About a year ago I made mix-CD composed of songs about the moon. Almost all of them had the word “moon” featured prominently in the title or chorus. I’d also like to think that an underlying theme of celestial mystery ran throughout the CD (except, maybe, for the 4 minutes of “Rodeo Moon” by Toby Keith). I even downloaded a picture of the moon from someplace called (apparently devoted to colonization) and put it in on the cover along with the title “Tune River”. But a day after sending the CD, I was eating dinner when I realized I’d forgotten an essential song by neo-folkie Josh Ritter! Convinced I would never forgive myself, I smashed a plate and screamed, “I don’t care what you will say in an article a year from now Joel Stein, mixing CDs is my art and I will never give up!”

A year later, Joel Stein wrote an article for Entertainment Weekly declaring that custom mix CDs were just about “trying to look cool” and that even good mixes were “inherently evil”. He said he was fed up with all the custom mix CDs he was getting from friends for holidays. Respectfully, maybe it is Joel’s choice of friends he should be disgusted with, not with this new age of musical liberality. If his friends are, as he says, just “dragging MP3s from column A to column B”, then he certainly has a right to be sickened. I don’t know what software they’re using, but I sure as hell don’t use dragging or columns, much less the inferior-quality of MP3s. I’m guessing that if these friends of his were to make a moon CD, it would consist largely of Pink Floyd, REM, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

A great mix CD should introduce the listener to new music but with something slightly familiar mixed in. Just not “Bad Moon Rising” or “Man on the Moon” familiar. Let me say something about a CD I would make for Joel Stein, ignoring for the moment the homo-erotic subtext of such an activity. I would start him off with something he’s never heard before, something spry but cynical, just like Joel. I would sprinkle the middle with an odds-n-sods mix of indie-rock and almost-forgotten 70’s hits, plus just one traditional jazz song just to make him wonder. Then, I would finish him off with a rousing number by Alien Ant Farm, because I hear they really rock, and I want Joel’s last memory of my CD to be “My belief in mix CDs is restored and I’m sorry I… I can’t think anymore, I’m too busy rocking!”

It is true that the nature of music has changed. People used to associate the music on a record with the art on its jacket and the feel of the bean bag while they were hearing it. People used to associate the music on a CD, even, with the art in its booklet and all the trouble it took to peel off the little silver tab when trying to get it open for the first time. Now, it is likely many people would only associate “Missundaztood” by Pink with the “Gym Workout” playlist on their iPod. I say, embrace this new age of portability and ease, but educate yourself on the nuances of mish-mash, custom song collections before going crazy with the new found power.

Personally, I would love for someone to give me a mix CD for any holiday. Unless, of course, it’s all I get from that person, in which case, they can stuff their cheap present where the sun don’t shine, and I’m not talking about the dark side of the moon.