Love is a Mixtape
You know when you read something so wonderful it pulses through your veins like a cold shot of some thick, syrupy vaccine and your head is in a state of euphoria and the next thing you know is you're either doing happy dances in your head or sobbing like crazy? And the thing about it is you never want to share and that if it was the last thing in your existence, you would trade everything you have for that?
I swear I'm not talking about drugs.
Some books inspire, some books make you want to fight for girl power and some .. well, just make you high. If you ever know the feeling of a natural high, that is.
I first encountered Rob Sheffield's Love is a Mixtape somewhere, years ago, when I had been singing a different tune. I do not remember what it was that led me to feel passionately about it, whether it was a website or a magazine clipping or a random note but I did feel like my life would be a loss if I wasn't going to find the book from which this quote came from.
I thought, There is nowhere else in the universe I would rather be at this moment. I could count the places I would not rather be. I’ve always wanted to see New Zealand, but I’d rather be here. The majestic ruins of Machu Picchu? I’d rather be here. A hillside in Cuenca, Spain, sipping coffee and watching leaves fall? Not even close. There is nowhere else I could imagine wanting to be besides here in this car, with this girl, on this road, listening to this song. If she breaks my heart, no matter what hell she puts me through, I can say it was worth it, just because of right now. Out the window is a blur and all I can really hear is this girl’s hair flapping in the wind, and maybe if we drive fast enough the universe will lose track of us and forget to stick us somewhere else.
You know what they say about the things you can't have? It was a classic tale of a chase with this one, with me pining over it for more than 5 years like Iseult waited for Tristan. I've searched for every local bookstore, mainstream and hipster, regular price and on sale. I've searched through shelves of bookstores of countries I'd been to and that time, you see, Amazon, Johnny Air and the likes weren't as common and didn't ship to the boondocks of the Philippines.
A couple of years ago, none other than my mother was able to secure a copy and in the cold, gray skies of Toronto, I started reading and my life felt complete.
Rolling Stones writer Rob Sheffield's Love is a Mixtape was a chronicle, told in tapes, in songs, in detail about the love of his life, Renee Crist. At the get go, Rob reveals that Renee dies in the end --- and he powerfully narrates his fight to overcome the grief of the five years the two of them were together. He painfully reminisces each and every memory that came together with the songs, the lyrics. The book resonated to me like an old high school friend who dedicated songs to someone over the radio, as we 90s kids did. It reminded me of the times I would keep the radio on the entire night hoping my favorite Alanis songs were going to be played and I could catch it and hit the record button. I remember attributing Sergio Mendes songs to my crush in third year high school which I find silly now ha ha. I remember having a bunch of TDK casettes, the green Sony ones and blue 90 minuters which I would fill with
Spandau Ballet, The Cardigans, Dolores O'Riordan, Sinead O'Connor, The Googoo Dolls, Semisonic, Nirvana, The Doors and the like and shared it with friends.
Music critic Sheffield's touching and poignant memoir of love and death will strike a chord in anyone who has used a hand-selected set of songs to try to express something that can't be put into words. A socially awkward adolescent, Sheffield finds true love as a college student in the late '80s with Renée, a "hell-raising Appalachian punk-rock girl." They're brought together by their love of music, get married and spend eight years together before Renée suddenly dies of a pulmonary embolism. Sheffield's delivery is not that of the typical actor/ reader. We come to know Rob as this geeky, lanky guy, and his reading is characteristically a little bit uncoordinated, yet it is tender and heartfelt enough to win us over. Each chapter opens with a song list from a mix tape made at the time. Listeners may wish that, as with Nick Hornby's essay collection Songbook, there had been an audio component that would allow the music to take us back or would introduce us to new songs that helped Sheffield press on into an uncertain but hopeful future.
In the age of iPods and iTunes albums, creating someone a mixtape is as nostalgic and poignant as one piece of memory you're trying to hold on could ever be. It was all about what came first, and what ended last. It is when there's a gap between the fourth and fifth song that tells you the mixtape creator went to the loo for a bit. It was a means of communicating -- and for Sheffield, a way of showing his love.
She worried way too much what people thought of her, wore her heart on her sleeve, expected too much from people, and got hurt too easily. She kept other people’s secrets like a champ, but told her own too fast. She expected the world not to cheat her and was always surprised when it did.
Like Rob, by the end of the book, I caught myself falling for Renee, too. It was not hard at all --- after all, what woman won't you fall in love with after a memoir? Rob had his way with words and from hundreds of miles, I could feel his grief through the pages of what I thought was a whimsically-designed book. By the end, my heart was wrenched so much I wasn't sure I could re-read it in a short period of time as I did with most titles I owned. I wasn't even sure I could write about it, which come to think of it, I only did, two and a half years after.
Like a good tape, mixed or an album, it was a real journey. I found myself highlighting several passages, pausing to dab my eyes which were wet and swollen from crying, or pausing to laugh a full belly laugh. By the end, I felt like I knew both Rob and Renee and wished I'd meet Rob sometime in the future and give him a hug. Sometimes I'd pause to take notes of the songs in his tapes and listen to them while I continued to read. Sometimes I'd pause to make my own mixtape.
And then I'd hit play.