It started when the radio tuner in my car broke. I drive a ten-year old car that doesn’t have a built-in auxiliary jack. The tuner hijacks free radio stations, allowing me to listen to the audio I consume every day — Spotify, Pandora, podcasts, or songs from my own collection.
With music on my computer, and now in the cloud, I hadn’t used the CD player in a long time; that’s probably why it still works. “My CDs, on the other hand, did not survive hibernation. Despite my keeping them in two small cases, many of the discs were dusty or scratched.”
Although my options were limited, a few of the CDs actually worked. One survivor was “Mike Mix,” a self-titled playlist I made in high school. It’s not the definitive collection of my teenage years, but in general, it has the kind of stuff that I listened to at the time. I didn’t have particularly good taste in music then — mostly late nineties/turn of the century pop rock — still, listening to the album took me back. I actually found myself enjoying some of it.In fact, I’ve been listening to it whenever I go for a drive.
I currently live in the suburban New York town where I grew up — driving the same roads I used to take, listening to the same music. It has been a long time since this mix was made and plenty of things have changed. But there’s a lot that hasn’t. The songs drudge up feelings — concerns about who I am and where I’m going. Like much nostalgia, the music generates self-doubt, or, at least, serves as a conduit for my uncertainty.
Both then and now, if I give a project a title, there’s some thought behind it. A name, like a headline, should be both fitting and explanatory. I haven’t pieced the whole story together, but I know Mike Mix was about me. Maybe it was a snapshot of what I liked. Maybe it was a reflection of how I felt. Or both.
Regardless of what it meant then, I’ve found meaning in it now. Taking in the lyrics, I noticed different aspects of myself: Character traits —mostly flaws — long-standing questions, fundamental motivations. A few issues seem current, but many are long-standing and were probably playing when the CD was. Strapped into my vehicle, getting from point A to point B, those sentiments imposed themselves on me. It remains unclear whether the music acts as a portal to the past, stirring up old feelings, or actively shapes new thoughts. Either way, there’s something there.
What do we do with this information, beyond engaging in wistful meditation? (This is an introduction, after all.) The CD has clearly made its mark, it would be a shame to let it go to waste. So this collection will develop into a series of examinations of my emotionally evocative driving music.
Everyone has a piece of music that reminds them of a place or time: The idea of a collection of essays inspired by an album isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Still, sometimes the old concepts are best. Just because I’ve decided to cling to cliché doesn’t mean the collection can’t grow into something more. If you have a story about a song or album you’d like to riff on, please feel free to contribute.