Shoe-gazing and The Art of The Mix
When I was twelve, my father owned a sporting goods store across the street from Flipside Records. To escape the tedium of sorting fishing lures, I would flee to that tiny space filled with bins of vinyl. The manager knew I was there to play hooky from hunting talk and get free tapes.
The first albums I bought were The Virgin Prunes (listened to it only once or twice) and The Talking Heads (listened to it obsessively). Pretty soon, all my money went towards vinyl. My favorite songs contained subtle messages—not inscrutable, but simply unexpected: ones that required a little work from the listener.
During high school, I didn’t date much. My style of flirting was to think really hard at someone. And once I had his attention, the tops of my feet became terribly interesting. Even when I did have a steady, a U2 lyric echoed my thoughts: I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
What was I looking for? Someone who delighted in the enormous butterflies of shyness and the anticipation of handholding. I wanted someone who listened to music like I listened to music. How would I find him?
Mixed tapes provided a way: I could send secret messages through songs, like sparkling little lures. Exchanging tapes became a method of courtship that showed me how people thought—via the track list. Too pushy? Too indifferent? Too weird? Would we connect?
When I first saw my husband, he was tuning his guitar. I’d been invited to play flute for his band. Maybe it sounds hokey, but if it wasn’t love at first sight, it certainly was crush at first sight. Tom wouldn’t look at me though, and over the course of three months, he hardly spoke a word. My hopes for romance dwindled.
My roommate bolstered my courage with this question: Have you truly listened to what the guitar and the flute are doing? To my quizzical look, she supplied this answer: You are echoing one another. She was right—we weren’t bold enough to chat each other up, but we had found a dialogue.
I don’t remember who initiated the exchange, but somehow, it happened. I was nervous and delighted, choosing the tracks carefully. I didn’t want to come on too strong, so I only picked one song that could be interpreted remotely as a love song, just to see if he’d get it. When I got Tom’s mix, I blushed upon hearing the Pixies’ “Gigantic”—it was the love song I’d chosen.
After a few rounds, Tom gave me a mix titled, “Tell Me What I Want to Hear.” He later confided that my reply titled, “What You Want to Hear” starting with The Police’s “I Burn for You” swept him off his feet.
I teach high school and college-aged students now. When they tell me about their relationships, I rarely hear about wonderful, awkward courtships. I hear extremely casual attitudes, and some that frankly alarm me. Maybe it’s too easy to make mixes these days with CDs. Maybe nobody wants to take the time. It makes me sad to think people are skipping right past the good stuff. I believe people are missing out when they court too quickly; I believe in the art of the mix, in a little shoegazery.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.