Only days before the start of my senior year in high school, I moved quite suddenly, uprooting myself from my dad’s house in suburban Indianapolis to finish high school with my mom in upstate New York. Within a week, I had made the decision, packed my car, and shocked my friends and family.
My best friend in those days was a handsome, hilarious guy named Joe. For the past two years, we’d done virtually everything together. We slept at each other’s houses every weekend. Drove endless laps around our suburban streets. Stayed up half the night listening to music and prank calling classmates, talking about our hopes and dreams with a shared sense of vulnerability.
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When it finally came time to say goodbye, Joe gave me two presents. One of them I long ago forgot, but the other I remember distinctly because, nearly thirty years later, I still have it. It was a mixtape.
“To listen to on your drive to New York,” he said.
I turned the tape over and read the track names, seeing the bands and artists we loved (Van Morrison, The Beatles). The songs that we’d built inside jokes around (“I Think We’re Alone Now,” by Tiffany). The ones that had woven themselves into the fabric of our friendship (“Beast of Burden” by The Rolling Stones).
On the long drive to New York, I spun that mix over and over on the janky tape deck in my Hyundai Scoupe, wondering if I had made the right choice.
Five years later, shortly after I graduated from college, I developed a crush on a girl named Shannon who had glorious red brown hair and the greatest laugh in the history of the world. For our third date, I invited her to my apartment to cook her dinner. In addition to the spaghetti and meatballs I made, I wanted to do something to impress her. To show her that I was a guy worth paying attention to. So, of course, I made her a mixtape.
I labored on it for days, my CDs strewn around the living room like pulled weeds, constructing the perfect sequence of songs for her to listen to as she drove her plum-colored Camry around the Colorado high country. Some of the songs were ones I knew she already loved. Some were ones I hoped she someday would. I wrapped it up like a present and gave it to her as a symbol of all the things I felt but wasn’t yet ready to say. Looking back, it was probably obvious how I felt because a mixtape was never just about music. It was always about something far deeper. About friendship, memory, and love.
Shannon and I have been married for almost twenty years.
We made mixtapes for the joy of listening and musical discovery. It was the ultimate way to turn a friend onto music, our version of you might also like. But mixtapes were also snapshots that captured certain people in a certain place and time. And coming back to those mixes, to those songs in that order, was like looking through an album of memories. It was like time travel.
I like to think that the musical bonds and lifelong memories those mixtapes created among friends and lovers were somewhat unique to the mixtape generation.
And it’s the sort of bond around which I built my debut young adult novel, Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze.
The book takes place in 1995. And when my main character, a fifteen-year-old musical prodigy named Rainey Cobb is gifted a mixtape by Juliet, the girl she has a hopeless crush on, she cradles the tape like a sacred object. She looks at the song names, at Juliet’s writing on the glossy tape cover. She’s never been given a mixtape by anyone before, and she knows something important has just happened to her.
Rainey has spent her entire childhood on the road, being homeschooled and traveling the country with her famous musician parents, playing in the family band, which performs a blend of R&B, blues, and country. Juliet’s mix sucks her into another musical world. It’s packed with grunge classics like Nirvana’s “Lithium” and female voices speaking long-concealed truths, like Tori Amos’s “Silent All These Years.” Those songs, and the girl who chose them, unlock something inside Rainey’s secret heart, inspiring Rainey to re-think her vagabond, show-biz life and her very place in the world.
Her life will never be the same.
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throughout Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze, Rainey returns to the mix, listening to it over and over, its songs now as familiar as family. She listens to remember when she was the happiest she’d ever been. To grieve for her broken heart. To celebrate the woman she’s becoming while mourning the girl she no longer is. She listens to remember the purple lipstick and freesia-scented lotion worn by Juliet, the girl she can’t get off her mind.
She listens so she can feel everything all over again.
Mixtapes can do that.
Meet the author
BENJAMIN ROESCH is author of the debut YA novel, Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze. He has an MFA from Lesley University and is a writer, musician, teacher, podcaster, and award-winning essayist. For twelve glorious, exhausting years, he was a high school English teacher, and is now a full-time writer based in Burlington, VT, where he lives with his family. Oh, and his name is pronounced “Rush,” like the band from Canada.
About Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze
Fifteen-year-old Rainey Cobb never thought meeting someone could actually change her life. But, then again, she’s never met anyone like Juliet.
It’s 1995 and The Cobb Family Band, led by Rainey’s rock star parents, has arrived for a week-long gig at the Midwestern resort owned by Juliet’s family. Dazzled by Juliet’s carpe diem attitude, DIY tattoos, and passion for grunge, Rainey falls hard. And when Juliet gives Rainey a mixtape that unlocks her heart’s secret yearnings, Rainey starts seeing herself-and her vagabond, show-biz life-through new eyes.
If Rainey quits the band, her parents’ fading career might never recover. But if she doesn’t leap now, she might be stuck forever in a life she didn’t choose…and always wonder who she could have been.
Publisher: Story Perfect Inc.
Publication date: 07/22/2022
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years
Filed under: Guest Post