When Love Was a Mixed Tape.
Side One: When Love was a mixed tape
Side Two: Anthology of broken hearts
The first compilation tape was given to me by a boy with hair so black he looked like a crow. He recorded INXS (I need you tonight) on Side One. I wrote him my first love poem. The first of many awful, tortured poems. 30 years later, I can still remember the words.
I saw you last night
it must have been 3 am
your worldly face
lit up against the black of night
That we were 14 and I thought him worldly will tell you everything you need to know about the way I love.
We kissed on his sister’s bed. Big feelings swelled in my small body. We kissed all night listening to Simple Minds (Don’t you forget about me). He broke my heart a week later. I bled that tape into the night.
The next tape was given to me by a cool boy. He was tall, nut brown, and beautiful in a gangly way. He slyly handed it to me as though it didn’t matter to him. Really, he was making it anyway and I may as well have it. We kissed after school, our sweet bodies leaning into each other’s shyly. It’s all I remember of him, but oh the music! Echo and the Bunnymen (The killing moon) the Clash (Should I stay or should I go now).
Each boy, each tape, took me further from my parents’ vinyl collection. I used to play Graceland and Sergeant Pepper in the open space of our living room. Singing with my father who was always one note off-key and one lyric behind. Suddenly the way I listened to music became private, furtive.
I began to listen as a solitary act. Lying on the floor with the speakers angled to my ears.
There was the boy with really cool hair, always a way straight to my heart. He taped The Cure (Close to me), The Smiths (How soon is now) and Joy Division (Love will tear us apart). It was like being given another universe to dwell in. I adored it with all of my easy heart. I rewound the tape to hear Joy Division again
The emotional boys with great hair were always the nicest to kiss. Soft, with layers.
The music lasted longer than the boys. Every time. The heartbreak brought a delicious resonance to the lyrics. In my town, they had names for girls who had sex with boys. They should have had a name for girls like me. Girls who reached in to their rib cage and ripped out their hearts, offering the bloody thing up with wide-eyed hope.
Mixed tapes were a shy and beautiful courtship. Music recorded in a bedroom late at night. Sometimes the tape cover would include handmade artworks combined with the playlist.
Long after the tapes are gone, I still have a lifelong love of the music I discovered this way. I can remember hearing Leonard Cohen for the first time. His voice like honey and gravel scratching on my bones.
Tapes became CD’s and I met an artist. He had beautiful hands, but I loved his mind first. It was
iron, stone, brilliant.
He sent me a CD with music brooding and intense, and though I can’t recall the name of the artist, I can remember the feel of the music. Violin like shattering glass. The build of the music whirling like Sufi dervishes. Giving me some understanding of the wild ride that knowing him would bring. He didn’t break my heart once. He broke it over and over.
When I met my rock, he was a pioneer in a wild place. Wolf-like.
Wild, resilient, earthy.
He would teach me to love the wilderness. He took all of my broken pieces and gathered them up with the beautiful things. He was the first and the last to love me as a whole. He taught me to rise in love, not to fall. We played his music: Cohen, Dylan, Buckley.
His bookshelf was loaded with Hemingway and Steinbeck. I took note, these things are important. He was a keeper.
I kept him.
We merged our CD collections, and it became a long-playing playlist to the beautiful life we have created. It is mostly a harmonious collection with a few little kinks. He cannot bear Rage Against The Machine. I banned a homegrown folk singer whose voice reminds me of squeaky chalk and polystyrene boxes opening.
He learnt to love Nina Simone and Cowboy Junkies. I learnt to love Paul Kelly in nauseating doses.
We took care of each other’s hearts. Nothing broke. Things grew and flourished.
Now we buy music with the click of a mouse after a review or a recommendation. Our collection builds with our beautiful memories. Buying music this way is convenient and I am grateful for it, but today when I bought an album, I suddenly felt a sweet little stab of nostalgia for all the boys who’d recorded songs on tapes. Presenting them with their hearts, skin, hope.
The tapes are long gone. The boys are men. All that is left is a lifelong love of music and the residue of longing. Longing for a time when you discovered music because a boy wanted to kiss you. Longing for a time when love was a mixed tape.
Bell Harding is a Rumi-loving painter, late bloomer, and poet from Australia. Her home is a vintage caravan called Lou Lou, which likes to roam and is currently resting in a small coastal town in the Northwest. Bell has a degree in fine art, and loves to paint barefoot in the dirt. She seeks beauty, wisdom and adventure in the raw scraped-back landscape, preferring the edges of the continent and avoiding winter. Bell loves to paint, cook plant-based food, and write pretty poems with sharp little teeth. At 44, Bell is still wondering what she wants to be when she grows up. Until that time, she roams, paints and writes.