Friday, May 11, 2007

"Love is a Mix Tape" by Rob Sheffield

This post is long overdue, but as it's the weekend I thought I may as well write it up.

Catherine loves this book!

There are some books that grab you from the first glance, a startling opening sentence, paragraph or chapter. Books that from the moment you begin to read them, you know you are going to love. "Love is a Mix Tape" is one such book. From the opening paragraph, I was hooked.

"The playback: late night, Brooklyn, a pot of coffee, and a chair by the window. I'm listening to a mixtape from 1993. Nobody can hear it but me. The neighbors are asleep. The skater kids who sit on my front steps, drink beer and blast Polish hip-hop - they're gone for the night. The diner next door is closed, but the air is still full of borscht and kielbasa.

This is where I live now. A different town, a different apartment, a different year.

This mixtape is just another piece of useless junk that Renee left behind. A category that I guess tonight includes me."

The maudlin tone, the hint of doomed romance, the music and the New York setting; this book knows all the right buttons to press to make me fall in love with it, and fall I swiftly did, reading it in one sitting during the last midterm (told you this post was overdue).

Rob Sheffield is a music journo who has written for Rolling Stone and various other publications. He is the type of person who lives his life immersed in music, from his childhood playing Beatles records with his dad, to his adult life, in which he has made a living out of it. It has informed his decisions, his friends, his social status and his lovelife.

Rob met his soulmate, Renee, in a bar in Virginia. They bonded over their shared love of the band Big Star and got talking. In time, they fell deeply in love, moved in together and got married. He was a shy Irish-American nerd, she was a loud Southern girl with a flamboyant style of dress, but the love they had is something so sweet, so pure, so true that it breaks your heart as you read on, and discover that Renee died in 1997. With this memoir, Sheffield chronicles his life before, after and especially during his time with her, documenting each chapter of his life with a mix tape - selections of songs that he listened to that now conjure back memories, some harsh, some sad, some funny, some sweet.

Reading this book, I was listening to Sleater-Kinney. I remember it quite clearly, because I went over to my shelves to especially look for Dig Me Out. At one point in the book, the song "One More Hour" is written about, "the saddest Sleater Kinney song ever", in relation to Renee's funeral. I hadn't listened to the band in a long time, but this book helped me to rediscover them. There are numerous references to bands and singers throughout the memoir, some of whom I'd heard of, some who I already loved and some who I hadn't a clue about. As well as the story of one man's love for his wife, "Love is a Mix Tape" is a first hand account of the American indie scene in the early 90s. The growth of grunge, Pavement, the rise of Nirvana and Kurt's death; these are all touched upon, and it is a pleasure to read about the time period in such an approachable style.

Somewhat astonishingly, Sheffield never descends into sickening self-pity. Yes, his young wife died suddenly, but he manages to handle the sad chapters with good grace and bittersweet humour. Many places of the story had me crying, but there are laughs to be had and by the end of it I felt utterly satisfied. Throughout the course of it's short 220 pages, I became fast friends of Rob and Renee and the life they built around music.

Finally, my own personal "No real connection but they're all songs I'm digging on this Friday playlist"

1. Laura Nyro, "Time and Love"
2. The Bird and the Bee, "Fucking Boyfriend"
3. Regina Spektor, "Hotel Song"
4. Sleater Kinney, "Combat Rock"
5. Tori Amos, "Muhummad My Friend"
6. Rufus Wainwright, "Poses"
7. Fiona Apple, "Extraodinary Machine"
8. Girl Talk, "Bounce That"
9. Joanna Newsom, "Inflammatory Writ" (SHE'S ON JOOLS HOLLAND TONGHT!!!)
10. Justin Trousersnake, "What Goes Around"

Happy weekend, y'all.


Ann Marie said...

Sounds like a great book. Might give it a read sometime, I'm due a sad book. Though not for a bit, I've sworn myself off buying books till I get through the ones under my bed I still have to read, I blame college and amazon for the build up.
Speaking of which I got Regina Spektor's album 'Begin to Hope' special edition the other day thanks to the wonder of other people selling stuff cheaply on amazon. I've only listened to the main album so far but it's great, definately recommended.

Anonymous said...

Excellent review. I found it because I happened upon a photocopy of "rumblefish" (sans any other contextual clues), finished it in one sitting, and wanted to research where this moving dollop of nostalgia came from. Thanks.