Friday, February 15, 2008

Mirth and Woe: Mix Tape

I've always been a music fan. My current MP3 player has about 4,500 songs, and it's still only about three-quarters full.

Back at the turn of the Eighties, I possessed a cheap Sanyo Walkman rip-off which was my constant companion. I wasn't the only one. There was a time where virtually everybody in the college common room sat, zombie-like, listening to their own music through headphones, while the jukebox fell silent.

The only noise would be the clack of the pool table, or voices raised to ask a headphoned Maggie behind the counter for a cup of tea and a rubber-flavoured - yet strangely addictive - cheese toasted sandwich.

Conversation was strictly limited to "What you listening to?"

There was never a reply, just the mute handing over of the cassette box and a nod of agreement from your peers.

This cycle was only ever broken twice, as Malcolm eyed the track-listing from my impeccably constructed mix tape and offered the following critique, before finding himself on the receiving end of a smack round the chops:

"It's crap. Especially the Simple Minds. Where's the fucking George Benson?"

Then there was the time one young chap was caught listening to a revision tape of his own devising. Cock punch.

I was always making my own obsessively-indexed mix tapes. I started off by taping the Top 40 off the radio, becoming highly skilled with the pause button, enabling me to cut out any trace of Tony Blackburn from the finished product.

Eventually, a weekend job stacking shelves and watching people have sex at a local supermarket found me in a position to spend actually cash money on actual records. I became a regular visitor to a dodgy independent record store in Bracknell, and built up a collection of 80s New Romantic classics that would, these days, be the envy of any balding, slightly overweight forty-something who used far too much hairspray in their youth.

No longer were the mix tapes made off the Sunday Top 40 show, but was compiled directly from my obsessively-compiled collection, onto the second cheapest C-90s I could lay my hands on.

Soon, I started making them for friends. Some - prog rockers to a man - even pretended to like my tastes.

Presently, I found myself hopelessly in love with a certain young lady from college who was part of our extended circle of silent common room Walkman listeners, and it was only a matter of time before I would offer her my services with a C-90.

Debbie, with spray-on jeans and pouting lips. I didn't stand a chance.

"Tell you what," I said on a chaperoned visit to a local public house where she drunk me into poverty on diet coke, "I'll make you a mix tape so we can see what kind of music we both like."

This - an offer to the girl who obsessed over Stevie Wonder's 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' - was doomed from the start.

Overtaken by hormones and the fiery desires of my loins, I decided to put in a short - and, in retrospect, decidedly sad spoken interlude halfway through side two.

The gist of it was this: "Debbie, I want to see you with very few clothes on."

I gave her a few days to let the message - mixed together with my irresistible choice of 80s New Rom standards - sink in, before giving her a call:

"Hey Debbie, did you listen to that tape I made you?"

"I didn't have time. I gave it to my brother."


"He's in the RAF Regiment. I thought it would be nice to give him something to listen to in his barrack room."


Meanwhile, at RAF Uxbridge, a battered ghetto blaster plays. Perched on top of the machine is a cassette box, bearing the words "Debbie's Mix Tape Vol. 1".

Half a dozen finely-creased and frighteningly muscular young men - some of whom are openly displaying wispy pencil moustaches - sit open-mouthed, hanging on to every last, pathetic word, their fingers tightening over a variety of semi-automatic weapons.

"...and Debbie, as the band plays on, we can make sweet, sweet music of our own..."


I was so scared I spent the weekend mulching into my trousers like Monty Don on an acid trip.

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