Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mix Tape

The thing about a mix tape is that it was generally made with you in mind. Unless you had a playa on your hands, mix tapes were made by one person for one other. The songs selected were intended for, or evocative of, or telling a story of some sort for one person, or maybe a small group. It was a personal form of communication made using constructs of popular culture. Either that or it was an attempt to get laid.

I'm a big fan of the Marvel movies. It would be an understatement to say I was stoked by their recent Phase 3 movie slate announcement. I haven't read any of the "Guardians of the Galaxy," comics or graphic novels, though I have been meaning to, but had heard solid reviews of the movie, so took a chance and snarfed it up. Younger daughter Ava and I have watched it twice, the second time so her older sister could watch it as well.

The mix tape looms large. The soundtrack for Guardians, which I have downloaded and listened to a number of times, is a mix tape made for our hero Peter Quill (played by Chris Pratt) by his mother in the 1980s. "Awesome Mix Vol. 1," was her collecting her favorite songs to share with her son. In addition to being completely iconic, badass 1970s and 80s songs, they are woven perfectly into the movie.

"Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone, anyone? Ava has been singing that song all morning and now counts it as one of her three favorite songs.

When I run with tunes these days, I work out a playlist and then hit shuffle, to let the Universe throw me a sort of running mix tape based on songs I'm vibing on. The Guardians soundtrack is currently tumbling with Digable Planets, Beck and D'Angelo, among others.

But the mix tape philosophy got me thinking about other art forms, books and movies that I dig. A mix tape is not a novel. It is most likely not about plot. It's about every song, every section, chapter, part, being something onto itself, and also not allowing any filler, any lulls. "Pulp Fiction," "True Romance," and "Snatch" are films that feel episodic, where there is scene after scene of simply and utterly cool. Bands like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and The Beastie Boys put out albums that felt like mix tapes.

There is a level of care and attention given to a mix tape that only certain authors can come close to replicating for a whole book, or work of any sort. I got the mix tape high the first time I read William Blake's "Marriage of Heaven and Hell." I'm cruising through some deep and heady stuff, one "song" ends and here come the "Proverbs of Hell (plucking a few favorites at random):"

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.

Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

The hours of folly are measur'd by the clock; but of wisdom, no clock can measure.

The most sublime act is to set another before you.

And Blake just mows you down with rapid fire, fortune cookie bullets. Poets, essayists and short story writers are more likely to conjure mix tape magic it seems, with their ability to work the pause, the silence between the songs; and their prerogative to change direction, change tone, pace without notice--heavy metal to bluegrass to reggae to jazz. One of the literary lions who clearly understood mix tapes was Jorge Luis Borges. You can see it in "Labyrinths," or "Dreamtigers," or almost anything he put out into the world. Maybe for Borges, a mix tape was a labyrinth:

Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.

Then I reflect that all things happen, happen to one, precisely now. Century follows century, and things happen only in the present. There are countless men in the air, on land and at sea, and all that really happens happens to me.

Before unearthing this letter, I had questioned myself about the ways in which a book can be infinite. I could think of nothing other than a cyclic volume, a circular one. A book whose last pages was identical with the first, a book which had the possibility of continuing indefinitely.

Maybe that is another aspect of the mix tape--it is almost cyclic or circular; it doesn't matter where you hit play, you are pulled in, wrapped up; you can start and stop at any point or just let it ride.

If that's the case, Borges definitely got it. You can see him taking copies of a new book to his close friends, his lady friends, his peeps. Or maybe he'd be kicked back in a chair, next to a cat, waiting for folks to come to him. I mean, he's Borges. Maybe he would just send a text that said: "New mix tape: Come and Get Your Love. Borges, out."

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