Iím still grooving on Smedís tunes. For those who missed it, I received six CDs of tunes a couple of days ago. I fully expected to plow right through all six, but Iíve found myself instead stuck on the first couple of CDs on repeat. I am struck by two things Ė the number of tunes I recognize and once loved, but have not heard in a while, and the personality behind the mixed (or at least, my perception of a personality). I love trying to extract the logic of the order and selection of the tunes.
Smed and I have had a few conversations about the art of the mix and the pleasure of making one right. As I listen to the CDs, Iím feeling like they are the start of a conversation. Iím having to stop myself from emailing Smed every few minutes to say things like, ďI love this and it makes me wonder if youíve heardÖĒ Instead Iím saving up the comments to send at once, so he doesnít think Iím a stalker. Iíve also started a file of tunes I think he might like Ė it seems to me that anyone who makes such great mixes deserves to receive one or two of their own, even if I am nowhere near the master of the art that he is.
Mix tapes figured large in my college social life. They were exchanged among far-flung friends, a way of sharing our lives and making sure we still knew each other. I made quite a few for myself as well, usually for a particular purpose. I still have one entitled, ďDriving to Cape Cod,Ē where I had tried to time a particular tune (which embarrasses me now, and so I wonít divulge it) to when I hit the Sagamore bridge on my way to my summer job playing fiddle in a pit orchestra for a musical theater company.
My most prized mixes, though, were from either people I knew a bit but wanted to know better or from total strangers. One of my favorites was found by the side of the road. Another was from a reserved roommate that let me know we had more in common than she let on.
One standout was from a guy I knew in college. I went to a womenís college and was more interested in working than dating, in part due to personality and in part due to the generally horrific local dating options Ė the men who leave co-ed campuses to seek a social life at womenís college parties were generally not my type. I remember attending a party at the house of a friend. When some drunk guy came up to us and asked her to dance, she said no thanks very politely. He responded, ďSo what are you a [my college] bitch or a [my college] dyke?Ē She smiled sweetly at him and replied, ďIím both,Ē and dragged me onto the dance floor. This type of behavior was pretty standard there, at least in my experience.
Somewhere in my first or second year of college, though, through another boy-crazy friend who was looking for a posse to attend a party at a nearby school, I met a group of guys that I stayed friends with through college and for a while beyond (Iíve lost track of them now, due in part to my mishandling of a surprising and ill-timed confession from one of romantic feelings for me), far longer than I stayed in touch with the friend who introduced us. They were suitemates. One went on to be a teacher at an elite private school. Another, after a battle with cancer, got a free ride to a highly ranked med school. A third became a lawyer. And then there was R. He was a guitarist, so we bonded over music. If truth be told, I had a bit of a crush on him, although he was totally unavailable Ė despite having all the trappings of romance, he just didn't seem to have his head in that place at all, with me or anyone. Itís part of what made him such a great crush, the impossibility. We talked about music a lot, played together a little. He put together a composition project for a class and asked me to play with several other area student musicians, one of whom youíve probably heard of Ė he went on to have the career that the rest of us couldnít or didnít want to muster. He is, however, deceased Ė an unsurprising but still tragic suicide.
R. made me a mix tape as thanks for participating in his project. The first track includes the piece we recorded. Itís not very good. I find my own solo impossible to listen to and generally fast forward through it. The rest, though, was a collection of tunes he thought Iíd like, older songs with which, at the time, I was largely unfamiliar. Early Genesis, Dire Straits, The Jam, lots of tracks featuring acoustic guitar in one way or another. Itís interesting to hear these pieces next to the track R. composed Ė the influences are obvious.
I spent the night before my graduation with these guys, and one other friend who had insinuated herself into our group. They came to the outdoor party my college threw for graduates. The lanterns that dotted the campus during the party had been extinguished, but the coals in the barbecue pits were still hot. We walked down to the mini mart and bought marshmallows and chocolate and graham crackers and beer. We gathered around the pit with our sticks of marshmallows, stayed until 3 a.m. R. brought his guitar. It was a perfect May night, just cool enough for us to appreciate the heat of the coals. That was the last time I saw him Ė a troubadour by the fire.
The following fall, we were both living in Boston. We made plans to meet for drinks. I stood by the appointed lamppost, but he never showed. I waited longer than I should have, seduced by my memories of Rís guitar and melting sugar and the night sky. R. is no longer a person in my life, but he will, I think, always be a story, a part of my personal mythology, evidence of my oft-buried romantic imagination.
I have, since my conversation with Smed a month or two ago, searched the house high and low for that tape. I know that I did not throw it away. But it seems, like R., to have vanished from my life.
3 people said it like they meant it