Book Reviews: Cassette from My Ex-Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Loves edited by Jason Bitner

cassetteI recently saw a news piece on how cassette tapes are making a bit of a comeback and are quite popular amongst music lovers. And not only are they popular with nostalgic with Generation X, who have fond memories of creating their own cassette tapes. They are also gaining popularity amongst teens and twenty-somethings. Inspired by this new found tidbit, I just had to post the following review I published for an old blog of mine.

Co-creator of Found magazine Jason Bitner was cleaning out his basement when he came across a mix tape from an old girlfriend. Intrigued by this musical part of his past, he created a blog and asked some of his friends to submit stories about the mix tapes they received from former boyfriends and girlfriends. Now he has gathered around 60 of these stories and published them in Cassette from My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Loves.

Long before we burned CDs and way before we downloaded songs into our iPods, people made mix tapes. We used these lovingly-crafted compilations to express our feelings or just to show off our musical taste. And though iPods are convenient, mix tapes had a human quality that mp3 players lack. Perhaps, it was the warm hiss a cassette made when it was played in a boom box, or the handwritten labels that adorned them. Either way, the essays truly convey how much these simple tapes meant to the writers.

You’re probably already familiar with book’s essayists that include Maxim‘s editor- in-chief Joe Levy, Bust magazine managing editor Emily Rems and Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields, all contributed. Former Rolling Stone writer Jancee Dunn is also included and music journalist Rob Sheffield (who wrote the ultimate musical memoir with “Love Is a Mix Tape”) has also written an essay.

Stories run the gamut from funny to heartbreaking and everything in between. Arthur Jones has difficulty getting it on with his girlfriend because her music of choice was Pearl Jam at the time. Nina Katchadourian remembers a tape she got from a boyfriend while she spent a summer in France. Rick Moody and Stacey Richter share their memories of their cassettes via letters to each other. Anne Jensen finds out she is the receiver of a hand-me-down tape. And sadly, Starlee Kline’s old mix tape brings up memories of her college boyfriend who got cancer.

Interspersed throughout Cassette from My Ex are a few tidbits about making mix tapes. One segment tells us about the types of mixes people traded and the “dos” and “don’ts” to making a mix tape. Do use your own music collection. But don’t forget the track listing. Not everyone is psychic and is going to know every song you include on a tape.

I do have a few reservations about this book. The demographics of the writers are mostly white, college-educated and middle to upper-middle class. There is plenty of talk of traveling throughout Europe and exotic locations. Also, a majority of the writers work in creative fields-media, film, design, etc. I think it would have been interesting to read stories by people who didn’t go to college or who have more working class backgrounds. And as much as I adore creative people, accountants, police officers and nurses also love music. And I bet a lot of them can write, too.

But for the most part, this was a great read. In fact, I got so nostalgic that I dug through some of my old cassettes and played a few of my own mixes. I often refrained from making tapes for the guys I dated; far too many of them looked down on my musical taste. So I made them for my girlfriends instead, usually when they suffered a bad break-up. Somehow, I’ve always been able to find the right songs to go with heartbreak.

If you’re looking for a way to travel down a musical memory lane, you can’t go wrong with Cassette from my Ex.