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”
Mixtape #11: TV on the Radio, “Staring at the Sun”
Mixtape #12: ABBA, “Knowing Me, Knowing You”
Mixtape #13: Morphine, “Cure for Pain”
Mixtape #14: Beethoven, “‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto, No. 5, Op. 73, Second Movement”
Dad listened to this song when he first came to the US. He had the record when he was a student at Utah State. It was the early 1960s, and he’d moved to Logan, Utah from Manila. In Utah was winter all the time, he tells me, and everyone was white and Mormon.
You are ten years old and your father is 45. Dad has a glass of Scotch on the rocks; you have a glass of crushed ice and Pepsi that you’ve made flat by leaving it out on the counter all day—you despise carbonation—and you have arranged a perfect array of snacks on a metal tray your uncle bought as a souvenir from a business trip to Arizona. There’s an illustration of a cactus on it. The snacks consist of an entire block of Baby Chudder cheese, purchased at the Hickory Farms in the Paramus Park mall; and a handful of Ritz crackers. You alternate bites and sips in a blissful rhythm of snacking: flat Pepsi, Baby Chudder, cracker, Baby Chudder, Baby Chudder, flat Pepsi, Baby Chudder, Baby Chudder. It is perfection.
Dad sits on the couch and closes his eyes as Beethoven plays. Each note on the piano is like a tiny raindrop or a fingertip pressed to a temple or the smooth, soft concave center of a Smarties hard candy. The song nudges, nudges.
I used to listen to this song alone in my room, Dad tells you.
How old were you? you ask.
Twenty-five, he says.
It seems impossibly old.
I used to play this record and light a candle and sit in the dark in my dorm room and stare out the window, he says. In Utah.
You think of your father as a person younger than you’ve ever known him, a continent away from home. What is Utah? What is Mormons? What did he think of when he listened to this song? Did he miss his family, and was he scared?
You eat Baby Chudder and drink flat Pepsi and think about how alike you are, you and your father, and when you move away from home, you will listen to Beethoven at night alone in your room as well, and then you will call to tell him about it.