A couple weekends ago, I came across a cache of mix tapes from the 1990s and early 2000s while I was cleaning out our attic. Much to my amusement, one of the tapes was made right after I found out my boyfriend had cheated on me.
With just the tape and no “liner notes” in hand, I expected to find a really melodramatic soundtrack of that moment in my life.
And while there was one epic moment where my own explosive laughter almost drove me off the road (one of the selling points of my car was that it still had a tape deck in the era- a while ago- where CD was king since I have MANY mix tapes), the biggest revelation was side 2 where the songs focused much more on how I felt about the future. The mix tape for me was a powerful reminder of how conflicted I had been back then about how I thought I should react versus how I wanted to react.
When I shared my find on social media, lots of people asked for the playlist. I’ve now driven back and forth to the gym enough to hear the full soundtrack of that moment in time. Here’s the playlist for the mix tape I am renaming Soundtrack of Heartache and Hope and a few little notes on why I think the songs spoke to me at the time.
Side A: Heartache
Heartache Tonight by The Eagles Well, not much explanation is needed here, is it? Not a song from the 1990s, but, at that point in my life, my musical taste was a mix of classic rock and alternative music.
For Just a Moment by David Foster So, this song was definitely the biggest surprise to me when I heard it. I was absolutely shocked to hear it on the tape as it was much more sentimental that I was at that time and not my style. I couldn’t imagine how I even owned it to put it on the tape and then I remembered that it was on the St. Elmo’s Fire soundtrack and I most definitely owned that. That said, time goes on; people touch and they’re gone.
Nothing Compares 2U by Sinead O’Connor I loved Sinead’s music back then especially her political stuff (Black Boys on Mopeds still chokes me up.). While I didn’t guess this would be on here (my dear friend Laura did), I still knew all the words when I heard it.
What if We Give It Away by REM There was no question that REM would be on here (and, fair warning, they are on here A LOT). I think that one simple question: what if we give it away was what was on my mind at the time. When you are that young, you think of your relationship in such absolutes and I know that I was overwhelmed by what seemed like a colossal life shaping decision before me.
Running to Stand Still by U2 This song is actually in my top 5-10 of all time favorite songs although I am not sure that I loved it that much then. This song was written about a heroin-addicted couple living in what became infamous flats in Dublin but I’ve always found a message about personal discovery and empowerment in it. Back then, I think the opening lines spoke to me: And so she woke up/Woke up from where she was/Lying still/Said I gotta do something/About where we’re going. Now, when I listen to this song, I am always most struck by: You got to cry without weeping/Talk without speaking/Scream without raising your voice.
Somebody by Depeche Mode I remember thinking they got this one just right in terms of what I wanted from somebody.
Never Say Goodbye by Bon Jovi Well, of course, you follow Depeche Mode with Bon Jovi.
You and me and my old friends/ Hoping it would never end/ Say goodbye, never say goodbye/ Holdin’ on – we got to try/ Holdin’ on to never say goodbye
Naturally, The Pretty in Pink soundtrack had to make it on here if the St. Elmo’s Fire one did.
Again with the movie soundtracks (this one is from Say Anything). But I know so many lines in this song spoke to me then:
love I get so lost, sometimes/ days pass and this emptiness fills my heart/when I want to run away/ I drive off in my car/ but whichever way I go/ I come back to the place you are
all my instincts, they return/ and the grand facade, so soon will burn/ without a noise, without my pride/ I reach out from the inside
love, I don’t like to see so much pain/ so much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away/ I get so tired of working so hard for our survival
I spent one entire winter break in high school (while in Puerto Rico visiting family) playing the Indigo Girls self-titled tape over and over again on my walkman. It was the most perfect soundtrack for that time in my life. I couldn’t help but smile when I heard this song come on 20+ years later.
