I started reading some of essays that comprise Joshua Harmon’s The Annotated Mixtape years ago as they appeared in journals. The author and I went to college together in Vermont, so I have been following his writing career for years now. And last year he came out with The Annotated Mixtape and a short story collection, A History of Cold Seasons, from Dzanc Books.
Each essay explores the very nature
of obsession and collection.
The Annotated Mixtape conjures up that time when making a mixtape for someone was an hours-long arduous process of rewinding, re-listening, and queuing up tape decks with obsessive precision. The essays also capture the change in consumption from LP to cassette to CD and (for collectors) back to LP. Each essay explores the very nature of obsession and collection—why collectors enjoy the thrill of the hunt and the accumulation of the beloved items they seek.
In “The Records,” Harmon recounts the uneasy relationship he felt with his mailman in the year when his budget allowed almost weekly deliveries of albums. This essay gets to the heart of how we sometimes feel a sense of shame about our habits and our desire to accumulate.
In “Section 25: ‘Trident,'” Harmon explores how the nuclear threat served as the under-girding of a UK band’s song about the first Trident nuclear-powered submarine in the United States. The essay illustrates the geopolitics that gripped the world at the moment of the song’s release, providing a fascinating context for a little-known band’s evocative song.
In “Scud Mountain Boys: ‘Massachusetts,'” Harmon explores the complicated relationship he feels with his home state and how years away feel like exile. A song about the regions that feed our heart and mind can crystallize the “selective fiction” we create around the places that made us.
My personal favorite essay, though, is “U2: ‘Boy.'” Here is how it starts:
I once dated U2. We went steady throughout my junior high school years. Ours was a serious, committed, exclusive, long-term relationship. I felt smitten, heartstruck, crushed, lovesick, moony. Sure, I looked at other bands—who doesn’t?—but those other bands only confirmed for me how special u2 was. If I flirted, I never strayed. Not at first.
For anyone who remembers falling in love with a band, listening to their catalog endlessly while studying liner notes and interviews and any available media, this essay says it all. Harmon goes on to explore how such fierce attachment can dissipate. In his case, it was when another fellow classmate started dating U2 and when fame made them ubiquitous. Sometimes the world intervenes and makes our personal attachments less precious and less personal.
Whether you personally know or enjoy the music included in The Annotated Mixtape, any group interested in essays about art, collection, and the creation of personal identity will find Harmon’s reflections rich with themes for discussion. Also, this would be wonderful paired with Harmon’s new short story collection, A History of Cold Seasons.