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A well-crafted mix CD beats Hallmark hands down

| Thursday, July 13, 2006

Forget flowers. Greeting cards are for grandmas.

My generation's all-purpose memento is the mix CD. When anthropologists eventually unearth the artifacts of millennial American life, they'll find the soundtracks to our lives.

They'll discover that mix CDs were an essential part of dating rituals and a way for music snobs to evaluate potential mates, ensuring the propagation of good taste.

Giving someone a hermetically sealed disk from Best Buy doesn't compare. A well-crafted compilation is a labor of love. In high school, I would sit in my room for hours, timing songs with a stopwatch as I recorded from vinyl to cassette.

With CD burners now taking care of the grunt work, there has to be a lot more oomph in the presentation. I like to think that if mix CDs were judged at the Olympics, a recent one I put in packaging to make it look like a fish sandwich would have taken the gold.

But gimmicks like that mean nothing if you don't have the track listing to back them up. My signature move is including strange covers -- like Aretha Franklin singing "Eleanor Rigby" or a bluegrass band zipping through a Radiohead medley.

The movie and book "High Fidelity," an indie favorite, spells out the primary rules of mix-making. You cannot use two songs by the same artist unless you have two from every artist. You have to start off strong, but then cool it down so you don't peak too quickly.

And at some point you stop trying to impress the person you're mixing for and just try to make something that will make them happy.

You know you've got it bad when you start composing the first playlist, scrutinizing every segue and implied sentiment.

Just as the perfect mix can make you fall for someone, one that's ill organized (or includes anything by Boyz II Men) can be a dealbreaker.

Along the same lines, it's time to reevaluate your relationship when the inspiration dries up. It's like running out of things to say. Fade out.

Oddly enough, just last Friday I got a mix CD from my new squeeze.

I was nervous to listen to it. What if I didn't like it• I have a history of music snobbery -- would it doom our relationship• I put it in and listened hesitantly.

Was that Tori Amos on track eight• Oh no he didn't. Few things kill my mood faster than the breathy pianist.

But when the chorus began, I realized it was actually her version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I smiled and realized this might work after all.

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