About eight or nine years ago my friend Ajar brought a used 1995 Jeep Wrangler. While he took it for a test drive Ajar tried out the radio. It had a cassette player. And there was a cassette in it. Ajar didn’t know if it was from the previous owner, someone from the dealership, or maybe somebody else who test drove the car and wanted to try out a tape.

Cruising down Chicago’s Western Avenue, Ajar turned up the volume. It was a mix tape. During the drive Ajar heard the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation” (the slower, better version), some Shellac, The Jesus Lizard, and the Sparks’ “Armies of the Night.”

“I still don’t know if that tape played a part in me buying the Jeep,” Ajar says. “I think it did.”

After finalizing the sale Ajar asked if someone at the dealer, maybe a mechanic, put the tape in there. The salesman didn’t think so and said the Jeep had only one owner before arriving on the lot. He offered to remove the tape. Ajar says, “Fuck it. I think whoever owned the Jeep left it in there. Probably wanted the new owner to have it.”

It was a Chicago-centric tape. Other songs included Liz Phair’s “Stratford-On-Guy” as well as Veruca Salt and Screeching Weasel. But there was also Adam Ant’s “Can’t Set Rules About Love.” The tape ended with an instrumental from Recoil, the project founded by Depeche Mode’s Alan Wilder.

The October before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Ajar, myself and our friend Spider drove there in the Jeep. That tape, dubbed “The Jeep Tape” – got plenty of play throughout the journey.

Ajar had it with him when for some reason we stopped at the New Orleans version of Coyote Ugly. It was Halloween weekend and we were the only ones in the bar. They had a tape player and Ajar convinced the Coyote Girls to dance on the bar to “Armies of the Night.”

New Orleans Coyote Ugly Cassette Tape

Armies of the Night – New Orleans style.

Last week Ajar and I went to Chicago recluse author Clive Javanski’s apartment. We knocked and he didn’t answer. The door was unlocked so we walked in. He was nowhere to be found (not the first time this has happened). We heard music. It was coming from his music system on a shelf. Specifically, from a cassette player. A tape deck. I never noticed it before. What’s strange is that the song in question was skipping as if it was a vinyl record that was either scratched or a victim of a bad needle. The “song” in question was “Silver Shamrock” – a weird tune from the Halloween III soundtrack. While taping the song from the album it skipped but Clive just left it like it was. Ajar said it made the already disturbing Irish-infused Halloween song (to the tune of “London Bridges Falling Down”) even creepier.

It led to a long conversation about mix tapes, made better when our friend Anastasha stopped by with her iPhone, which had a case in the design of a cassette tape.
One thing about mix tapes: they don’t have to feature only music. I had a friend make me a tape for the New Orleans journey and it included an eclectic mix of tunes and sound bites from our own group of friends that were recorded at parties and such. He entitled it “It’s Hard to Say.”

Titles on this tape include

Let’s Play Quarters

Dusty Dildo

Pennyface

Hi Mom I’m Home

Rats

Valentine

Enlighten Me

Head Cheese

Cassette Tape The Dodgy

It’s Hard to Say

Clive’s tape was labeled “Weird Stuff” and included among music sound bites from Dennis Hopper films and Twin Peaks (“Chopping Wood? Inside?”). At some point during the night the ABBA song “SOS” blasted from Clive’s weird mix tape. We all danced.

We’ve also decided that for the next installment of The Asshole Book Club – which becomes The Asshole Poker Game – each of the players must create and bring one mix tape.

I’m working on mine right now.

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