The Magic of the Mixtape

Should I bolt every time I get that feeling in my gut when I meet someone new? Well, I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.

I’ve never read Nick Hornby’s book. I should, I know — seeing the movie (no matter how great it is, with John Cusack and all) isn’t the same.

But a lot of people in my circle of friends get it.  Maybe we couldn’t have written the book, but we’ve made our fair share of mix tapes – or CDs, or playlists, or 8tracks. We get older, the technology gets newer, and the story stays the same.

I’ve made hundreds of mixes in my time, to be played in certain seasons, to remind me of certain seasons. For movies that have been scripted, for movies that haven’t even been plotted yet, for those times when I want to make up my own movies on the fly.  To absent friends, to present friends, and even to enemies.

I’ve heard more and more artists complaining about the iPod, and the fact that you can set your album or artist or entire collection to shuffle, and you don’t get the beauty of listening to an album, straight through, as the artist intended.  If that’s the case, why not release your music as 70 minute song cycles, with no track break?  But even if you do — we’ll still figure out a way to break out the five minute chunk that we want, because it would bridge Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” and “Lady Helen” by Devin Townsend perfectly.

These songs, these lyrics — for many of us, there is a soundtrack to life.  It’s nice to be able to preserve that, when we choose, or to craft an alternate to inspire or escape.

Concert Review: Wilco @ The Fabulous Fox Theatre, Atlanta 26.March.2010

Ever since I started dating Melisa,  I’ve been opening my head up to trying a lot of new things.  I’m not normally considered very adventurous, as I understand it — and fair enough.  I like what I like, and no need to try new things if what I like is available.  New foods, new hobbies– it’s really a new way of looking at life.

And so when we went to see Wilco, a band with which I’m not terribly familiar, I broke my usual habit of familiarizing myself with the music pre-show.  Normally, I’ll spend some time on YouTube or with a borrowed CD, at least preparing myself for what I’ll be hearing if not trying to find a few songs that  I can anticipate.  Not this time — I went in with the sparse bit of knowledge I’ve picked up from Melisa’s iPod and covering two of their songs with the Exhibit(s).

From what I could tell from Wilco fans, it was an awesome show.  The performance was impressive — each member is very talented, and they all had an amazing amount of energy, especially given that they played a 3 hours set with no break (excluding the now-mandatory pre-encore five minutes).  One hour can be a long time on stage — three is amazing.  There was a nice mixture of uptempo tunes with slower, mellower numbers, which kept the pacing nice and moved the show along.

The mix was terrible, I’ve heard from some folks who were on the floor level (we were on the front part of the balcony, just right of center — excellent seats except for the two teeny-boppers in front of us who insisted on dancing for 2/3 of the show, thus forcing us to stand or sit with an obstructed view).  I thought, mix-wise, it was fine — everything was clear and distinct. Except, of course, when it was a wall of sound…

Maybe I’m old; maybe I wasn’t prepared, as Melisa tells me that Wilco often break into sections of clamorous noise in the middle of songs, before returning to a more structured arrangement.  That’s fine — next time, I know to bring earphones.  But honest-to-god: I’ve been to over a thousand shows in my life, played hundreds, and I have only one other time ever been in a situation that was physically painful to my ears.  Melisa didn’t seem to notice, so perhaps it was just me and my ears, but there were moments when the physical volume and the cacophony of timbres and pitches was overwhelming.  Perhaps the sound guy is to blame; perhaps it was a by-product of being in a theater, as opposed to outdoors or a deeper, less-confined room; maybe I’m just a pussy.  Fine.

I would definitely like to have another chance to see Wilco, but with more preparation on my part. I need to have more connection to the music I’m seeing, at least when its outside of my usual fare. I definitely need some way to bring the decibel count down about 15-20db…

UPDATE: via Scents and Subtle Sounds, the setlist from the evening:

Set: Wilco (The Song), I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Bull Black Nova, You Are My Face, One Wing, A Shot in the Arm, Side with the Seeds, Deeper Down, Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway(again), Wishful Thinking, Impossible Germany, California Stars, Poor Place, Spiders (Kidsmoke)*, Far, Far Away*, You and I*, Laminated Cat*, War on War, Hesitating Beauty*&, Casino Queen*, Passenger Side*, Airline to Heaven, Via Chicago, Handshake Drugs, You Never Know, Heavy Metal Drummer, Can’t Stand It, Jesus, Etc., Theologians, Hate It Here, Walken, I’m the Man Who Loves You, I’m a Wheel

Encore: Thank You, Friends^

* Acoustic, *& John on stand up bass, ^ Big Star Cover

Dried up roses scattered on the mound / Honouring the one engraved

There’s a magic quality about music, that it possesses the ability to carry one to another time or place or state of mind, completely and without warning.  It reminds me of the connection between the sense of smell and memory, only perhaps more powerful for some.

I sat today bemoaning (quietly, of course, because this sort of thought gets you branded as a heretic in the southeastern US) the imminent arrival of spring, the eventual farewell to the cool temperatures that I spend 60% of my year craving and dreaming about. It was a gorgeous day — the occasional lazy, fluffy white cloud punctuated the bright blue March sky, a light breeze breaking up the monotonous air here and there — but already it’s too hot for me.  And immediately I was missing the winter that we never really got (I think I wore my “heavy” coat for a total of ten days this season), and readying myself for the next one, like a cubicle ant on Monday morning praying for the weekend.

It must have been this line of thinking that pushed me to line up Opeth’s BLACKWATER PARK into my iTunes. It’s a disc that I haven’t listened to in a few years (although their last album, WATERSHED, has an inordinate amount of playtime, according to my iPod), and I’m wondering why. The entire album — both the quiet, acoustic sections and the heavier epic-sounding riffs — is permeated with autumn, or perhaps winter, evoking visions of snow and barren plains, misty breath, coats and that stillness that comes only in the depth of January.  It’s evident on their albums since, but none moreso than BLACKWATER PARK.

And I wonder how much of that is a memory association of my own, based on my listening patterns; how much is my knowledge of Opeth (i.e., their Swedish origins); and how much is based in the music itself. There is some music that I will forever associate with winter, some with summer and the beach, some with autumn; some day, some night.  And I’m certain that there’s some level of my own personality or experience in there, but I’m also convinced that some of that quality resides in the music itself.

On some level, too, I’m not concerned with the why, because for now and for the next six months, I can count on Opeth and others to help get me through the god-awful oppressive summer heat.