By Garrett Zecker
You know the old joke: “What happens in a room of new MFAs and their mentors after graduation?”
Punchline: “an effective milieu of exteriority...set to music.”
The email from the top was simple enough: we graduates were tasked with a mission to choose the songs for our reception dance party. Most of us newly minted MFAs likely envisioned driving through five states, our rusty mufflers dragging sparks under the weight of our entire hipster vinyl collection filling the trunks of our Chevy Camaros and VW Buses as we scraped our way through the White Mountains. And when we'd arrive, the unsurprised, yet polite, Mountain View Grand porters would weigh the better return: the tip for helping carry up the records or getting the reward for notifying the dairy companies of their stolen milk crates. It was clear to me, however, that we now live in the twenty-first century. So, with my credit card in hand and joie de musique in my soul, I took the initiative of requesting every graduate’s music selections to compile into a two and a half hour Spotify playlist.
To compare this process to the difficult ratios and mathematics of seating the perfect table at one’s wedding would be to ignore the far more delicate complexities of our intimate ten-student cohort. In short: it was so much harder.
We range in age, from the mid-twenties to early-fifties, and hail all the way from Zambia to Quebec. We come from Utah. From Florida. From Texas and Montana. From Massachusetts and Vermont and Ohio and New Hampshire.
Weeks before graduation, the emails came flooding in. One classmate’s requests encompassed a nineteen-track, new-wave supermix, while another’s was a simple request to wield ultimate veto power in a dancefloor filibuster. I examined each message, listened to each song I’ve never heard. Country, hip hop, showtune remixes, sixties folk, classics. Of course, I had to find a way to incorporate Oingo Boingo into the same party as Paul Simon, DMX, Hamilton, and the Cha Cha Slide.
But I wielded a secret power. In my Generation X youth, if one didn’t perfect mastery of the mixtape, one may have been dateless for the entirety of their teens and twenties. Friendless. Destined to die alone. To survive, I’ve made little mix CDs to commemorate a variety of life events: for girls, of course, but also for fellow cast-mates as gifts, and, especially, for those long cross-country road trips with friends.
Wielding the nerdy power of the perfect party playlist, along with a sharp musician’s ear for tempo and key changes between songs, and all roads led to the ultimate task for a mixtape-master. Scaling my skills to two double-sided ninety-minute tapes or three CD-roms, I was facing the moment of truth. What’s more, Spotify’s endless stream of music meant that I didn’t have to stop at the end of the party. We could dance until the sun came up. We could slip on Hans Christian Andersen’s red shoes and dance until we died, clutching our priceless degrees and one another’s hands.
The resulting list was beautiful revelry. In the dark June night, we danced and drank wine. Then we danced some more. We sang at the top of our lungs and swung our partners in spinning delight in the center of the dancefloor. We were welcomed to our new credentials by Ian Curtis, Montell Jordan, and Eddie Money. Our hips swayed to Bowie, Bruno, Busta, and the B-52’s. We wobbled, skanked, cha cha’d, and shook our tailfeathers. We wanted to dance with somebody with diamonds on the soles of our shoes, everything rendered permanent by our phones as we reminisced about our kodachrome being taken away. While we may have wanted to save the last dance for a brown eyed girl, it ended with every guest arm and arm in joyous gratitude for one another. We blessed the rains down in Africa with our voices. The Piano Man brought us home in unison.
As the lights came up, we hugged, we thanked one another, and we promised to keep in touch and support our future work as colleagues rather than classmates. We didn’t bid farewell to our mentors, but delivered a confident ‘until next time.’
The party is over. The mixtape is dead. Long live the party, and long live the mixtape. From here, it never ends.
Garrett Zecker is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. You can follow him at http://www.garrettzecker.com.