Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The awesome mixtape my babysitter made me in 1991

In the summer of 1991 I was 10 years old and still had a babysitter, at an age when the girls in my class were probably becoming babysitters. Her name was Sarah, she was 16 or 17, and I found her unassailably cool. I wasn't really old enough to have a crush on her, but I knew that I should want to be like her. (I did not yet dare to actually want to be like her.)

In a town full of J. Crew preppies, Sarah wore a torn jean jacket and Converse All-Stars, both decorated with intricate ballpoint penwork. She chewed gum, wore earrings, and had dark brown hair. After school, when she looked after me at home, she brought delicious contraband with her from Cumby's. While I did my homework on the kitchen counter, she would dispense the illicit Skittles, Nerds, or Runts and tell me about high school life.

Given the opportunity, I would pore over the graffiti that covered her own school notebooks, binders, and clothes. The graffiti mostly consisted of inside jokes with her friends, references to bands they liked, or sexual innuendo that I was sometimes old enough to be suspicious of but not sophisticated enough to understand. (One line had her and her boyfriend's initials on the left side of an equals sign, with the phrase "schlong meisters" on the right.)

What really made my 10-year-old brain idolize Sarah was her privileged knowledge of, and access to, cool and dangerous music. By this time I was buying my own cassettes and CDs and making tapes of my parents' albums: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, CSNY, stuff like that. But hanging out with Sarah was the first time I became really aware that a whole other universe of music existed — music that was popular now and was not made or listened to by people my parents' age. (Until I was five, we had no TV at all. By '91 we had cable but I watched nothing besides PBS, MacGyver, and maybe Saturday morning cartoons.)

She'd arrive at our house listening to tapes on her Walkman, tapes full of metal, punk, funk, hardcore, rap, and all kinds of other stuff I didn't know the names for. I must have listened to her own tapes a few times — I'm not sure. What I remember is watching hours of MTV with her: 120 Minutes, Yo! MTV Raps, Beavis and Butt-Head, Club MTV. I was fascinated by videos like AC/DC's "Moneytalks," Warrant's "Cherry Pie," Gerardo's "Rico Suave," and La Tour's "People Are Still Having Sex." We watched it all, even the silly pop stuff, and Sarah made her opinion known about all of it.

My favorite artist of all time, at this point, was Paul Simon. I also owned albums by Bobby McFerrin and the Indigo Girls. I must have eventually started to annoy Sarah with my adult-contemporary tastes, or maybe she just decided my musical horizons needed broadening, because eventually she took it upon herself to do what needed to be done: she made me a mixtape.

The tape, which I still have, is a thing of beauty. Remember that in 1991 we had CDs, but no CD burners, and the cassette was really the only way to share music with someone. I still remember how cool I considered this particular type of cassette tape, with its fully translucent body. Extensively hand-lettered in blue ballpoint just like Sarah's Chuck Taylors, it had a rebus for a title:


Here is the handwritten track listing...

And then this note, part of it hidden until you removed the cassette and then looked inside the spine, or removed the entire insert:

Now, on to the music itself.

I have reconstructed Sarah's mixtape in digital format; click the play button below to listen to the mix while you read through my comments below.

