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A Six-Week Road Trip and One Memorable Mixtape


Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin

June 4, 2022

Wow. This article stirred up lots of thoughts, memories and emotions. I’ll capture what I can:

Unlike the author, I have every mixtape I ever made, sans one. It was a tape that my little brother Jeff Harris and I made at Preston Square (Women’s College). I don’t recall the songs — they were obviously beach and Motown. I do recall that Jeff slipped in a greeting to me using a microphone. That was a very special tape tgst I have missed for a long time.

Making a mixtape in the day took effort — gathering the records, staying sober enough to tunes yo blend together well. Most of all, they were a time for bonding with friends. A 90 minute tape took at least three hours to

male — lots of time for bonding.

Today’s “radio” prevents us from listening to new music. I had every intention on this trip to listen to local radio stations to get a sense about the area I was visiting. But DJs today are blowhards -- it is all about them and not the music. I grew up listening to WBBQ out of Augusta. Top 40 radio. WAUG was a competing station that played more album rock. And of course, WRDW-AM from Augusta — James Brown owned the station. The DJs played music and the ads gave you a sense of the community. That was back in the day when all those stations carried church services on Sunday morning. Imagine that.

My mixtapes are a big part of my history. Including “Birthing Rhythms And Womb Tunes” I made before Courtney was born.

I will never forget driving to Greenwich for Carter Harris’ wedding. In the copilot seat was Tom with all the old Goldmine tapes. Some had not aged well — not as well as Tom and me. 😳🤪. The trip sailed by as we listened to tapes from our college days.

Maybe it is time to make another mixtape? Lord know it wouldn’t contain many modern/current tunes!

Here’s the article:

NPR’s Linda Holmes on the family vacation she took in 1981 and the enduring memory of the soundtrack that fueled it. Plus: 5 rules to making your own great playlist

A CROSS-COUNTRY SOUNDTRACK When she was 10, the author and her family traveled from Philadelphia to California, listening to their own low-tech playlist, a cassette tape that she and her sister filled with eclectic recordings from the radio show ‘The Dick Clark National Music Survey.’

By Linda Holmes I LISTENED TO the same cassette tape almost every day for six weeks in 1981. My whole family did.

We took a camping trip with a borrowed pop-up tent trailer that we pulled behind our station wagon. We went west from Philadelphia to the Rockies, through Bryce and Zion and to Yellowstone; north through Yosemite and Glacier; back east through the Badlands and Mount Rushmore. We saw moose, bears and longhorn sheep. We saw elk until they were mundane as squirrels.

It was the infancy of the Walkman, well before it reached us (I was 10, my sister was 13). The car only had a radio. So for weeks, we played one mixtape from a portable player resting on the back seat between us. And somehow, our parents did not rummage through our belongings at midnight and throw it into a gorge or feed it to a bear.

Our recording method was low-tech. Just before the trip, we sat on my sister’s bed listening to the radio show “The Dick Clark National Music Survey.” When a song came on that we wanted to add, we hit record on our little recorder and tried to be quiet. It didn’t always work: I giggled over the music at least once.

Of course, the nature of countdown shows is that you don’t necessarily know or like all the songs. Each time a song started, we had about 10 seconds to decide whether to tape it. Some were easy—we were definitely taping “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield—but sometimes we just hit the button or we didn’t.

The results were...eclectic. We had “Winning” by Santana. I was introduced to Tom Petty via “The Waiting.” Sheena Easton’s “Modern Girl” and “Slow Hand” by the Pointer Sisters. And thanks to one of those spontaneous record-button pushes, we played Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” for our parents all summer, probably 40 times, which is coincidentally about how many times in the song Squier hungrily growls “stroke me.” The top of that week’s list was unconventional. “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes is not a song for a 10-year-old to understand. I had no idea what “Bette Davis eyes” were, or what it would mean if you had them.

