John Seven: Digital media lacks warmth of mix tapes


An old friend posted a comic strip ( about a paper shopping bag filled with cassettes from her younger days, all mixes people made for her. She appreciates the time that went into the mix tapes. Story Body:

An old friend posted a comic strip ( about a paper shopping bag filled with cassettes from her younger days, all mixes people made for her. She appreciates the time that went into the mix tapes.

Another friend told me that she, too, has a bag like that.

I’ve got a box.

I don’t know if people of a certain age can totally appreciate what a time consuming activity a mixed tape was. First you had to play the music in real time. That could be an hour or 90 minutes, depending on the tape. Add in the time between the songs -- finding the record, cleaning it, cueing up, setting the volume -- plus factor in skips and it was easily two or three hours out of your day.

How do people make mixes for each other anymore? Or do they? I’ve tried Spotify mixes, and making music podcasts, but it’s not the same. I tried mix CDs, which were at least quicker than tapes, but you couldn’t control the recording volume and it was harder to mix spoken word snippets in as intros to the songs.

So now what? Do I load up your iPod with a playlist? I don’t think I’m legally supposed to do that, right? Do I buy you an iPod loaded with songs? Yeah, right.

I first encountered mix tapes as a little kid, around 1969. We had an eight-track tape deck in our big yellow Dodge. I had my Sesame Street eight-track, and my parents had Englebert Humperdinck. I also remember my mother had a mix eight track tape that musician friends had made her with lots of different jazz. I took it for granted that people made mixes for each other, even using cumbersome technology that I didn’t actually know was cumbersome at the time. I thought eight-tracks were awesome.

My sons were not raised on the radio. They were raised on tapes.

When they were young and we still had a cassette player in the car, a 1984 diesel Volvo -- that thing was a glorious tank -- one part of being a dad that I took super seriously was making mix tapes that my little kids could listen to. This meant a odd kaleidoscope spanning the decades of recorded music, introducing them to sounds they wouldn’t hear otherwise. One of their earliest words was "Brigitte," because they would scream to hear Brigitte Bardot songs.

They also memorized the sequence of songs on the tapes. There was one particular Tenneessee Ernie Ford song that featured screaming in the middle that freaked my sons out. They soon began to protest playing it during the song before it, screaming "No place!" The song was called "This Must Be The Place."

More than a decade on, my sons have my old cassette deck in their room. They weren’t very happy that we tossed out all the old mix tapes, but they’ve found other old cassettes from their childhood that they are nostalgic about. When they hear music from the iPod now, they can remember exactly what song preceded it on the mix tapes. They don’t mind "Place" anymore. I’m always surprised at how much those tapes shaped them.

That’s what really makes me sad. Tapes are a huge part of a collective experience with my kids, my wife, my friends, my family, and there’s no real replacement. That’s just another intimate action lost in the digital revolution. With all the copyright bickering, it probably will never be replaced.

I’m heartened, though. I still see blocks of blank cassettes for sale in stores. I’m going to buy some for my sons. Why should my generation keep that to oursevles? It’s like witholding hugs.

John Seven, a writer, lives in North Adams. He can be reached at or at


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