It was a chilly evening in 2006. My eighth-grade boyfriend and I were trading Christmas gifts in our local park by moonlight. We were shivering but dealing, because when you’re 13 and in search of privacy, loitering is your only option—winter be damned. We also had limited funds at this age, so he gave me the most thoughtful, personal gift he could afford: a mix CD.
Both of us being music nerds, I was elated. I felt totally charmed by the handwritten tracklist (I was sure I’d cherish it forever, but once the flimsy case cracked, I transferred the disc to my Edward Scissorhands CD case, sans tracklist). It was in this instant that I vowed to give mix CDs to anyone I cared about for any occasion, or none at all. I also swooned over the tracks themselves—which I can tell you number by number, since I’ve kept the CD and my boombox in mint condition all these years.
He started off strong with our first kiss song, “Dani California.” A rerun of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ second SNL performance was playing on his aunt’s TV when I made the move. Next up was “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight,” a tune from This Is Spinal Tap, which we watched on one of our first dates. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” took spot four (could he be any more obsessed with me?), alongside other ’80s gems like “Let’s Go” by The Cars and “Surrender” by Cheap Trick.
The ’70s tracks—“Barracuda” by Heart, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” by The Rolling Stones and “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac—seemed to say I know you so well, while his turbulent ’90s picks—“Got Me Wrong” by Alice in Chains, “Pepper” by Butthole Surfers, “Learn to Fly” by the Foo Fighters and two covers by Reel Big Fish—said I want you to know me too. As for his early aughts contributions, he included one of my most beloved Audioslave songs, two Queens of the Stone Age tracks (one of his favorite bands at the time) and “Smiley Faces” by Gnarls Barkley—nary a boy band or pop princess in sight.