transition.

I think that I am like these filler songs. I have come to play this role in people’s lives–enter, quietly, slowly. Then they notice me–if I’m lucky, I’ll get a wow, I like her, I wanna know more. Maybe they’ll even look up my name, my album title, my artist. A quick Wikipedia search yielding little information because I am more than likely a one hit wonder in their eyes. I don’t confess this in complete sadness–I do serve my purpose. We have a few weeks, months, maybe even years, of a relationship. Magic, fun, blissful, always learning but always only me left wanting more. Dancing on rooftops, your smile in the morning, the way that he had to look down his eyelashes at me because he was so tall, making his face look softer. Doing pirouettes for you, belly laughs on wooden docks, promises made on pillows in the dark. 

But my kind of song doesn’t really seem to be the main theme. It’s good while it lasts, but there is more to come for the listener–or so they think. In real life, when your playlist is hidden and you don’t know when the next song will come along, and if you will like it, and if you will have the ability to press next or press pause, it’s always just a guessing game on which song should get the most air time. So I’m a filler song–full of so many memories with so many people who meant a lot to me, but this imprinting of those moments, those feelings in my stomach and those thoughts in my head, wasn’t reciprocated, and so I’m left here stuck on repeat. Because the only song I know how to sing is the one I have always been singing, and if that’s not a platinum single for anyone then I guess it’s just not meant to be the main melody. If my song is just the buildup, just the bridge, then I will sing it loud and proud and it will be the best transition you’ve ever heard. 
Maybe I am meant to just be a stepping stone, a learning block, a lesson to teach others about themselves. A pit stop before moving on to better and brighter things. That song you scribbled down on a sticky note and stuffed down in your glove compartment. I hope one day you’ll find it, uncrumple it, and remember what that tune once meant to you.

xx mm