  1. Thirty Dirty Birds / Red Hot Chili Peppers
    • One part of making a great mixtape in the cassette era was planning out how much music would fit on each side of the tape. In this case, it's a 90-minute tape, so you get 45 minutes per side. A mixtape artist always needed a few short tracks in his or her arsenal to make the most of the entire tape, and this funny old Brooklyn joke of a spoken-word RHCP "song" is just such a track. What's especially impressive is that she planned this out well enough to fit the throwaway short track in at the beginning of the mix.
  2. I'm the Man / Anthrax
    • I'd never heard the Beastie Boys at this point, so I'm not sure I fully got the joke of this song, but in retrospect it's pretty funny. This came out in 1987, a year after Run-DMC's cover of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way." I guess this was the logical next step. In fact, as you'll see, a lot of this tape is about rock-rap fusion.
  3. Sweet Emotion / Aerosmith
    • Holy shit, I never noticed how amazing the production on this song is. I guess I've never listened to it on headphones before. Can you hear the slowed-down, distorted "sweet emotion" vocal during the intro? 10-year-old me wasn't a big Aerosmith fan and neither is 31-year-old me, but this is obviously a classic.
  4. Used to Love Her / Guns N' Roses
    • As with other stuff on here, it amuses me to no end to think that a teenage girl was listening to this song and then playing it for a 10-year-old boy. At one point you can hear Axl say, "Take it for what it is" — a joke, I guess — but he had a pretty messed-up sense of humor.
  5. Unbelievable / EMF
    • As with two other songs on this mix ("More Than Words" and "Hard to Handle"), this song was everywhere in the summer of 1991. To me the inclusion of this shows that she wasn't afraid of a guilty pleasure. This song still holds up well as dance pop, I think. Wikipedia tells me that the "Oh!" that precedes each guitar break is a sample of comedian Andrew Dice Clay.
  6. Dream On / Aerosmith
    • Two Aerosmith songs on one side of the tape is a bit much. I guess Sarah was going through a phase. Again, though, it's pretty hard to say anything bad about this song, except maybe the lyrics.
  7. Been Caught Stealing / Jane's Addiction
    • Oh my God, do you know what I remember about the video for this song? Carrots. Also, fat suits. That's it. (Watches video.) That was a pretty kickass video, especially the breakdown part starting around two minutes in.
  8. Edge of the World / Faith No More
    • If there's one band that epitomizes my perception of Sarah's musical taste from this era, it's Faith No More. Again, though, can you imagine playing this for a 10-year-old? So creepy but so funny and funky. Listening to this, don't you think Mike Patton is the long-lost musical sibling of Dean and Gene Ween?
  9. Fly Me Courageous / Drivin' N' Cryin'
    • I just read that American military pilots in Operation Desert Storm loved to listen to this song while going on bombing raids, I'm guessing because of the line "Mother America is brandishing her weapons." Apparently no one picked up on the cynicism of the very next line, "She keeps me safe and warm by threats and misconceptions." A pretty good little butt-rock one-hit wonder, at any rate.
  10. Bedspring Kiss / Jellyfish
    • I didn't go on to become a huge fan of any of the bands on this tape — except for this one. If you like power pop along the lines of Big Star, Matthew Sweet, Brendan Benson, etc., do yourself a favor and seek out the short-lived band Jellyfish's two incredible albums, Bellybutton and Spilt Milk. After listening to Sarah's cassette of Bellybutton, I bought it on CD and pretty much wore it out. This is one of the slower, more twisted and introspective tracks on the album and it contains some kind of proggy elements. The production is Pet Sounds-level genius, in my opinion.
  11. Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away) / Mötley Crüe
    • This is the kind of song that makes me wonder why I don't listen to more (or any) hair metal. I can totally imagine screaming along to the chorus of this with 10,000 leather-and-spandex clad fellow citizens.
  1. Paradise / Tesla
    • Of course, as Poison pointed out, every rose has its thorn. For me, if the Mötley Crüe song is the rose, this is the thorn. The singer is trying too hard to sound like Axl Rose, and the guitar riffs are hitting me over the head with a stupid Flying V. If this had been on a CD, I would have skipped the track. Feel free to do so, yourself.
  2. Mr. Cab Driver / Lenny Kravitz
    • Wait, there was a time when Lenny Kravitz was actually funky? Yes, there was. It was called 1989. This is one of the only songs in the mix with swearing on it; I have to assume that was Sarah attempting not to offend my sensibilities, which were in fact pretty delicate at this point. The "fuck you" in this song would have been acceptable, being in the service of anti-racism.
  3. I Miss You Kate / Sting
    • This is the biggest head-scratcher on the tape, for sure. It's really hard for me to imagine Sarah in 1991 listening to any solo stuff by Sting, especially not this obscure, 5-minute instrumental jazz B-side. Maybe she got this from her mom or something? It is actually kind of pretty, in a Bruce Hornsby/Pat Metheny kind of way.
  4. Hello, I Love You / The Doors
    • I'm sure this is the only song on here that I already knew when Sarah made me the tape. I think this was just her throwing me a bone, like "See? I listen to some classic rock, too." As with most Doors song, the only reason I'd still consider this worth listening to is for Ray Manzarek's awesome fuzzed-out organ.
  5. More Than Words / Extreme
    • Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, the horror! I don't think I can make it through this whole song. If I were a teenage girl in 1991, though, I don't know how I would have been able to resist its power. Apparently, the rest of this album is actual metal.
  6. Dawn Patrol / Megadeth
    • This kind of terrified me, which I guess is the whole point. I am noticing now that this is a song about the world after an ecological/environmental apocalypse, which is kind of interesting. I love that Sarah sandwiched this between two pop hits — genius.
  7. Hard to Handle / The Black Crowes
    • I am kind of embarrassed to admit that I didn't know this was a cover of an Otis Redding song until, like, last year. The Black Crowes get a lot of shit but I think it's obvious that they captured the essence of the song pretty well here. I guess they were like the Jet of 1990... except that they're still releasing albums. Maybe Jet is too, I don't know.
  8. Send Me Your Money / Suicidal Tendencies
    • This song is so funny and sarcastic; I love it. The best part about this tape was that it exposed me to stuff like this that I never would have known about. I just read that tracks from this album got substantial airtime on MTV, which in retrospect is almost unbelievable.
  9. Down with the Ship / Scatterbrain
    • Same thing with this one — just weird and funny and cool. This is like a precursor to Girl Talk or something, with the addition of goofy punk vocals. How many samples can you spot? You can find the full list on Wikipedia.
  10. The Audience is Listening / Steve Vai
    • These days I associate Steve Vai with 40-something guitar-metal nerds, but I guess it's worth remembering that guitar-metal nerds were young once, and apparently at least one of them — Sarah — was even a girl! This track is badass, and of course as a 10-year-old I was absolutely slain by the student-recital skit part of it. 
  11. We Care a Lot / Faith No More
    • What a killer closer. Faith No More might be the only band that truly belongs on this mix twice. Sarah sure knew how to pick 'em.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

