Fact: I really like mix CDs. Receiving them, but also making them for other people. I realize this is kind of cheesy and sentimental, or at least cheesier than most of the stuff I am into. I realize also that it’s kind of clichéd, arguably to the point where it’s not a genuinely affectionate or moving gesture. I suppose in theory you could just press the “Genius” and “Burn CD” buttons on iTunes and be done with it; it’s a far cry from that lovelorn kid with acne in the mid-eighties, crouched next to his radio for hours with a tape recorder. I can’t help it, though. Mix CDs melt me inside the way that biting the heads off of kittens does for Rush Limbaugh. I still have the CD from my best friend with The Engine Driver, Dar Williams’ “If I Wrote You,” and Denison Witmer’s “Are You Lonely.” Those songs are a big deal when you’re sixteen and driving home from high school and sad about how you will never amount to anything in life and also trying not to hit the trashcans that have rolled out into the one-lane main street in your hometown. I’m serious. At that point, or really at any point, it means a lot to think that someone heard the lyrics “Another late night on the phone/to remind you just how close we’ve grown” and thought of you.
It’s not even that Megan was good at making mix cds, although she really is. I love the bad ones too – like the ones you get from Valentine’s Day from that guy you’re dating whose idea of being sweet and conciliatory is letting you pick the restaurant for dinner, and whose idea of being romantic is arguing with you loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear about how you should let him pay the whole bill. In fact, mix cds are kind of especially nice in that situation because they come as a surprise. Here is someone you weren’t sure was capable of human emotions besides hunger and a desire to watch kung fu movies, but apparently you come to mind when they hear Tracy Chapman’s “Praise You”? He knows who Tracy Chapman is? Aw, I love Tracy Chapman! That’s so sweet! It doesn’t even matter that it’s followed by four Beatles songs in a row, and then Franz Ferdinand. (I am pretty sure that Franz Ferdinand song is about cheating? Why would you put that on there?)
The concept behind mix CDs doesn’t even really make sense, and I’m aware of that. It shouldn’t be especially touching that someone essentially suggests you listen to a commercial product an artist made for money, and implies vaguely that this means something about your relationship. It is, though, you know? Anyone who has ever heard Usher’s “U Got It Bad” and sheepishly identified with it, or secretly still thinks of their crush from the eighth grade every time they hear that Michelle Branch song knows that ridiculous as it is, there’s some sentiment there. I’ve had The New Pornographers’ “Go Places” stuck in my head for days now, and that’s a nice thing. Stay with me, go places.