11 Jun Mixed CDs, Napster and the 90s/00s
At one point I had a hefty, three-ring binder type thing with pages and pages of CDs. Remember those? My CD collection included hundreds of albums by musicians and bands of all genres and eras. And the back pages were full of silver CDs without official names or artists on them. Instead, I (or one of my friends) scrawled a suitable name for the mix of music that it held. In 2000, the movie adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, was released staring John Cusack as the heart broken, music lover Rob Gordon. One of the parts of that movie, ok, the only part of the movie that stuck with me was the finer points of making a compilation (mixed) tape, or in my case a mixed CD. As Rob says, “First of all you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel, this is a delicate thing.” In my teens and early 20s I exchanged dozens and dozens of mixed CDs with friends, with crushes, with boys I was attempting to seduce. My dad, when I was maybe 16 or 17, said that it seemed like I was afraid of silence. I almost always had a CD in my CD player or headphones on my ears. I would go through many Walkmen, Discmen, and a mini disc player. High on my list of favourite experiences was the ringing in my ears from too loud music.
In the spirit of the 90s, of mixed tapes and mixed CDS, I’m offering you an annotated mix of the key songs of the 90s and early 00s that would be the soundtrack for a biopic about my adolescence.
Track 1: “Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb
In Middle School, after head aches and squinting, I got glasses. Around that time I also had braces. I was taunted and teased for other things, but not my face of metal and four eyes. I never owned a Lisa Loeb album, but I did own, I think it was Now, which was a compilation CD that pulled together the hits of the year. Shortly after seeing it, I saw the music video on Much Music, and who do I see with this beautiful voice but a brunette, with big plastic rimmed glasses. I HAD PLASTIC RIMMED GLASSES.
Sidenote: Ethan Hawke, swoon-worthy 90s heart-throb, directed the music video for “Stay (I Missed You.)”
Track 2: “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman
This song was an anthem for my friend group, and if you were a child of the 90s, who drove around in your parent’s car looking for grocery stores and 7-11s that were open, you probably remember singing this song so loud through open windows into the swaying tree branches and blurring fast cars that passed by. All it takes is the opening chords of that song, and Tracy Chapman’s voice that is like honey and strong coffee, to pull me back to the passenger seat of my friend’s Honda.
Track 3: “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls
I soaked many a pillowcase with my tears to this song. Used my shirt sleaves as Kleenexes. The lyrics “When everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am,” spoke to the angsty misunderstood teen girl I was in ways that I don’t know if any other song did. I was 13 when “Iris” was released. I felt weird and uncomfortable in my body because a boy who had been in my class since kindergarten had pointed out that I was fat at a very young age, and that’s how I saw myself (still see myself). I sought out songs like “Iris” to make me feel less weird and angsty. I still do.
Track 4: “I Want It That Way” by The Backstreet Boys
I often wish I had a super cool band that I could name as the most formative band of my childhood. I actually wish I could name a band and not a boy band, or singing group, because that would make me “cool” because I still care about being “cool” sometimes. But I’m going to be honest with you, the “band” that meant the most to me, for the longest period of time. It’s not even that their music was particularly profound with insightful lyrics. It was more that The Backstreet Boys allowed me a place to channel on my lust and desire. My friend and I would watch Backstreet Boys music videos on YTV’s Hit List, on Much Music. We’d flip through the pages of magazines, and like how the Spice Girls offered an assortment of different “types” of women, The Backstreet Boys, in their own weird way, did the same thing, and gave us something that wasn’t the boys of our high school hallways to lust after.
Track 5: “Wonderwall” by Oasis
The first time I was drunk, legally, I went to a karaoke club in Calgary, Alberta with my cousin. I had fallen for a guy I met at a political conference/day camp for young Canadians in Ottawa. We spent hour sending emails and messages back and forth on MSN Messenger. His favourite song became our song, and that song was “Wonderwall,” and so that night, full of Smirnoff Ice, I sang it to a bar full of drunk adults. Off key and swaying back and forth, but not to the music.
Track 6: “Another Lonely Day” by Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
In my late teens and early 20s, the late 90s and early 00s, I prided myself on being a dirty hippy. I mean, I wasn’t that dirty because I took very long showers that pissed my dad off, shaved my legs, and wore perfume, but it wasn’t uncommon to find me barefoot at an outdoor music venue dancing to the songs pouring from the band, musician in front of me. Ben Harper is one of the musician’s I’ve seen most on concert. His music came to me at a time when I was looking for more, more than crushes that ended in heart ache, more than hangovers. Much of his music was politically minded, and I was a young political science student and blossoming activist.
Track 7: “Crash Into Me” by the Dave Matthews Band
Even though, in my late teens and early 20s, I was looking for a cause, much of the music that filled my first-generation iPod was there because a guy liked it. Music was a way of connecting with others and meeting new people. “What kind of music do you like?” I quickly adopted the music that the guys I liked or was dating listened to. Dave Matthews Band, who I eventually, actually, liked came into my life because of my first love. And that love lead to a long love of a band who I’ve had to defend for many, many years.
Track 8: “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt
Aside from Alanis Morissette, Jann Arden, the female musicians whose songs are listed above, and a few others, my music collection (along with many other parts of my life) was dominated by the voices of men. My grandma bought me a copy of Tragic Kingdom when I broke my leg during the great Victoria, BC, blizzard of 96. “Don’t Speak” is probably the best known song from that album, and is a love song turned break up song. Looking back on this song now, at 35 years old, I can’t help but think, “Shit, Gwen was talking about mansplaining, and the endless droning of men’s voices and needs,” at least that’s how I read these lyrics now. (“Don’t speak, I know just what you’re sayin’/So please stop explainin’/Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts).
Track 9: “Unpretty” by TLC
I had my first slow dance to this song. Yes, weird song to have a first slow dance to. For a while I thought I’d had my first slow dance to “No Scrubs”, which would have been even weirder. I knew it was TLC, but when I heard it, I suddenly remembered by hands around the back of Alex’s neck and the Grade 8 farewell, my bare feet padding on the floor because the high heels I was wearing had caused blisters to bloom all over my feet. I felt pretty looking up at Alex’s blue eyes and strawberry blond hair. I felt pretty after years of feeling unpretty.
Track 10: “You Oughta Know” Alanis Morissette
My 90s/early 00s playlist would have a huge gap in it if I didn’t include Alanis. Yes, I could have included “Ironic” because I remember singing this with a bus load of teens on a bus on the way from camp, but the song that has had the most staying power with me is “You Oughta Know.” Alanis gave (gives) me permission to be angry. While we talk about women’s anger now, it never felt like I could be angry as a teenager, even though I had many reasons to be (patriarchy is reason enough). “You Oughta Know” continues to be a favourite of mine, and warning, if you find yourself at Karaoke with me, I will sing this song making everyone uncomfortable (which I love).
Bonus track: “Hot Topic” by Le Tigre
This bonus track is the one I wish I could give to the younger version of myself. I think young Megan would like it because it’s upbeat and fun. I would hope that it would help young Megan explore the music of Riot Grrrl bands. The world was different before the Internet. Much of the music I found came to me through the radio, and while I would discover grunge, punk and alternative music in my late teens, I ingested a lot of pop music, which let’s be honest helped reinforce all the evils of capitalism, racism and misogyny. I wish someone had told me about Kathleen Hanna in the 90s when me and my friends needed a feminist hero. I found her, and many others, eventually.