mid-paralympic update

We're more than halfway through the Games, but I'm exactly halfway through my race schedule, so it's a good time for an update.

I was the top American in both the slalom, held last Sunday, and Tuesday's GS, finishing 9th and 14th respectively. This was a nice surprise for me; I hadn't expected to do so well in the technical events. The GS was particularly tough, since we ran the race in a steady rain and deteriorating snow conditions that probably would have forced the cancellation of the race if it weren't for the incredible army of volunteer course workers and slippers on hand here in Whistler.

I got to spend some time with all my assembled family and friends on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday Mary and I drove down to Vancouver to visit the University of British Columbia. I was accepted to the UBC's graduate School of Library, Archival and Information Studies last week, and I wanted to check out the campus and meet people there. I came away with a very favorable impression of the program and the campus, and it's quite possible that Mary and I will end up there later this year.

After my interview and tour at SLAIS, we met up with Mashi Shinoda, a monoskiing friend from Winter Park who is an undergrad at UBC. The three of us had dinner at an authentic-seeming Chinese restaurant (they even had shark fin soup!) and caught a Paralympic sled hockey game. Korea beat Sweden 2–1.

Today was the downhill, rescheduled from last Saturday when it was cancelled due to fog. The conditions today were pretty much ideal: clear and sunny, and cold enough last night that the track froze and set up nicely. That meant that the women had a pretty bumpy and fast ride, while the course had softened up a little (and gotten even bumpier) by the time the men went.

We Americans had a stellar day in three classes. In the women's visually impaired class, my Winter Park teammate Danelle Umstead and her husband Rob took the bronze, their first Paralympic medal. In the men's VI class, Mark Bathum won his first medal too, a silver. His guide is Slater Storey, brother of fellow Paralympian Elitsa Storey. And in the women's sitting class, we went 1-2 again, with Alana Nichols winning her second gold of these games and Laurie Stephens in silver. Bravo USA!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

revised Paralympic race schedule

Fog and bad weather cancelled the downhill today, and it will affect the race schedule here for the whole week. For now, the schedule is as follows, with my races in bold:

Sunday March 14 Slalom VI- Sit, 10:00 & 13:30 (I'll be running with bib #74)
Monday March 15 Slalom Standing, 10:00 & 13:30
Tuesday March 16 Giant slalom VI-Sit, 10:00 & 13:30
Wednesday March 17 Giant slalom Standing, 10:00 & 13:30
Thursday March 18 DH All, time TBA
Friday March 19 Super-G VI-Sit, time TBA
Saturday March 20 Super-G Standing, time TBA
Sunday March 21 Super-combined All, times TBA

VI-Sit = Visually Impaired and Sitting classes
All times are Pacific Daylight Time (and don't forget to spring forward).

