Friday, February 09, 2007

Love Is A Mix-Tape, or Applying Canons of Statutory Interpretation to Music

I love making mix tapes. Even though they are actually CDs, I still call them mix-tapes. I make all sorts of tapes. Lately, with "new" friends, there has been the Belle in a Nutshell CD, or 80 minutes of my favorite rock and indie songs, for ill or worse with the caveat "judge not lest ye be judged." I have to segregate by genre, because my favorite R&B, hip hop, jazz, and country songs would not fit on an 80 minute disc with all my favorite rock and indie songs. Plus, I'm all about logical coherence and flow, and all my choices are moral choices. Never again shall Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra be on the same album I view this not unlike those anti-holocaust, anti-apartheid buttons I wore in college (kind of before my time, but the Center for Women and Gender Education that I volunteered at had some outdated buttons, I swear, there was probably a Vote for Geraldine button in there somewhere): Never Again. Therefore, they each get their own disc,

I reserve the right to revise Belle in a Nutshell or the country-western version, entitled " 'Cause I Missed You Somethin' Fierce" at any time. I haven't gotten around to making my "Babymakin' Slow Jamz To Shake You Down All Night Long" old school R&B mix yet (mainly out of modesty and embarassment) or the "H to the Izzo, Hypnotize Me Run DMC" hip hop mix (can't figure out how to work in a Tupac or Wu Tang lyric in that title without messing the flow). I have made "Dude, Your Grandmother Died, What's Up With That?" consolation CDs, "So You Want to Be a Hipster" guides, and "I'll Be The Captain to Your Tenille" cheer up care package CDs, I have made "The Hell With Love" breakup CDs. I have made a lot of mix tapes for my friends.

Not to say I haven't made ones for boyfriends or guys I secretly like but for now due to any number of circumstances (timing, distance, one-sided "obligations", the stuff of so many Ryan Adams songs) I can obfuscate under the cover of "just friends." It's all in the intent, not in the song choice. Go ahead, try to find a song that does NOT have "love" in the lyrics, reference or concern love, or obliquely refer to the abstract concept of love or the loss of love thematically (what other kind of lonely is there, besides lonely in love?). A CD without songs about love will probably be a CD filled with, I dunno, death metal by bands like Rammstein (and even then, isn't Du Hast Me sort of about love that ended?). So it's not about the song choice, except in an indirect way, think of it as trying to divine legislative intent rather than taking a textual approach. It's a good method actually, to apply canons of statutory interpretation to a mix tape. First start off with the textual approach (oooh, "Crazy Love" by Van Morrison). But do that contextually (oh, damn, "The River", or "Martha") and you'll see how one statute/CD will have conflicting and contradictory messages. Then, go off to figure out the institutional intent, that Holy Trinity long-pass throw--what could I possibly mean by "This Year's Love" by David Gray other than something akin to Sophie B. Hawkin's "Damn, Wish I Was Your Lover"? But even if you try to parse out the words or the intent of the person, you have the last resort of thinking more broadly and contextually--the whole Hart and Sacks purposive approach, or natural law superceding legal values approach. Whatever the song titles and lyrics say or the only meaning behind one song could be, you have to think of the CD in its entirety and it's the general purpose it is trying to effect. It is highly unlikely that I gave a CD to my best girl friend or Dynamic Law Prof with any other intent than "this is too cool for school, hope you like it, thumbs up!"

But if it could possibly be ambiguous with respect to yourself, then go ahead, apply the canons and resolve the ambiguities, how it should be applied to your particular case, and whether the language would support one construction or another and what my general intent and purpose had to be. Try to figure out why I chose this particular song by Elvis Costello over that one, or how a CD that includes angsty protest rock and folksy declarations of love and wistful rock ballads bemoaning the loss of love can make sense and what the heck do I mean? I choose songs carefully but appear haphazard, with a few directed hits---as if it really mattered which Van Morrison song you chose, because they're all about love in a way. And you can't not make mix tapes, and if you do you should never stop. It is my favorite way to cheer up friends, introduce myself to new ones. It is definitely my favorite way to be courted and to shyly declare my own feelings (the other being to tell my love while half asleep/in the dark hours/with half-words whispered low/despite the snow, despite the falling snow). True, there is the risk of aesthetic judgment. But love is blind. Or rather, deaf.

I'm not saying that the canons of statutory interpretation will lead you right in every case. It's hard to figure out these things. Legislative intent is hard to figure out, even with the Congressional records. And it changes all the time, per year and legislature. And how do we figure out what the legislature of 1964 really intended anyway, and does that even matter? We can presume, like Hart and Sacks, that legislatures are composed of rational beings seeking and fulfilling rational ends, and so there must be some point to the CD. So next time you get a CD from a person with whom you have an ambiguous relationship, try to figure out the intent (if you are unambiguous I pretty much declare my institutional intent like "songs to cheer you up" or "dude, update your IPod, we're not in the '90s anymore"). That said, intent can shift. And that's lovely.

Intent is a moving target, hard to pin down. It's damn near impossible to parse it, it's some kind of heuristic, and hardly anyone can figure it out. Except for my girl friends, or married friends or those men to whom I've explicitly declared a state of "just friendship" with out loud and uninebriated (awkward, but useful, like Roberts Rules of Order), it is difficult to divine the intentions behind a seemingly random collection of songs mix tape. And that's the beauty, the ambiguity. What starts as a friendly gesture can lead to much more, when both of you agree that damn, The Shins ROCK, and how empty was life before we grew mature enough to appreciate Neil Young? The ambiguity is great. There can only be one reason to write a poem for an unmarried person of the opposite sex (if you are heterosexual that is), but so, so many reasons to make a mix tape, and for a while, at the beginning (or maybe, for all of time), neither of you really knows. I often don't know myself why I make mix CDs, until I reach the declaratory judgment phase granting or denying relief for the pangs of the heart. So there's always a flush of excitement about making a mix tape for someone for whom I feel something, but it is something undefined and undeclared but is on the cusp of announcement. It's the greatest feeling in the world, next to actually being in love.

There are a lot of reasons for making mix tapes. love happens to be the best reason, unless your major relationship was in the late 1990s to early 2000s, in which case you suffered from the confluence of bad, bad contemporary music and youthful bad taste such that you included something as maudlin as Edwin McCain's "I'll Be" and jam banded your way into Dave Matthew's "Crash." And if you were unlucky enough to have an Awesome Part of the Country to Random Part of the Country long-distance relationship, you actually included Hootie and the Blowfish's "I Will Wait for You" off their totally not popular second or third album, you can't even remember, and the oldie throwback was Golden Earring's "Radar Love." And there are so, so many better long distance love songs (like the Mills Brothers' "Till Then", and for the return, Etta James' "At Last").

If you are in love, you don't include Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake, however good they are. But once that stupid relationship ended around the time you discovered David Gray, you start listening to so much Elliot Smith you think he's talking to you when he sings "do you miss me, Miss Misery", and you realize the genius that is Tom Waits' "Martha" and curse George Jones for singing"He Stopped Loving Her Today."

I'm in the process of making a few different mix tapes right now. Random themed "thumbs up!"ones (something to the tune of "Ambulatory Songs for Amblin' Folk"), random enough to have no disernible intent except for maybe one or two songs. But in my head, when it is the right time, I'm thinking up a list of songs that in their totality are not ambiguous and have no other possible interpretation, no matter what canon of construction you apply, other than "I Want To Be Your Yoko Ono."

Rock on.

Picture: Book that you must buy, Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield.