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Soundtrack of My Love Life - International Mixtape Project
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Soundtrack of My Love Life

I’ve been transferring my music again -- this time from Computer A, which has a stone-age processor and is made up of not one, not two, but THREE hard drives -- to External Hard Drive B, which is one-gazillionth the size of a Mack truck with five times the storage.

Mix CDs given from the heart can be sweet and musically à propos. But they can also be stark reminders of why I broke up with Person X in the first place. What always strikes me every time I undertake a Music Migration project -- and yes, I do it so often that it has earned Proper Noun Status -- is not only how much of my music I never listen to, but the extent to which my music collection is a direct chronological reflection of my dating history.

When I put my iPod on shuffle, I always frantically skip past at least half of the songs, and, much like when memories of my past love affairs creep into my mind, I cringe and say, “What was I thinking?” My iPod contains musical gems from such far-flung genres as gangsta rap and children's Christmas music. There’s also ska, a Britney Spears song, and a disturbingly large collection of Butthole Surfers and Wu-Tang Clan (although I'm not the least apologetic for those). I even have files named “Mysterious Blank CDs 1, 2, and 3.” All of which shows that over the years, I have melded music collections with a lot of people with wildly divergent tastes.

A tour through my MP3s takes me on a sentimental journey through my love interests, going as far back as high school. From the boyfriends of my early adolescence, I acquired The Cranberries, Live, No Doubt (I know, right?), Garbage, and Tom Petty. Surprisingly, I still like most of this stuff. I also acquired Aqua and Tori Amos as creepy gifts from a secret admirer that wormed his (her?) way into my locker when I wasn’t looking.

From the first guy I dated in college, I got a bunch of funky/cool instrumental techno, sweaty boy music like Tool, and alphabet soup: IPC, APC, and RATM. From the second, I got a whole lot of P-funk, Toto, ska, Information Society, Devo, and Ani Difranco. He thought that 2/3 time was the future of music. Both boys disappeared after freshman year with nary a word of goodbye, but here I am, ten years later, living with a Specials album I never listen to and a weird song about a pickle that sometimes pops into my head without warning.

I inherited a cache of trancey techno from a guy a few years later, who left me for Seattle and a pill-popping girl with a tramp stamp. From the next guy, whose heart I unfortunately broke, I got Sneaker Pimps and a letter in which he was kind enough to include a reading list, from which I learned that “Whores and Other Feminists” is not, as he thought, a diatribe excoriating independent women of loose morals, but an empowering indictment of misogyny and heteronormativity.

For Jim Morrison, Blur, Jimi Hendrix, Radiohead, Beck, and Leonard Cohen, I have Mr. A the former to thank. He also left me with an eclectic collection of novelty music, including Adam Sandler, the Bloodhound Gang, and a coterie of sound effects from such estimable television shows as Invader Zim and Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

From Mr. A the latter, I inherited the entire hip-hop oeuvre, from the '80s onward, of which my favorites are Eve and Lil’ Kim. The rest I keep just in case I ever need to throw a gin-n-juice party. I also am now the proud owner of every Indigo Girls song ever written. This dude is also responsible for that solitary, over-processed Britney Spears hit.

The last guy from whom I received a mixtape added some of my favorites, including Mazzy Star and Thom Yorke. The rest included such not-so-good things as a freakishly complete collection of Chris Isaak and Corey Hart, and a bunch of stuff so odious it had to be destroyed: soundtracks from '70s porn, The Sound of Music, Ren & Stimpy, and Sesame Street; poorly performed audio erotica; and at least a gigabyte of crappy, annoying sound effects. What is it with men and sound effects? From him, I kept a large contingent of Appalachian folk, just in case I ever need to soothe an errant, unwashed banjoist.

Mixtapes represent the pinnacle of musical love gestures. They can take a day or more of laborious effort to make, and when a love interest makes me one, I pretty much know I own him. Nowadays, I get my mixtape fix via the International Mixtape Project, which is a sort of love story on its own, but more like a romance between the music and me. There are dudes and ladies out there who have shared with me wonderful songs and sounds, recontextualized in meaningful and exciting new ways. But, at the end of the day, I've learned that, although a tune or artist can remind me of the person who introduced me in the first place, the enduring notion is that music sets the scene for my life, not necessarily the other way around.

-- Sarah Brown, 09/02/2010


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