You can watch the races live on www.paralympicsport.tv !

I am told that tickets will be honored for the date printed on them, not the race printed on them. If you now have tickets for the "wrong" event, you can exchange them at a Paralympic ticket office in Whistler or Vancouver.

paralympic blog, day 5

Oh well, so much for the "daily blogging" thing.

One quick word before I go to bed tonight, post-Opening Ceremonies: the weather has forced a schedule change. They will still try to get the downhill off Saturday at 11:30, but Sunday will be either the super G for ALL classes or slalom for sitting & VI. That means my first race of the Games will definitely be Sunday, not Monday.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

paralympic blog, day 3

Oh no! I was just about to go to sleep, but I realized I forgot to write anything today. I better make this quick.

The first day of downhill training was long. Fog and snow rolled in and out all day, and after starting on time, there were many holds and delays. I didn't run until around 4:00 p.m., and the standing men didn't get to run at all. My run was a bit round and not too fast, with a couple of mistakes. But I made it through the course at speed, which was the goal. I will run tomorrow's training run unless we get hit by bad weather again (which is the current forecast), in which case I may skip it and get some rest and some exercise on the bike. As I've said, I'm not set to race the downhill anyway, but I'm now qualified to run it if I'm called upon to fill someone's spot.

Oh, also I just found out that I've been admitted to the library science program at UBC in Vancouver — hooray!

Only two days until opening ceremonies...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

paralympic blog, day 2

We got up to Whistler Creekside this morning and did some freeskiing, though not on the race hill. That slope, Franz's, was closed a few days ago so the Paralympic downhill course could be set. Our head coach, Ray Watkins, set it. It's very similar to the course we ran here a year ago for World Cup Finals. Tomorrow is the first downhill training run, and I'll be inspecting and running the course even though I'm not scheduled to run the downhill race on Saturday. The downhill is the only event I'm not going to be racing, even though it's probably my best race. This is because the United States has a lot of strong downhillers in the sitting men's class, and we're only allotted three start positions. I'm ranked #4.

Despite the clouds and light snow falling, the view from the Creekside Gondola this morning was prettier than any mountain vista: a world-class, race-ready downhill track, all dyed and prepped for a few forerunners to test out today. At the finish is a good-sized temporary stadium for spectators, as well as a dozen or so temporary buildings for media, timing, logistics, concessions, doping control, et cetera. Everything is spangled in VANOC blue and green and looks just as splendid as it did on TV during the Olympics. The only thing out of place is the giant green Olympic rings erected slopeside, next to the final pitch of the downhill. The Paralympics don't have permission to use the five-ring logo, so they have been covered with a giant white tarp in hopes that no one will notice them, I suppose. All that was missing today was spectators. They'll begin filling in the stands tomorrow, and Saturday's race is sold out. I'll be sitting there watching then, but for the next few days — weather-dependent, of course — I'll be out there maching down that white ribbon.

Monday, March 08, 2010

paralympic blog, day 1

Well, I'm here. I mean, we're here. The Games are here.

I'm pretty comfortably settled into the Whistler Paralympic Village, watching old Dylan clips on YouTube with my roommate Nick and getting ready to freeski a bit tomorrow on super-G skis.

This morning Nick and I took a bus up the Whistler Creekside base to retrieve a few things from our ski bags, which had been delivered to the ski preparation area. Each team has a wax cabin in the Creekside parking garage, and the U.S. room is huge, with plenty of room for our four technicians to do their job and even maintain a small office. After getting home we spent the day traipsing around the Village and getting the lay of the land. There's a big old dining tent with much better food than we had at Sestriere in '06, and many athlete lounges filled with TVs, video games, pool tables and the like. Pretty much everything an athlete needs is here, within a quarter-mile radius: medical attention, massage, fitness facilities, even meditation and prayer rooms. All our needs are attended to by a phalanx of U.S. Paralympic Team staffers and an army of "Smurfs," as the blue-jacketed Vancouver 2010 volunteers call themselves. These people come from all over the world and spend their own money to get here, just to serve us food, drive us around, inspect our credentials, answer our questions, and do the million other things that need doing around here. It's an impressive sight and a pretty well-oiled machine.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

paralympic blog, day -1

I’m on the Team USA bus from Vancouver Airport up to Whistler. Skies are gray and it’s cold and rainy outside, but spirits are high and someone has a DVD of Dumb & Dumber playing on the bus’s TVs. The Sea-To-Sky Highway provides some ridiculously dramatic views of B.C.’s coastal inlets, mountains, straits, fjords and whatnot before we turn inland and start climbing uphill.

