Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas

Did you ever see the film, High Fidelity? The 80’s definitive sensitive, deep heartthrob, John Cusack, is all grown up and plays himself, basically, running a struggling record store with two buddies (British book, American film, perfect casting, especially Jack Black) and remaining a lover of mix tapes. Memories. Memorex. He labors over mix tapes for each woman he loved or loves.

And take it from me, it was labor– starting, stopping, pausing, rewinding–to achieve that smooth “album” (mp3!) sound, one song flowing into the next. The right amount of high voltage tempered with slow and steamy, a little pop, a shake of vintage…whatever you chose turned a blank Maxell into the story of you and her, or him. Your soundtrack.

Of course, I “produced” them for friends, vacations, and my different moods (the Ocean City tapes made when one of my best friends, S, was allowed to skip her first week of 11th grade–I’m still amazed–and stay with me, my mom, and step-dad at the Pyramid, played till they broke; lots of “Love Songs After Dark” ballads ’cause we were walking hormones).

As I type, in my Subie’s tape deck (5 CD player broke years ago) sits a Smithsonian-worthy 1986 mix tape found when I moved to this apartment. I’ll give you one song on it, though it hurts to admit it: “All I Need” by Jack Wagner, of General Hospital fame. OK, maybe not so Smithsonian-worthy. Come on. We ALL love crap songs. I can’t help it if it played during an otherwise perfect moment in life. It “even stevens” ’cause “Ripple” takes me back to a kick-ass outdoor house party where I gave my first BJ to the hottest guy I’ve ever been with. Ask S. She was there (not there). She’d agree.

Sad about S, though. I know being a busy mom of four–fuck me–and wife, her life is not her own, but several years ago I remember her saying music wasn’t that important to her anymore. The same girl who cruised Route 1 with me on summer nights in my ’79 Plymouth Horizon hatchback, windows down, smoking Virginia Slim Lights, belting out “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” and “Thunder Road” (live version, obviously) and “Dreamweaver.” Of course, she’s not the same. None of us are, but to lose that, when music means, meant, so much to me. I thought we’d always share that.

Such is life.

Anyway, since I’ve been separated and divorced I’ve compiled thousands of old and new favorite bands and songs thanks to iTunes and the library, 150 of them on my “Love” playlist: sad, happy, romantic, sexy, dirty, depressing, lost, losing, dying, wanting, celebratory. A musical arc of these last four years.

With snow falling again tonight, and feeling like a teenager who knows there won’t be school tomorrow, I turned up the volume and sang along to Muddy Water’s “Mannish Boy,” “(Just Like) Starting Over,” Joan Jett’s “Crimson and Clover,” Ike and Tina’s “Proud Mary,” “Wild World,” “What is Life,” Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, & Understanding,” Joni Mitchell’s “California,” “American Pie,” and “Big Shot.” Not caring if neighbors heard me. Feeling each song keenly, the images, words, and memories they beckoned forth. Wonder-filled.

To have someone make a special mix tape just for me, though…now that would be wonderful. See where I’m going with this? Good. As for me, “the urge is righteous, but the face is wrong,” still…

Lack of communication is unhealthy.

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