The number-two song was from Stars on 45, a Dutch band that made novelty records by rerecording hit songs and binding them together into medleys with disco-style percussion. Their 1981 hit single, made up mostly of Beatles songs, explores what “Drive My Car” or “Nowhere Man” would sound like if the Beatles had owned a Casio keyboard from Kay-Bee Toys. It transformed the British Invasion into lanyard pop—the maniacally chipper music you might play in a hotel ballroom to psych up a gathering of multilevel marketing participants with ID badges around their necks.

Our parents took us West to see things we might never see again. We drove through that one tree in California. We crammed into the crowd for Old Faithful. (It was overrated, I thought, compared with Yellowstone’s stinking, gurgling sulfur pools, which looked and smelled like a movie monster might crawl out of one.) We hiked to see glaciers, and we took the obligatory side trip to Wall Drug. Those are the things that you plan for. But nobody could have planned for that tape.

And of all the things that happened that summer, more than 40 years later, my sister and I probably talk about the tape the most.

That trip happened between destinations. What do I remember now? That we got up at 4 in the morning while visiting family in California to watch Charles and Diana get married. That my mom cooked on our propane stove; my favorite of her creations was some chili concoction with Fritos on top. That we stopped in Las Vegas and slept in the parking lot of Circus Circus, where it was 100 degrees at midnight. That we all read aloud before bed—“Sounder,” I think, and scary short stories like “The Most Dangerous Game” and “Leiningen Versus the Ants.”

We had ‘Winning’ by Santana, Sheena Easton’s ‘Modern Girl.’ We played Billy Squier’s ‘The Stroke’ for our parents all summer, probably 40 times.

Memory changes shape as it transforms into nostalgia. What I remember about Bryce Canyon melds with all the pictures of it I’ve seen since. I wonder: Does my picture of Mount Rushmore come from seeing it, or did I get it from the movies? Back then, when I got home, I could describe those attractions in detail in the precise order in which they impressed me. I was so lucky to go.

But now, the foreground has faded and the background is brighter. What’s the difference? Maybe nostalgia sticks differently to the things that were only yours. After all, the most spectacular things we saw belong to everyone. Those canyons are on postcards. Millions of other people have driven through that tree. Millions wait for Old Faithful, just like we did, for the same reasons we did.

Only we, however, were there having lunch at our picnic table when a moose came right up to us. Only we were there when the car overheated on the way over the mountains. Only we listened to that tape. Only we ever owned that tape. And our parents were right: Those are things I have, in fact, never seen again.

The tape, of course, was lost in the end. Why keep it? It wasn’t special. Moose are special. Glacier National Park is special. Mount Rushmore is special.

That tape was just long hours in the back seat with my sister, looking through rolled-down windows at expanses of grassland and desert and redwoods, checking off state license plates on our master list, playing “Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton and asking how far we had to go. How to Make a Great Road Trip Playlist 1. Start with something you love. Open with something with a great beat or an unforgettable riff. You don’t have your opening track until every time you hear the beginning of it, you yell “YYYYEEEAHHHH!”

2. Mix up old and new favorites. I believe every mix should include “Groove Is In The Heart” by Deee-Lite, the greatest song to ever include a shout-out to Horton Hears a Who.

3. Leverage your own history. I like to include some very evocative choices, like “this is the song this guy introduced me to” or “this is the song I kept playing when I quit that job” selections.

4. Include a soaring ballad. You’re going for your own version of the “Bridget Jones’ Diary” “All By Myself” moment (without the wine). You want something you can wail, because you may need to.

5. Include something with lots and lots of words that go by fast. Slowly learning to keep up with what originally just sounds like a torrent of lyrics is one of the pleasures of the road. Rap is great for this, “Hamilton” is great for this, Cole Porter is great for this.

Linda Holmes is the host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and author, most recently, of ‘Flying Solo’ (June 14; Ballantine Books). She lives in Takoma Park, Md.

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