I’ve been guilty of spreading aural mayhem via mix tapes and discs to unsuspecting friends in the past. The “gifts” were never intended as unprovoked attacks or as some latent resentment finally manifesting itself in the guise of discordant electronic assaults, primitive black metal howls, Japanese noise punk, or stabs of 1980s hardcore. To balance out the aggression, I’d usually toss in some Italian film library tracks or some Eno or some “apocalyptic folk” or some Boyd Rice spoken word stuff to go with the misanthropy and martinis.
To no one’s surprise but my own, I rarely received requests for more tapes. I was even accused of attempted assault in one case. So, I quit making them. I took my finger off the record button.
Last year, I changed my tack when I made a mix disc for a long lost friend who had reemerged into my life. Wanting to document in impressionistic hues the last twenty years of my life (I hadn’t been in contact with this person for that long), I collected a wide range of music that, I thought, perfectly charted the highs and lows of my interior life sans the aural mayhem. Darkness as a theme was certainly not denied entrance, but it wouldn’t dominate (because that would be a lie) as it had in those other discs. The music this time around would actually be intended to be enjoyed, listened to, and would warrant repeat sessions.
One of my earlier victims had long promised me one of his own mix disc creations. I was never sure whether to be thankful, afraid, or resigned to the cold dish of you-know-what awaiting me. But as the weeks passed into months and then years, I realized that I was going to make it out of America with ear drums intact, spinal column in place, and ego still propped up.
Just days before I left my hometown (yet again), my friend brought me a package. This was no simple one disc toss off. This was an eleven disc boxed set. This was a gift, a touching memento, this was… demented. On the train back east, I pretended it didn’t exist. On the flight to Dublin, I vaguely remembered that my companion had it nestled securely inside her bag. I pulled out the monstrosity while in the west of Ireland, and marveled at each thematically structured disc:
Greatest Ballads of Porn: Matthew Sweet, The Stones, Neko Case, The Kinks, The Frogs, The Beach Boys, Warren Zevon, Otis Redding, among others.
Some of the Best Songs in the Lower Half of My Collection (S-Z): Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren, Zevon, XTC, The Vaselines, Television, Tenacious D, among others.
Fake Wes Anderson Imitation Soundtrack Made Cheaply and Carelessly for the Movie…: The Kinks, Richard and Linda Thompson, Simon and Garfunkel, Sleater-Kinney, Nilsson, The Soft Boys, among others.
Budget Makeout CD: Big Black, Mastodon, Metallica, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Naked City, Rush, Queens of the Stone Age, among others.
Schlochkenmachen: Sabbath, The Boredoms, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Styx, Beck, Dylan, Captain Beefheart, among others.
Vegetarian Skinheads Getting Pissed Viddying Oprah at the Pub; a Musical Odyssey: The Frogs, The Beatles, Patti Smith, Cheap Trick, The Buzzcocks, Elmore James, The Flaming Lips, The Handsome Family, among others.
The Traitor Klaus “What is Friend?”: Big Star, The Feelies, Gang of Four, Sonic Youth, The Black Keys, Gary Numan, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Neil Young, Ennio Morricone, among others.
The beauty of the selections was staggering. Also included were two discs of Blue Oyster Cult recordings (we share a love), a disc of Zeppelin, and a disc of jazz (Davis, Coltrane, Coleman). When I finally surrendered to the majesty of the collection, I can’t put into words how wondrous the journey was. It’s still going on….
What is friend? Oh yes, my comrades, I think I know the answer to that one.