Mixtape Nostalgia by Jehnie Burns

I have so many mixtape memories from high school and college that I decided to write a book about mixtapes. In it I get to share other peoples’ stories. For Mixtape Museum I wanted to share a story I haven’t told elsewhere:

When I was a Junior in college I got the opportunity to study in Paris for the year. It was the year Friends and ER debuted, leaving me far outside of the pop culture loop. This was before the internet and I only had space for what I could carry on the plane with me. My giant duffle was stuffed with everything I could possibly need, including three mixtapes gifted to me by my older, cooler brother. When I got to Paris there was a lottery of items left by students from the year before and I was the lucky solo individual who won a tiny French boombox to grace my dorm room.

For the entire year I rotated between those three cassettes from my brother, three mixtapes I had made myself, and French radio which was peppered with a lot of Beatles. My room became a popular spot to hang out because I had one of the only radios with speakers (most of us brought Walkmans). At the end of the year, I returned home with two additional cassette tapes of mixes I had recorded off the French radio, complete with covers I made out of Time Out Paris clippings. On the tapes from my brother, he had included music that he knew but that was new to me. I had been living in New Orleans and learning about Zydeco and the Blues and hanging out with southern friends, steeped in country roots, so college radio wasn’t really on my radar. I listened to those tapes on repeat for nine solid months. I knew the songs in order and loved what I heard.

But I didn’t read his handwritten track listing every time I listened to the tapes so I rarely associated a song with an artist or an album. I only knew they were great. When I returned to the States I began hearing the music my brother had gifted me on those mixtapes. There were three songs in particular I really liked. But I had no idea which song was by which artist. It took me way too many years to be able to distinguish the music that I was hearing. And for a long time I was teased mercilessly because I couldn’t tell the difference between the Dave Matthew’s Band, The Blues Travelers, or Hootie and the Blowfish. I’ll blame my brother’s tapes.


Jehnie Burns, Ph.D., is an associate professor of history and Cultural Studies at Point Park University. Burns did her undergraduate work at Tulane University and spent a year in Paris at the Université de Paris IV. She completed her master’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in Modern European History with a focus on 20th century France. She teaches European history and women and gender studies. Most of her academic publications focus on University students in France in the 1920s and 30s. Mixtape Nostalgia, which started as a fun side project, is her first book.

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