Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 10:51 PM
Hey. I know I said I’d write back sooner but I forgot. I’m sorry that your flight was delayed and that you had to drive to make it to the conference in Orange County. I had a feeling you wouldn’t be able to get to sleep in the hotel room because I know that you’re terrible at sharing a bed. I meant to write earlier, I’ve just been so busy.
I’ve been thinking about something a lot during the past few days: mix-tapes. You probably had a stack of them in your bedroom when you were a teenager. For decades, amateur DJs worked in front of home stereos holding down “record” buttons while songs copied from one cassette to another. We organized playlists by theme and made musical snapshots of situations, eras and moods: “Rainy Day Jams”, “Road Trip”, “Summer ‘98”. Lately I’ve been thinking of tapes gifted to romantic interests; it seems as if people were thinking: “if I make this for you in private, you’ll know how I feel. Put your headphones and pause only to flip to the B-Side. Turn up the volume and think of me.” Our cryptic, longing messages were delivered second-hand in lyrics and the swellings of choruses, while songs were selected and strategically ordered to create something greater than the sum of its parts. The tapes were tiny homemade exhibitions which brought the curatorial process parallel with our most vulnerable emotions.
The mix cassette is obsolete now that one can drop and drag iTunes playlists or Dropbox pirated albums by e-mail, but its contemporary equivalent is still a type of social extension; giving the gift of music has always been an attempt to bridge an elusive social divide. Even the motivation behind the casually e-mailed YouTube link is transparent. The great mix cassette tapes had handwritten tracklists slid into the plastic case, while the best ones began with spoken dedications where the speaker’s mouth was muffled and a little too close to the microphone.
Towards the end of the 1990’s, the lover’s mix cassette tape became outdated and even comical in pop culture. Cassettes gave way to CD’s which gave to way to MP3’s on an iPod, each respectively requiring less time and effort. In the Will and Grace episode The Young and the Tactless (2000), Woody Harrelson’s deadbeat character pulls off headphones connected to a tape recorder to ask Grace: “Hey, you're a girl. What’s the most romantic Megadeath song? I had a big fight with my girlfriend… so I decided to make her this tape: ‘Heavy Metal Songs of Love and Devotion.’” These days, the term mixtape (the hyphen dropped) has been reappropriated to refer to underground hip-hop pre-releases or albums downloadable for free.
The last time you went away I wrote you tiny letters tucked into homemade envelopes to open up on the plane, in the hotel, at the conference, on your way home. You were afraid of flying. I don’t have time for that and after what happened, it wouldn’t really make sense. Instead I’m switching to e-mails because they’re less permanent, less physical and all the evidence can be deleted with a click. This time, instead of notes for courage while you’re in the sky, I’m going to write to you about art: not your passion but mine. I want to tell you about things we saw or the things I saw without you in order to share what I can’t say outright. In his 1971 book The Necessity of Art, the Austrian writer Ernst Fischer suggested that because man desires to be more than himself, is anxious and unsatisfied being a separate individual, he can attain wholeness only if he takes possession of the experiences of others that might be his own. “Art,” writes Fischer, “is the indispensable means for this merging of the individual with the whole. It reflects his infinite capacity of association, for sharing experiences and ideas.”
The last time I saw you you’d asked if I’d slept well and I told you I felt as if I’d had a million tiny naps. I kept catching the sunrise out of the window of your building. The truth was that the small slivers of sleep didn’t add up to much. Not greater than the sum of their parts.
The first part in a series of correspondences.