By Paul Casey
Since I was seven years old, I have absorbed music through compilations. Obsessive ordering and fear of the new drove it. Mixtapes, playlists, and mash-ups took new sounds to my brain. A new album was orgy time, and the chance of stumbling into some serious bad orifice play was too great. Eye up the single, cruise the opening seconds, and make camp. Listen for the transitions. Synths that keep going. Or cheat and crossfade that sucker. Yes, I made mixtapes for passive-sexual purposes. Passive-aggression? Naturally.
Those who define themselves in opposition to hipsters are doomed to become hipsters. Best to stow that shit and have a good time. High Fidelity speaks to the obsession and suggests its proper use as being in soundtrack work for romantic comedies. Wes Anderson made it high art. Sofia Coppola did better. Even though I have worked hard at perfecting the skills required for atmosphere warping setlists, compilations need to die. They have robbed me of free will. They have sentenced me to a life of servitude to narrative building and aspirational creation.
“One of the things I do when I am starting a movie, when I’m writing a movie or when I have an idea for a film; is, I go through my record collection and just start playing songs, trying to find the personality of the movie, find the spirit of the movie. Then *boom* eventually I’ll hit one, two or three songs or one song in particular, oh this will be a great opening credit song.”
—From The Quentin Tarantino Archives
Music sparks and lets you get to places where you have not been. It lets you put your own sorry self into the mouth of Dylan’s putdown songs. Oh Jesus. I’m going to “Positively 4th Street” you so fucking hard. You’ll never forget it. “Just Like a Woman” puts you above the other—doesn’t even have to be a woman, just a head that’s out of tune with you—“Like a Rolling Stone” gives epic sweep to closed, narrow, boring problems. How does it feel, you shit? When you do that thing that I don’t like?
Oh man, my social anxiety is getting me down. Maybe I’m a sociopath? Google symptoms. Oh fuck, I am a sociopath! How dare they not understand my illness! This ain’t about no stinking “wanting to go to bed with your friends girl and needing at least one lost love to be a functioning writer.” NO! This is on the one, James Brown scream, in the Dark. Epic, creative reprisal. You’re fated to do this, buddy. You’re fated to write John Hughes meets Bret Easton Ellis meets straight up tragic fucking. This is the Payback.
This can work for fiction, or hell, non-fiction. I like to think that the concept of love and righteous vengeance in my head are those of the bods who have lived some. When life knocks you down, you don’t get up, you go home, and you stay there for ten years and wait for shit to get more civil. No good for writing. (No good for lots of things, but if flesh family and flesh friends don’t wanna hear it, I doubt you will.) Here, take this album and rearrange the past in a way that meets these criteria. When you realize that every song is about you, you are ready to make compilations. No matter how seemingly specific to other folks or happenings in the world, it’s about you, okay?
Lou Reed’s Street Hassle always did it for me. “Dirt.” You’re just dirt, man. You’re nothing to me. It has turned up on a dozen funeral compilations (other people’s funerals) over the years. It can light up some moment in a story, but the constancy of the mixed tape/CD/ethereal digital playlist in my life is disconnected from that. It is narrative building, but it has no application beyond self-pity.
Here’s how life goes huh, this is where I met her, and she gave me some purpose so we’ll give her UPTOWN GIRL, because Jesus, she’s an UPTOWN GIRL and I swing like Billy Joel. Then things got bad. So we’ll do the song “Bitches Ain’t Shit” because fuck it, maybe I’m being ironic, or maybe I’ll perform this outside her window and just get all Ben Folds Five on the situation. Then things get better for friendship but mournful cause of lost opportunities so THE LONGEST TIME by Billy Joel is appropriate. And maybe her sister will fall in love with me because I can sing Doo Wop.
On and on, forever. Your whole life is just a series of good transitions, castrated aspirations for creative and personal success. It’s a shuck. Pitiful folks who say, “Oh, there is no hidden meaning in this; I just thought you’d like the songs.” Opening: It’s the relationship equivalent of the fan letter to Elvis. Maybe the weird, cowardly, indirect message will reach its destination and be received A-OK. More likely you’ll be left jaw-hanging by the letterbox.
Even if we abandon narrative building, and refusal to look real folks in the eye and tell them straight, compilations have been a plague on my attempts to stretch tastes. Cyndi Lauper is doing her thing. “When U Were Mine.” Cover in the right. Yes! That would go with “Cool” by Gwen Stefani. And that would go into “Banshee Beat” by Animal Collective. You’re stuck. You get off on your transitions and how you’ve formed a synthy/old-timey flow, and that’s all you get off on. You hear “The Ballad of Carol Lynn” (Whiskeytown) a hundred times because it is beside “Speed Trials” (Elliott Smith) on your favorite mix. Something given out to relations on birthdays. You sourced vintage crime scene photographs that would make James Ellroy wet, for the cover. You put on the headphones and imagine how all the people you give it to will listen. Favorite parts? How about that synth fading into that other synth? Pretty slick, huh?
You’re stuck with the music that worked fifteen years ago. Still humping the leg of Dave Fridmann. Brief ventures into NEW MUSIC get rerouted back into playlists and nice fonts. Of course I would never, ever, ever listen to anyone else’s mixed tapes. I don’t give a shit about you. I don’t care what little messages you’ve stuck in there, or how dope your transitions are. That shit isn’t about me, and that’s all I care about, buddy. Need for performance, or creating something real. It’s a sickness that makes twisted faces think that editing The White Album is ANYTHING. We are inferior intellects and talents stuck sopping up work by adults. Locks you into dismal routine and makes sure you stay stuck. Stuck with the same tastes, the same biases, and same hopeless narrative unfulfilled.