Sunday, June 1, 2008

The mix cd as art form, token of friendship, and all around good thing

I'm listening to the third track on a CD my friend K. made for me a couple of weeks ago. It's Rilo Kiley's "The Good That Won't Come Out," with Jenny Lewis's world-weary delivery set against an ironically buoyant arrangement that becomes, toward the end, incredibly lush and loud. And what's beautiful, besides the song's abiding optimism (the good, after all, is there, even if it usually refuses to come out), is that this same friend did, not long ago, "fall down drunk in the street," just like Lewis sings. (It was, actually, more like stumbling onto a sidewalk while tipsy.) So it's a handy mnemonic device, even as the song also, I think, suggests that these embarrassments are redeemable and, in fact, that remembering them collectively--which is also to say, reminding ourselves that we've all been there, or will be soon--might be our best means of redemption.

Another friend, J., in town for the summer, made me another mix CD yesterday. Five songs, all of them by singer-songwriters, and one in particular is haunting me, Chris Pureka's "31 and Falling," which manages to sound a lot less cynical than the lyrics would have you believe: "God damn my wasted time," she sings, but what the words don't tell you is that her voice, at this precise moment, starts to soar.

These two songs are as different as the friends who gave them to me and the coasts they come from. Still, both songs revived my sense that the mix CD is more than just a nostalgic gesture; it's a vital way of connecting folks we care about to songs that capture some important part of us: guilty or embarrassed, melancholic or hopeful. Better yet, it's a way of taking the contradictions and compromises in our own lives and opening them to those in our friends' lives: when J. put a song about a ten-year anniversary on the CD she made for me, it was a window into my relationship as well as her own. In these kinds of ways, it's possible to hear other voices singing within or alongside those voices that are literally on the record.

So it's a reasonably lonely night in my isolated little town, and I'm taking some consolation from the company that these voices provide: the reminder that the world is bigger, and thankfully smaller, than it may sometimes seem.