Letterbox #3: Mixtapes for monks

I am still on hiatus. This is an addition to my ongoing “Letterbox” posts, which rerun pieces that I wrote in comments sections and forums elsewhere, that I think would serve well here. These pieces are edited silently to correct typos and factual errors.

This short memoir/letter was written today, in response to a great Pretty Fakes post.

Back in 1996, when I worked as a cashier at Whole Food Market, I made a mixtape—a real one, not some cold CD-ROM or an mp3 set—for a girl who worked there named Shea-Lyn Stephens. I was desperately in love with this girl and her fairy-tale blond ringlets of hair and her penchants for wearing overalls and striped shirts but still being sexy as hell. Anyway, the mixtape was called “Music of the Shea-Lyn Monks,” with a photo of Buddhist monks on the cover, and for obvious reasons I had the self-awareness/cowardice never to give it to her. So, it ended up in my car and, because it was the greatest set of 28 songs (45 minutes a side) I would ever compile, I played the ever-loving shit out of that tape. It stayed in the glove compartment for 3 Texas summers, and the casing eventually warped. The tape itself got so frayed that the reel would switch from A-side to B-side in the middle of a song, and music got crackled and fuzzy near the beginnings of songs, where I rewound constantly to restart or at particularly great points—a terrific bridge during Old 97’s “Timebomb,” the drum breakdown of Paul Simon’s “The Obvious Child,” DJ Towa Towa’s breakbeat/scratching at the end of Deee-Lite’s “When You Told Me You Loved Me (Did You Mean It)?” Some time in 1999 or 2000, once I’d graduated from college and no longer worked at Whole Foods, I ran into Shea-Lyn at Borders and had my heart go pitty-pat all over again. I stammered something like hey, Shea-Lyn, how’s it been? Her exact words: “Oh gosh, I remember you! You worked at Whole Foods, right? Your name’s Michael, right?”

Soon after that, I lost the tape, either because I threw it away or my tape player finally ate it for lunch.

Last weekend, I spent a half-drunken afternoon on my screened-in porch trying to remember the exact sequence of that damn tape. I remember that each side started with a sound cue from a Luscious Jackson record, that the 2nd song on the A-side was R.E.M.’s “Second Guessing,” that I transitioned from a Tribe Called Quest song (can’t remember the name) to “Peter Gunn Mambo,” and that this somehow worked. I’m halfway there, and I’m gonna get it all back, every last tune and memory.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation, RogerEbert.com, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
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