By Nadine Levyfield, 17, Eagle Rock HS
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Photo by Elisabeth Gustafson, 16, Immaculate Heart HS

Mix tapes are a music geek’s most valuable form of communication, acting as musical confessions of what they’re willing to share with another person. And I am a music geek. My mix tapes reveal who I am through a tangled mass of songs.

I can’t pinpoint my first mix tape, but I’ve been making them for a few years using iTunes. I started because I love the process of personalizing my own mix, searching for the right songs and their perfect pattern for certain moods or occasions, like a restless afternoon or a road trip to Berkeley. I love sharing what I listen to and incorporating my own eclectic music taste into familiar mix tape themes like “music to wake up to” or “getting ready to go out” mixes, or starting from scratch to make a soundtrack that captures who I am right now. (Of course, when I say mix tapes, I actually mean mix CDs, but it feels more nostalgic to say mix tapes.)

In making a mix tape for someone else, you’re completely exposing yourself. You’re sending a message through music, making this the most challenging part of creating a mix, especially since the person receiving the mix could interpret a song in a different way than you do. I try to include a balance of songs that are special to me and songs that will stand out to the person I share it with. For my friend Frankie’s birthday I included the song “Hollywood Freaks” by Beck, because we used to sing it walking around school and we knew every word. I also included some songs I knew she’d never heard before that were special to me by more obscure bands like Doves or Say Hi To Your Mom.

Since I’ve made around 50 mix tapes for other people, my next task was making an autobiographical mix tape—a time capsule to remind myself of what I listened to during my junior year and to record who I am right now. Artfully choosing 20 songs to represent myself was challenging. There were so many songs that I didn’t have enough room for or that I realized I’d outgrown. I couldn’t believe I didn’t make room for a Doors song, since I was obsessed with them in eighth grade and used to listen to them every day. But I’ve moved on from that particular music phase, and this mix represents that transition.

Soundtrack to my junior year

1.   Come Together – The Beatles
2.   Black and White Town – Doves
3.   1979 – Smashing Pumpkins
4.   Cause=Time – Broken Social Scene
5.   The Way We Get By – Spoon
6.   Sweet Jane – The Velvet Underground
7.   Castles Made of Sand – Jimi Hendrix
8.   These Days – Nico
9.   Dramamine – Modest Mouse
10.  Say It Ain’t So – Weezer
11.  Is This Love? – Bob Marley
12.  Under My Thumb – The Rolling Stones
13.  Scar Tissue – Red Hot Chili Peppers
14.  Angeles – Elliott Smith
15.  Unmade Bed – Sonic Youth
16.  Car – Built to Spill
17.  It Ain’t Me, Babe – Bob Dylan
18.  Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down – Interpol
19.  Under Control – The Strokes
20.  Where is My Mind? – The Pixies

The first song on a mix is like the first shot of a movie: it sets the tone. I chose “Come Together” by The Beatles because it’s a spine-tingling song and one of my absolute favorites. I know all the words. The beat is catchy and the tone awakens feelings of freedom and possibility, which is a symbolic starting-off point to a mix tape chronicling this time in my life.

Songs 2-5 are all equally energetic and remind me of experiences and moments with friends, especially Spoon’s “The Way We Get By,” a high school anthem which has been the background music for many late-night drives with everyone singing along at the top of their lungs. “1979” by the Smashing Pumpkins is reminiscent of adolescent ups and downs: “Shakedown 1979/ Cool kids never have the time/ On a live wire right up off the street/ You and I should meet.”

Songs 6-8 are classics from the 60s and 70s that I listen to when I have a lot on my mind. They give me perspective about what’s going on in my life—proof that good music doesn’t become dated. Can I really complain about juggling my AP classes when Nico’s crooning about how she’s “stopped [her] dreaming these days?”

Songs 9-12 are songs I’ve listened to when I’m confused about dating catastrophes, whether I’m in a cynical or hopeful mood. For every crush I’ve ever had, I’ve listened to Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So.” Despite the title, I’ve always interpreted this song as feeling hopeful rather than frustrated. Something about the electric opening chords, drawn out melody, and blunt yet meaningful lyrics, “I can’t confront you/ I never could do/ That which might hurt you/ So try and be cool …” really gets to me.

