“It’s a piece of crap. I don’t know why I bought it.” The kid was talking to my buddy Jarod and waving around a cassette.
“What are y’all talking about?” I asked.
“They’re cool,” I said.
“They suck,” the kid said.
I fumbled around in the pockets of my baggy Forenzas. “You want to trade? Elvis Costello, straight across.”
“Hell yeah. I’ll take Imperial Bedroom over this piece of crap.”
Some Great Reward immediately went into my heavy rotation. I bought a cheap GPX boombox with my employee discount at Camelot Music and spent my breaks locked in the bathroom, lights off, playing “People Are People” over and over.
I can’t understand what makes a man hate another man, help me understand.
My trench coat covered the gap at the bottom of the door nicely. Nothing but darkness and Depressed Mode.
Steve The Manager called me into the office after a few days of this.
“What’s going on with you?” he asked.
“Nothing. Everything. Life.”
“You need to be a little more specific.”
“I don’t know, Steve. My girlfriend broke up with me, I guess.”
“Why don’t you take a week off? Take a long drive, think about life. Have some fun. You’ll be okay. Go ahead and clock out, your job will still be here.”
“Can I buy some stuff before I go?”
“Just don’t bother your friends. They’re on the clock.”
I punched out and walked to the 45 wall. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, a pack of BASF tapes….
In my basement bedroom I loaded a blank tape into the deck that I bought with her. Goddamned cassette player, it had her juju in it. I cleaned the first 45 and put it on the turntable that I bought with her. Goddamned turntable.
Single after single, carefully cleaning each with the Discwasher and hitting the record button only after the needle dropped to eliminate any avoidable pops. When I was done I held what had to be the ultimate Sherri mix tape.
The death of the mix tape, those compact selections of songs meant to speak for us, has been highly exaggerated. How could I improve on a laureate like Dave Gahan? No, better to let the real artists do the talking.
Cassettes might be gone, but that impulse survives. Check your social media feeds right now. I guarantee that some chugalug is quoting a lyric. You may have done so yourself, or perhaps you want to but don’t want to embarrass yourself. I’m going to do you a solid and tell you the only two lyrics that you should ever quote in a post or a tweet:
- “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” – The Beatles
- “Can you woo-woo-woo, can you woo-woo-woo, can you woo-woo.” – Jeffrey Osborne
Anyway, mix tapes. When I was done with this particular example I held an unmarked cassette loaded with the following:
- “Hello,” Lionel Richie
- “Careless Whisper,” Wham!
- “Suddenly,” Billy Ocean
- “All I Need,” Jack Wagner
- “One More Night,” Phil Collins
- “Yesterday,” The Beatles
- “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” Culture Club
The first thing you’ll notice about that mix tape is that I needed my ass kicked. The next thing worth noting is that only love sickness can summon the unholy trinity of Lionel Richie, George Michael, and Phil Collins.
This is popular music’s sweet spot. Wallowing in misery is what gives crappy love songs their juice. Do you think Whitney’s version of “I Will Always Love You” would have been such a phenomenon if listeners didn’t think that it spoke for their broken hearts? Think again. (Note: I still can’t explain “The Woo Woo Song.”)
All that remained was to deliver the payload to the target. If love could make me think that Wham! was deep it certainly could embolden such a dangerous mission. At twenty-two hundred hours I fired up the Quincymobile after a quick pre-flight check and pointed the craft north-northwest. Skies were clear with a two knot easterly wind. Probably.
I parked up the hill from Sherri’s house and proceeded to recon the target over Reese’s Cups and Yoo-Hoo. Convinced that the coast was clear, I moved out.
Now, I fully admit that this was a stalker move, but I was seventeen and lovelorn. I broke into Sherri’s car and planted the mix tape in her cassette deck. Surely when she heard this perfect selection of songs chosen just for her she would run straight into my arms.
A couple of days passed before the phone rang. “I got your tape,” she said.
“It made me cry.”
Yes. Yes. “Did it?”
“You’re an asshole.”
“‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?’ That was terrible. Of course I don’t want to hurt you. I just don’t want to be with you like that anymore. That was so mean.”
I’m proud to announce that I learned that stalking, moping, pleading, and guilt are not ways to a woman’s heart — twenty-five years and two horribly derailed relationships later. So, you know, I’ve got that going for me.