Please enjoy this actual 2001 mix CD from my archives.
These past few months, I’ve had a few long-distance errands which have required me to drive alone in my car for hours. Because my phone perpetually has little to no room for new music, I’ve dusted off the remnants of my CD collection for these drives. Most of what’s left is around 20ish-years-old, and burned by teenage me, so I fully expected a wave of nostalgia when I first played them.
But something else happened, too.
These old CDs transported me to a completely different mental space than I’ve otherwise been in this year. They are one-part time machine and one-part scrapbook, and listening to them felt like an old diary opening up and swallowing me whole.
There is one disc in particular that I felt viscerally. Its title, Summer Jeep Mix 2001, is scrawled across it in Sharpie. The music is almost entirely up-tempo, all pop and hip-hop, selected and burned with precision to be the soundtrack of my last summer before college. Most of the songs were some years old — a 1981 Earth, Wind, and Fire song makes an appearance, Bone Thugs N Harmony’s 1994 smash “Tha Crossroads” is the first song on the whole disc. But the track list wasn’t curated to capture that particular year in music, but rather the mood that I was living, which, if I had to describe in one phrase, it would be: energetic yearning.
While I was living it, I was eager for the summer of 2001 to pass. And while we all know what happened on September 11 of that year, it was the months before when this CD was on repeat. When I was eager for what lied ahead on a personal scale, with no idea of what awaited all of us on a national scale. I graduated high school, turned eighteen, had already been accepted to the University of Washington, and was planning to move into a sorority house. With summer’s arrival, the long days just gave me more time for longing. The underlying sense that my life was about to change, about to start was constant.
There were a few complications — a sweet boy I hastily started dating post-graduation, friendships I wasn’t keen to dissolve. But the honest truth was, I was ready to embark on a new life on a new campus with new people and a twin bed and expensive textbooks and freedom. My pending departure was always on my mind. It was a sprightly Peter Pan shadow constantly connected to me, prancing around and dancing to the Ginuwine and N Sync and P.M. Dawn songs I played on repeat. Summer Jeep Mix 2001 so intensely brought back some of these memories that I could practically feel the physicality of them all; the excitement and pressure that hovered in my chest, the deep breaths I’d take while counting down the days, even the quintessential memory of wind blowing through open car windows and whipping through my long hair while I blared the stereo.
And yet, nearly two decades later, that emotional summer — which, at the time, felt long and insurmountable — is nothing more than a small dot on the timeline of my life, a blip on the radar. What those songs reminded me of, however, is how utterly consumed I was by anticipation back then. Every day was part of a countdown.
This year, I’m feeling similarly. Beyond the health and safety of my loved ones, there’s almost nothing more that I need than for the next stage of life to start. I’m desperate for the pandemic to be over, I’m anxious for a vaccine to be released, I want Joe Biden to be president and Kamala Harris to be vice president. These things are growing closer and closer, but still feel like an impossibly distant future because we’re living in an era that feels like time has slowed and like the universe is playing weird, repetitive tricks on all of us.
It would be entirely naïve, and premature, to assume that the pandemic isn’t going to impact me or my family more than it already has. And I’m in no way trying to say that the optimism and earnestness I carried around in 2001 has any place in a conversation about the suffering and struggle that 2020 has forced upon countless people.
But, these old CDs reminded me that I’ve felt a kind of stasis before, when the future I craved was just beyond my reach. They’ve restored some hope that this phase, this feeling, will actually be over someday. And like Summer 2001, it may grow so distant that it will take external reminders to grasp how far removed it really is.
Throughout the pandemic, my household has played a lot of upbeat music to manufacture good moods. That’s not too far off what I was doing back in 2001; relying on certain songs to create and maintain certain energy. Many of us do this all the time. However, what I would have had no way to foresee is how the music I sought back then would eventually bring me comfort decades later in the most unpredictable yet enduring way.
So, while we’re all waiting, here’s the aforementioned track list that opened these floodgates. I don’t expect that the same songs will resonate the same way with all 80s-90s kids, but the main idea — that music from previous stages of life can both bring us back and move us forward, holds up regardless of which song we put on first.
Summer Jeep Mix 2001
9. TQ — Daily