Songs 13-14 are my homage to Los Angeles. I’m a second-generation Angeleno and I love my traffic-filled hometown. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are the definitive Los Angeles rock band, and Elliott Smith’s sad song “Angeles” explores the dark side of promises made in the City of Angels: “I could make you satisfied in everything you do/ All your secret wishes could right now be coming true.”

Songs 15-17 are slightly depressing songs with lingering beats and understated lyrics about failed relationships and frustration. But “It Ain’t Me, Babe” by Bob Dylan stands out. It sums up my philosophy about love, which is that I’m a realist, not a romantic. The lines “I’m not the one you want, babe, I will only let you down” could be my slogan.

Songs 18-20 are “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” by Interpol, “Under Control” by The Strokes, and “Where is My Mind?” by the Pixies. The beauty of a mix tape is that an offbeat indie favorite can be followed by a reassuring rock song and then by an enduring alternative anthem.

The last song on a mix should be especially meaningful as it’s the end of the musical journey. I ended this mix with the Pixies’ classic “Where is My Mind?” because to me, it’s a song about growing up, becoming independent and making up your own mind. “With your feet in the air and your head on the ground/ Try this trick and spin it, yeah/ Your head will collapse/ But there’s nothing in it/ And you’ll ask yourself/ Where is my mind?”

Now that the mix tape trip is over, I’ve learned a lot. Ultimately, the names of songs on a page don’t mean a thing until you’re listening to them at top volume. The purpose of music is to get lost in it; songs should evoke memories and be the ideal blend of overwhelming sounds and state of mind. The perfect way to combine music and memories is through mix tapes, and I hope this will be one of many biographical mixes. Who knows what I’ll think of this mix in 10, 20 or even 30 years. But at least I’ll have a record (literally) of who I was during my junior year.

Nadine’s other mixes …

“Can’t Sleep”
Don’t Panic – Coldplay
Golden Slumbers – The Beatles
One Rainy Wish – Jimi Hendrix
Echo – Incubus
No Name #3 – Elliott Smith
Judy and the Dream of Horses – Belle & Sebastian
Hey Mama Wolf – Devendra Banhart
Sleepwalkin’ – Modest Mouse
Here I Dreamt I was an Architect – The Decemberists
Sleep Tonight – Stars
Dreams be Dreams – Jack Johnson
Landslide – Smashing Pumpkins
Shampoo Suicide – Broken Social Scene
I’m So Tired – The Beatles
Only In Dreams – Weezer


You Only Live Once – The Strokes
I Summon You – Spoon
Silent Sigh – Badly Drawn Boy
Love Me Two Times – The Doors
All ‘Cause of You – The 88
Fuck Forever – Babyshambles
Hey – The Pixies
Beast of Burden – The Rolling Stones
Little Wing – Jimi Hendrix
Waiting in Vain – Bob Marley
Swimmers – Broken Social Scene
Sparks – Coldplay
Our House – Phantom Planet
If Not For You – Bob Dylan
You Really Got a Hold on Me – The Beatles 

“Road Trip”

Obstacle 1 – Interpol
Wolf Like Me – TV on the Radio
Finding Out True Love is Blind – Louis the XIV
Between Us and Them – Moving Units
This Charming Man – The Smiths
Gravity Rides Everything – Modest Mouse
Help! – The Beatles
Shuffle Your Feet – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Steady, as She Goes – The Raconteurs
I Turn My Camera On – Spoon
Age of Consent – New Order
Crooked Teeth – Death Cab for Cutie
Stars and Sons – Broken Social Scene
Manic Depression – Jimi Hendrix
Bennie and the Jets – Elton John

Other stories by this writer:

A music lover’s paradise. Nadine can spend hours discovering new bands at Amoeba. (Jan. – Feb. 2006)

What I did without Lollapalooza. After the concert was cancelled, Nadine found other ways to check out live music. (September 2004)