As Valentine’s Day creeps closer, I find myself embodying the cliché of the spouse who, intent on finding the perfect gift, has wasted weeks of shopping time and now finds herself empty-handed. I could slink to the store and buy the tired bouquets or cheap chocolates (the Lindt boxes are long gone by now) left behind by my better-prepared counterparts, but I like to think I’m more creative than that. 

Then it hits me. This is a job for music. Is there anything better than a collection of songs compiled just for you by someone you love — a rough dozen selections telling you you’re the most special peacock on the planet? But, in 2020, what’s the delivery system?

In fourth grade, the cutest boy in my class made a mixtape for me. Me! My 10-year-old heart swelled before being promptly crushed. It was exhilarating. In those days, I spent weekends 

positioning two boomboxes face to face in a closet, inserting cassettes and waiting patiently to hit record when the radio finally played my song, repeating the process until I’d completed my latest opus. My temper would flare when the DJ had the audacity to speak over the closing notes of my favorite song—a trespass that could potentially set the entire project back another 24 hours. It was a process, a labor of love.

Things changed in college. Clunky desktop computers and thin silver cubes replaced boomboxes, but the magic remained. Unable to resist the marketing pull of candy-colored blank discs, I spent my paychecks on rainbow packs of sparkling musical canvases. The early internet had given us all god-like powers of access and I was no longer limited to the top songs rolling on heavy repeat — I could have anything. Procurement took center stage as embarrassingly large chunks of my nights were consumed by the hunt for perfect songs. I filled discs with cringe-worthy declarations of love, exaggerated flirtations and proclamations of the deep-gut friendships that consume your late teen years. I limewired my way through an embarrassment of riches.

Sometimes great things end amid fits of fiery resistance. Other times they just slowly fade until one day you finally notice they’ve gone missing. Such is the sad demise of musical gifts. CDs ultimately revealed their fatal flaws, scratching and skipping, while technology surged ahead. In the process, a whole generation (myself included) had collectively forgotten how to make mixtapes as cassettes and boomboxes gathered dust up in our parents’ Midwest attics. Meanwhile, the music industry regrouped after an era of unchecked piracy, attempting to figure out how to pay artists while still making money and providing music to the masses. 

What ultimately emerged is our new reality of music collecting — an arguably improved era in which we get in our cars and our curated playlists come on. We can hit a few keystrokes and pull up any song that comes to mind. These are glory days for those of us with zero impulse control and a thirst for instant gratification. And really, I don’t miss cassette tapes one bit. I was always the first to accidentally melt my treasured possession on the car dash and then spend hours, pencil in hand, rewinding the ones I mangled in other creative ways. And yet, there’s a sad loss in the creative process of sharing. I have all of my music, but no real means to express anything with the songs I collect. 

Needless to say, I didn’t make a mixtape or burn a CD this year, or any year of the last decade for that matter. I considered sharing a sappy playlist until I thought through the woefully impersonal act of DM’img my wife’s Valentine’s Day gift. Ultimately, I settled on a non-musical gift. If it’s the thought that counts, though — Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetie!

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