While I am certain that I chose this song for these lyrics:
During the time of which I speak it was hard to turn the other cheek/ To the blows of insecurity/ Feeding the cancer of my intellect the blood of love soon neglected/ Lay dying in the strength of its impurity/ Meanwhile our friends we thought were so together/ They’ve all gone and left each other in search of fairer weather/ And we sit here in our storm and drink a toast/ To the slim chance of love’s recovery.
It was these lyrics that stood out to me decades later:
There I am in younger days, star gazing,/ Painting picture perfect maps of how my life and love would be/ Not counting the unmarked paths of misdirection/ My compass, faith in love’s perfection/ I missed ten million miles of road I should have seen
Loved this album and totally expected to find Walk on the Ocean on here. Instead, I found this quiet, soul-searching song.
One part of me just wants to tell you everything/ One part just needs the quiet/ And if I’m lonely here, I’m lonely here/ And on the telephone/ You offer reassurance
I will not take these things for granted
How can I hold the part of me that only you can carry/ It needs a strength I haven’t found
Oh, this little gem of an REM song. Super simple, not well known, but deeply resonant. I think it was my transition song to the other side.
This world is big (this world is big)/ And so awake (and so awake)/ I stayed up late (I stayed up late)/ To hear your voice
This light is here (this light is here)/ To keep you warm (to keep you warm)/ This song is here (this song is here)/ To keep you strong
Side B: HOPE
This is where I started (on the tape) moving past heartbreak, I’d say. But to be true to the stages of grief, I had to go to anger first. So here we are:
Oh, you never learned the ‘Whens’ and ‘Wheres’ and ‘Whys’/ And I still believe that you were dying to be everything/ To everyone and for all time/ Ah, the golden boy did you stop trying?
Here’s a peek, I think, of what I thought I should do even though I wasn’t quite ready to do it yet.
Now I have loved you like a baby/ Like some lonesome child/ And I have loved you in a tame way/ And I have loved you wild
Sometimes there’s a part of me/ Has to turn from here and go/ Running like a child from these warm stars/ Down the Seven Bridges Road
So we cheated and we lied and we tested/ And we never failed to fail it was the easiest thing to do/ You will survive being bested/ Somebody fine will come along make me forget about loving you/ At the southern cross
This was all about giving me perspective about how much life was still ahead of me. Also, there can never be too much REM on a mix tape.
No explanation needed here.
While Fast Car really looked at the issue of poverty and that is why it had such resonance for me when I first heard it, in the case of this tape, I think I was connected to the idea of having a way to get out of a situation that wasn’t good.
You got a fast car/ I want a ticket to anywhere/ Maybe we make a deal/ Maybe together we can get somewhere/ Any place is better/ Starting from zero got nothing to lose/ Maybe we’ll make something/ Me myself I got nothing to prove
Hold on little girl/ Show me what he’s done to you/ Stand up little girl/ A broken heart can’t be that bad/ When it’s through, it’s through/ Fate will twist the both of you/
So come on baby come on over/ Let me be the one to show you
Why, yes, why don’t you (invisible future love) make yourself visible and do just that?
And then he does (at least in song)
Baby, here I am/ I’m the man on the scene/ I can give you what you want/ But you gotta come home with me/ I have got some good old lovin’/ And I got some more in store/ When I get to throwin’ it on you/ You gotta come back for more
“…the stillness still that doesn’t end, but slowly drifts into sleep. The stars are the greatest thing you’ve ever seen and they’re there for you, for you alone, you are the everything”
Oh, this song. It is probably in my top 2 of my all time favorite songs (Mystery by The Indigo Girls is my other all time favorite). It was like my personal theme back then, reminding me of the exquisite pain and beauty of life. Still so very true.
And then this will be what the new love is like, of course.
the closer I am to fine, indeed.
There’s no time to cry, happy, happy/ Put it in your heart where tomorrow shines
So, there we have it; a snapshot to brokenhearted pain and wholehearted hope in the early 1990s.
What would have made your teenage heartbreak and hope mix tape?