So many of our memories are linked to songs. The Beach Boys “Kokomo” reminds me of my family, Aerosmith reminds me of middle school, and I’m still furious at an ex-boyfriend, not because he broke up with me, but because he did it while playing the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nothin.’” In fact, many of the defining moments of our lives can be linked to a song. Rob Sheffield’s “Love is a Mix Tape” is about the unspoken ways that music can bring people together and the memories music helps us forge.
Sheffield was a “shy, skinny, Irish Catholic geek from Boston” when he first met his future wife Renee. Southern born and bred, “she was warm and loud and impulsive.” They had nothing in common except a love of music. Sheffield was one of those people who made a mix tape for every conceivable situation: The Party Tape; I Want You; We’re Doing It? Awesome, You Like Music, I Like Music, I Can Tell We’re Going To Be Friends; You Broke My Heart And Made Me Cry and Here Are Twenty or Thirty Songs About It; The Road Trip; and Good Songs From Bad Albums I Never Want To Play Again. Music and mix tapes are phenomenally important to him. “Every time I have a crush on a woman, I have the same fantasy: I imagine the two of us as a synth-pop duo.” He goes on to elaborate how she is in the front (“tossing her hair, a saucy little firecracker”), stealing the show and he is hidden in the back behind his Roland JP8000 keyboard, “lavishing all my computer blue love on her.”He even lists all the best band names he’s come up with for their synth-pop duo: Metropolitan Floors, Indulgence, Angela Dust etc. Love Is A Mix Tape is Sheffield talking about his two great loves, rock and roll music and his wife, Renee.
Rob and Renee were one of those couples that everyone knew and was jealous of. The couple that was still happily in love spoke their own language and had intense fights about who would be Hall and who would be Oates in their car sing-along’s. “Renee was my hero. Have you ever had a hero? Someone who says, I think it would be a good idea for you to steal a car and set it on fire then drive it off a cliff, and you say, Automatic or standard? That’s what Renee was. A lion-hearted take-charge southern gal. It didn’t take long for us to get all tangled up in each other’s hair.” The couple was so totally in love, even during the hard times. Which is why Renee’s sudden death from a pulmonary embolism destroys him. not only is his wife gone, but every single song that he loves just reminds him that Renee isn’t there to love it with him. The book is a remembrance of her, their time together in the 90’s, and their mutual love of rock and pop music.
Sheffield uses a great framing device to tell his story–each chapter begins with the song list of the mix tape he was listening to at the time, and he relates the associations he made between the songs and his life. This is ostensibly a book about mix tapes, and looking back at a life spent seeing the world in a series of 45-minute vignettes (then, of course, you flip the tape over). I would recommend this book. It’s hard to imagine anybody not loving this story except maybe the people for whom music is only a background noise. The people who have never made a mix tape (or mix CD or mix playlist, depending on your generation) might enjoy the book, but they wouldn’t get the impact music can play in our lives.