Cassette From My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Loves is a wonderful, nostalgic, charmingly obsessive ode to the mixtape — in particular, to mixtapes made by ex-lovers. Jason Bitner, co-creator of FOUND magazine, conceived of the project while cleaning out his basement, where he found an old mixtape given to him by his first girlfriend in the dark ages of 1991. Inspired by the nature of the tape as a time capsule (and as the “perfect vehicle for expressing love”), he rounded up 60 writers and musicians and asked them to share their favorite cassettes from their exes — and the stories that go with them.
Our favorites? The Magnetic Fields’ Claudia Gonson shares the “BEST SONGS ON EARTH. EVER EVER EVER” (“Seems So Long Ago, Nancy?” Definitely. That Bee Gees song? We don’t know, but we could be convinced…). Rick Moody and Stacey Richter write back and forth reconstructing a long lost love mix. We liked Carrie Friedman’s tape, since we too remember getting a full version of Elliott Smith’s XO copied for us by a boyfriend, and we giggled at Jason’s suggested rebuttal to the dreaded “unwanted mixtape” — just make one back and make sure every song is called “Just Friends.”
Jason’s own mixtape story isn’t in the book, but he shared it with us, so here it is for your reading (and listening!) pleasure.
Stream Side A:
Stream Side B:
Jason Bitner on “Music to Soak Your Toe To:”
“I’ve always had bad feet. They sweat too much and carry all of the symptoms and downsides of the condition. Doubly cursed in high school, I also had a series of ingrown toenails. Painful, yes, but they did allow me a few days out of gym class over the years. Not for the sports I enjoyed, but for the ones that blow, like wrestling.
“I met my first real girlfriend, Kate, through some sort of after-school activity. I might be making this part up, though; I’m better imagining how things were than being certain of the reality. I kept no journals back then, nor were there email trails and Google desktop histories keeping things straight. But I’m pretty sure that I met Kate through Amnesty International meetings over at Serena’s house, or through ECO club, which as a senior I headed up as president. I was a good kid.
“Kate was thirteen months older than I, and seventeen years more cosmopolitan. I remember when Lucas was filming at my high school, she shared sandwiches on the lawn with some actress who we later discovered to be Winona Ryder (she was the band geek, you’ll remember), but Kate was too cool to name drop even as a sophomore.
“My high school rock bands, Weehawken and Dismantlope, spent time practicing Royal Crescent Mob, Naked Raygun and Precious Wax Drippings, but Kate’s taste stretched far beyond. This was confirmed when she presented me with this tape you see here. According to her notes, side A was taped on January 2, 1991 and side B five days later (we used to take two sittings to complete a mix?). She had Mozart and Cab Calloway? Dang. And some well-chosen novelty tunes tossed in? Was impressed.
“Kate was sweet enough to present me with this cassette after I had one-third of my toenail removed. The growth cells were cauterized so there’d be no future growth, but this also meant hours in front of the TV with my feet soaking in epsom salts. Her dedication, too, was kind and considered: ‘Music to Soak Your Toe To:’
“Regarding your listening experience, there’s a couple things to note. First, there’s the hiss. Even with a borrowed ‘studio-quality’ cassette deck, there’s a considerable amount of ‘cassette-quality’ noise here. Also, the levels are all over the place. Back in the day, those record-volume sliders were for the audiophiles. Good mix tapes – the ones made out of lust– are about song selection, not volume optimization. Consider this to be charming as you listen (and keep your volume knob close by).”
Visit the website to hear the contributions of Jancee Dunn, Claudia Gonson, and more.