The flight from Denver was easy enough — I even managed to finagle a seat in First — but loading and unloading 10 or 12 wheelies on one plane took a good while. (We traveled with the curling team.) As soon as we cleared passport control, Vancouver 2010 staff were waiting to issue us our athlete credentials. The credential is a laminated, hologrammed card as big as a DVD case that you have to wear around your neck for just about every waking moment at the Games. Security is generally as tight as you might expect for a big international event. Some people even wear their credentials underneath their race suits while competing, so as not to be caught without it if selected for doping control in the finish area. When we had our head shots taken for our credentials a month or two ago, we were told we couldn’t smile, so all of us look deadly serious in the photos.

Joe Tompkins has convinced the bus driver to stop at a roadside Subway, and everyone is chowing down on sandwiches. Soon we’ll arrive at the Whistler Paralympic Village and begin settling into our dorm rooms, learning our way around the place, getting dinner and inevitably convening for the first of many alpine team meetings. I don’t know yet who my roommate or roommates will be for the duration of the Games, but I do know it will be someone I’ve shared with before — I think I’ve probably roomed with every U.S. male disabled skier that’s skied a World Cup race in the last 10 years. Who I’m assigned could have a big effect on my mental state for the next 15 days.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

paralympic blog, day -2

We received all our Paralympic kit today at team processing. I'm not exaggerating when I say you could clothe a small village in one athlete's allotment of Ralph Lauren and Nike. We're in Denver tonight. I can't tell you which hotel we're staying at, but it does involve two trees.

Tomorrow we take off for Vancouver and then bus it straight up to Whistler. We'll have two days to acclimated to Paralympic Village life and freeski the hill a bit before downhill training runs begin on Wednesday. Although I won't be racing in the downhill, I've been informed that I will be starting the downhill training runs so that I can be available to race if one of the three U.S. sitting men should be unable to start because of injury or illness. That will also give me some valuable experience running the speed hill, which ought to help me in the super-G and super-combi races.

Look for an announcement from U.S. Paralympics on Monday re: U.S. broadcast coverage of the Games. Amazing awaits!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

paralympic blog, day -3

We left the hotel for the mountain around 7:30 this morning. We made it home at 6:30 p.m. That's an IPC World Cup super-combined race for you. One run of super-G and one of slalom somehow adds up to a very, very long day on the hill. It was capped off with some delicious fish tacos from Dos Gringos in Carbondale.

I actually had a pretty good day today. My super-G run was lackluster and I finished 11th, but I had the day's third-fastest slalom run to move up to 6th place. The slalom was so choppy and rutted that it took out a lot of my competition, but I'm pleased that I made it down the run without any major errors.

I need to ski tomorrow's super-G a bit more dynamically than I did today.

Sorry for the brief post tonight. I'm already past my intended bedtime, but I needed to stick to the plan and write something.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

paralympic blog, day -4

Yesterday I ran the Buttermilk downhill course in a factored time of 1:16.06. Today my time was 1:18.02 — a full two seconds slower. Many other skiers skied faster today, or about the same. I didn't make any major mistakes in my run. The coaches had nothing but good things to say about my skiing.

And yet I was slow. Not just a little bit slow, but 11th-place slow. 5.7-seconds-out-of-first-place slow. Who knows how these things happen? Did we miss the wax? Is the structure of my downhill ski's base no good for this type of snow? Did I make some big mistakes that weren't immediately obvious?

The answer to all three of these questions is probably yes. (In fact, video analysis confirms the third answer.) Now it's a question of addressing each issue and trying to reclaim some of the speed I so rightfully (self-righteously?) deserve, in time for tomorrow's super-combined and Friday's super-G.

Speed is a weird, elusive thing. That's about as profound a statement as it's possible to make about ski racing sometimes.

p.s. Congratulations to teammate Alana Nichols on winning her first of many World Cup downhill overall globes today.