What came first, the music or the misery?
– Nick Hornby, High Fidelity
About the Mixtape project
Mixtape #1: Interpol, “NYC”
Mixtape #2: Violent Femmes, “Kiss Off”
Mixtape #3: Cyndi Lauper, “All Through the Night”
Mixtape #4: Towa Tei, “Technova
Mixtape #5: Teresa Teng, “The Moon Represents My Heart”
Mixtape #6: David Bowie, “Soul Love”
Mixtape #7: Modest Mouse, “Styrofoam Boots/It’s All Nice on Ice, Alright”
Mixtape #8: Elvis Costello, “Beyond Belief”
Mixtape #9: Mountain Brothers, “Paperchase”
Mixtape #10: Don Gibson, “Born to Lose”
As improbable as it seems now, my first musical love was country music.
I was six years old. There was an album, a greatest hits record of classic country western songs, with a brown cover wrapped in plastic. I took it out from my town’s public library week after week and played it on my little plastic turntable from Radio Shack with a drawing of neon mushrooms on the lid. No one in my family listened to country music, or any of my friends. I was probably drawn to the record because it was there. I went to the library every week.
These were my first liner notes: the album opened to a centerfold of lyrics. I’d recently been gifted an old manual typewriter, handed down from a family friend, and taught myself to type, though my fingers often missed the keys and got caught and scratched up in the metal levers. I typed out all the lyrics from the album and stapled them into a little book, so if I didn’t have the record with me, I could still have the lyrics. I wrote poems about the singers and the songs. I recorded the songs onto a cassette player, a Panasonic that required several C batteries, which were held in by duct tape because the lid had broken off. The cassette player was heavy, but I liked to carry it around the house like a mini boom box, playing songs I’d taped off of the record player or off the TV. The sound was horrible and the tapes often twisted and broken and had to be rewound with a pencil.
The sad songs were the best. I loved the Patsy Cline on the record, the Hank Williams, the Kitty Wells. But the song I loved most was Don Gibson’s “Born to Lose.” It produced a feeling that I’ve never stopped being drawn to in the music and movies and art I seek out. Yearning, longing, wistfulness, regret. The romance of solitude. We seek out stories and art that reassure us about the decisions we’ve made, the paths we’ve taken, or make us question our own decisions and uncertainties. Or that make us feel an intense gratification at the possibility of doing all the things we never dared to do, without the consequences of actually doing them. Something gets triggered in our brains that speaks to our deepest memories and desires, so good it’s almost guilty. Our own private nostalgia tracks. Our hidden, late-night Wikipedia romps.
The illustration that accompanied the song showed a pair of cartoon dice. I’d play it again and again: Born to lose… and now I’m losing you. The name of the album that the song was taken from was I LOVE YOU SO MUCH IT HURTS.