It took moving to my current place for me to give up the crate of cassettes I’d carted it around for a couple decades after owning a tape player. They were as close to a diary as I had. But time came to cull some of the history. I knew storage space would be limited, so I had to choose carefully.
As I type this, I’m looking at a double column of cassettes that sits by my front window. Most consist of taped LPs, one to each 45-minute side. I’d sell the vinyl to Nuggets or In You Ear, then buy new ones, tape those, repeat. But a sizable minority are mixtapes, made either for or by me.
There’s an unavoidable nostalgia to the mixtape for people my age, and whatever the feeling’s called for missing what you never had, for those a decade or two younger. These outmoded things retain some low-key magic. What’s replaced the mixtape, of course, is the playlist. Theoretically, you can stage-manage whatever message/feeling/hope you want onto these in a similar way. In practice though, a playlist is just another data-set among a billion others that we skim over on this or that screen. It’s doesn’t land the same way and rarely sticks. A couple clicks and it’s less than a passing memory.
The one advantage, aside from convenience, that a playlist has over a mixtape is the option to annotate and explain your choices and thinking in assembling it. I can’t imagine reading a booklet of notes while listening to my old cassettes, but often read this or that while having Spotify on.
David Gutkowski is coming up on two decades of documenting writer’s thoughts about the music they love and use to inspire, prompt, and augment their books on his great site, Largehearted Boy. He recently published my annotated playlist for Old Style. He’s generously invited me to write one for All Hack, Soviet Stamps, Music to My Eyes, and Where to? as well.
I make playlists all the time, but David gives me a reason to consider why I choose what I choose. It’s not exactly the same as hearing back from the person you made a mixtape for about how it did or didn’t make them feel, but does added an extra layer of resonance to the habit of grouping songs together.
I’ve had a lot of problems finding my place in the lit racket, so I’m extra grateful for people like David, who have dedicated untold hours to promoting the work of others. His contributions are invaluable. Scroll through his archive and you get a particular slant on the history of books and the people who make them.
Another person I’m indebted to in regards to promoting my books is Gil Roth and his Virtual Memories Show. I’ve lost track of how many times he’s had me on, but the last one was Tuesday. We’ve developed a rapport over the years. I think this was my favorite.
Without people like Gil and David, writers without a promotional juggernaut behind them would be completely alone wandering the wilderness. Their encouragement and enthusiasm makes someone like me feel marginally less insane. They make it possible to believe that what I’m doing isn’t just pissing into the wind. It means a lot.
I wrote a few weeks ago about the show I’d planned for August, 2020 at the Rainbo Club to commemorate my five years living on Lituanica Avenue. It didn’t happen for reasons you all know, but now I have the chance to recreate it, ten months after the intended date. It’s not precisely the same show because I sold some of the work in the meantime and my approach has changed. But the lion’s share of drawings and paintings were made in that little third-floor apartment.
I still had my crate of cassettes there. It’s gone now, like so much else. Stop by the bar if you’re in town and check it out. The show will be up through June, I think.