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TUPPER: Love me? Make me a mix tape

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Nothing says love like a mix tape.

If you grew up during the 1980s, you know what I mean. Selecting just the right songs from a stack of records or CDs, laboriously transferring them one-by-one to a cassette tape and presenting that tape to a loved one was like composing someone a personal symphony -- a low-technology, pop-music opus.

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My wife made a mix tape for me years ago, and until Sunday, I hadn't thought about it for a long while. Time has of course marched on since then. We got married, had two kids and, well, chaos ensued.

Meanwhile, the world got modern. Cassette tapes, already outdated when my wife made that tape for me, were replaced by compact discs. CDs were replaced by whatever those digital copies of songs are called that people now carry around on every device imaginable.

Like most technological advances, new methods of playing and transferring music have made us more efficient. To give the gift of music these days, you no longer have to place a tape recorder next to a record player and wait patiently for all the music to be recorded while you keep all outside noises at bay. Instead, you just browse, click and download.

But I'm still emotionally attached to those old mix tapes, like a corded remote to a VCR. I suppose it's more about what they mean than what they sound like. When a 1980s couple fell in love, or when a 1979-born couple got together in 2000 and the male half of the couple drove an old Buick LeSabre with a tape deck, there were few better ways than a mix tape to express the love they felt. Going through all that work to select and individually record 10 or 15 songs -- or maybe even 20 if you splurged on an extra-long tape with up to 70 minutes of recording time -- sent a clear message about the level of your love and commitment. Even if the mix tape was for yourself, the process of making it connected you to the music and the artists in a way that today's instantaneous, dollar-a-song music downloads can't possibly match.

Anyway, that old mix tape from my past came back into my life Sunday, thanks to a rummage sale my wife hosted Saturday with a couple of her friends. After all the friends' leftover merchandise was carried away from our garage, driveway and lawn, we found ourselves in possession of a stray radio/cassette player that hadn't previously belonged to us.

Because Sunday was Father's Day and I felt it was my right, at least for a day, to subject my family to my musical tastes, I dug out my old cassettes. Right there at the top of the box was the mix tape that my wife, back then my girlfriend, made for me one summer when I was working through college as a door-to-door salesman.

She knew how hard I was working that summer, how many rejections I was suffering and how much I wanted to succeed. At the beginning of the tape, she recorded a loving and inspirational message in her own voice.

Next came the unmistakable click and shuffle of a tape being paused and restarted, and then the opening strains of ...

"Funky Cold Medina," the 1989 hip-hop classic by Tone Loc.

Not what you were expecting? That was another great thing about mix tapes. They could be surprising, and the song choices others made for you could make you smile, laugh or even cry.

I'm sad that my kids will never know the joy of making or receiving a mix tape. I know they might exchange digital music with their loved ones, but it won't be the same.

Maybe someday they'll dig out that old tape their mom gave me, and if they can still find something to play it, they might even feel some of the love that went into making it.

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Seth Tupper
Seth Tupper grew up in Wessington Springs and Kimball and earned a journalism degree from South Dakota State University. He has worked for The Daily Republic in various capacities since 2003, including region reporter, city hall reporter, assistant editor and editor. He was promoted to publisher in March 2014.
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