The Life Mix

carpenter birdI’ve never used the daily prompt, but I like today’s. WordPress invites us to make a mix tape of our lives. Oh, hell yeah.

In college, I had a friend who was trying to hook me up with another friend of ours. She made me a seduction tape. It involved the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Sade. And, oddly, The Housemartins. I’m willing to bet money Journey and Pearl Jam were involved. Did it work, you ask? PFFFFFT. Hardly. Seduction, thy name is not Susan. I have since learned seduction is less about background music and more about a fine selection of deli meats and, you know, showing up.

My friend Christy always drew intricate doodles on the front of her tapes and my friend Jason was fond of dropping some Ice Cube in the middle of an SST orgy. I liked to be cryptic and then get pissed when YOU JUST DON’T GET IT, DO YOU?? Because hormones. Also I find a well-placed Gershwin tune to be the mix tape equivalent of sorbet between courses.

A good mix tape is a thing of beauty and a joy until you find a box full of old cassettes and no tape player on which to play them. Poor orphaned mixes. I don’t need to go into the importance of proper flow and, obviously, the title. I do not wish to go into specifics of all the reasons I’ve picked these songs. And, to paraphrase Carly Simon, if you know me, you might think this mix is about you. You are probably right. I will, however, break up my mix into three categories: My Life, The Future, and A Connection Between Two  Songs I Cannot Discuss On A Blog My Family Reads But Is Part Of A Master Mix My Husband Has Been Developing In His Head For More Than A Decade.

life mix tape


And if you’ve gotten this far, you get a bonus! I forgot a BIG one:


I am in possession of a teenager and a pre-teen lives next door. This means I hear that Gotye song. A lot. You know the one.


That little ditty makes for one bastard of an earworm. Every time I hear it, I’m reminded of another little ditty that I’ve not been able to identify. It’s the little xylophone/glockenspiel/vibraphone bit in the beginning. It’s been driving me nuts. What does that remind me of? Then it hit me. Ladies and gentlemen, the Nairobi Trio.



My first and only brush with Karaoke was singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” with some Marines. It wasn’t always pretty, but it had feeling. Sort of like Levon’s voice. It broke, pleaded, and crackled in places, but there was never any doubt he was telling you a story you needed to sit down and listen to, son.

I’m about to be 40, so there’s never been a time in my life when Levon’s music wasn’t there. Some of my earliest musical memories are from The Band. It was a while before I really embraced the music. For a long time I didn’t think American music was okay– even though Levon was the only one who actually was American. I ran to the Brits for a while, picking up albums from Joy Division and The Style Council. My turn away from post-punk and New Wave was due to falling head-first in love with Seattle grunge and jam bands like Widespread Panic. Suddenly, synthesizers and dance music sounded self-conscious and pretentious. The harmonica, banjo, and bottleneck guitar players of home all sounded new and real.  A book of Bob Dylan lyrics my friend gave me as a half-joke was consulted frequently. (And still is. Chuck and I used it just the other night to settle a debate over whether or not Dylan wrote a certain song.) When I finally made my way around to watch The Last Waltz, I wondered why I’d wasted so much time getting there.

It’s hard to listen to Levon passively. He implores you to listen to his story, whether it’s about a poor dirt farmer, coal miner, or Confederate soldier. The music doesn’t seem to belong to any particular time. Everyone knows a song he sang or played drums in even if they don’t know it’s him. I personally schooled a couple of Marines in The Way of Levon. I wonder if they also remember the night Levon got them to take a Rebel stand, if only for three minutes.

This is only one of what will likely be thousands of tributes to Levon Helm. There are only a few people I will allow myself to get full-on sentimental for. Today I’ll not only indulge sentimentality, I’ll believe in heaven because I love the idea of a Helm, Danko, Manuel reunion.  If there is a heaven, tonight there will be one hell of a show.