Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Love and Mix Tapes

While browsing the audiobook shelves at my public library, I found this book in the Biography section: love is a mix tape: life and loss, one song at a time by Rob Sheffield.

The back of the case said:
It was... when a shy music geek named Rob Sheffield met a hell-raising Appalachian punk-rock girl named Renee, who was way too cool for him but fell in love with him anyway.  They had nothing in common except that they both loved music... And it was music that would help Rob through a sudden, unfathomable loss.

In [the book]... Rob uses the songs on fifteen mix tapes to tell the story of his brief time with Renee...This is Rob's tribute to music, to the decade that shaped him, but most of all to one unforgettable woman.  
Well, I had to check that out!  As someone who's a huge fan of the movie High Fidelity, I just naturally assumed that Rob and Renee had broken up.  (Rob even has the same name of John Cusack character in the movie.)

Rob from High Fidelity, not Rob from Love is a Mix Tape

So it came as quite a shock to me when, as I listened to the end of the introduction, Rob reveals that Renee died suddenly at age 31. She didn't dump him, she died on him.  Wow, I didn't see THAT coming. It was like a twist beginning.

The book took on a whole new meaning after that.  It wasn't High Fidelity, but Love Story, told from the point of view of a couple of hip music geeks who spend all their time listening to music, going to concerts, talking about music, and falling in love to music.  I thought I knew a lot about pop music, but I had to admit that only about one out of every ten songs Rob lists from his mix tapes were songs I knew.  And only about 50% of the musicians/bands were ones I'd heard of.  


It's funny that I ran into this book, because I was just talking to friends recently about the culture of mix tapes.  This is a culture I know well, since I grew up making mixes for friends, myself, and girls I was into.  I don't know what the kids do these days when they want to share songs.  Do they make ipod playlists?  Over the past 10 years I've moved on to making mix CDs.  I remember when I first heard the soundtrack to Avenue Q, in the mid-2000's, I thought that the story must be somewhat dated, since they have a song called "Mix Tape." That's sooooo 1990, I thought. 

Nevertheless, it's a great song that I now like to include on CD mixes.  As Sheffield points out, the technology might have changed, and even improved, but there's something special about a mix tape.   


There was also something special about Renee.  In a hundred different ways Rob writes about how special she was, how & why he loved her.  He tells the story of how they met, fell in love, got married.

According to the intarwebz, this is the happy couple.
When she literally dropped dead from a pulmonary embolism, she wasn't even sick. They'd only been married five years.  The ensuing account of Rob's shock, grief, and depression is heartbreaking. As he writes, "After Renee died, I assumed the rest of my life would be just a consolation prize."  It feels that way in the book, too, as he describes day after day of drudgery and pain.  He writes about being a young "widow" and what a strange role that was for him.  

It made me think about my divorce, and what a vastly different experience it must be to lose your spouse to death.  Sheffield addresses this in his book after people try to console him that at least Renee didn't choose to leave him: “Love dies in many different ways, and it's natural for the grass to seem greener on the other side. But it's not a competition; there's plenty of pain to go around.”

The book ends on a happier note, though, as Rob has learned to move on.  There is a quote about the fact that always looking back was preventing him from moving forward.  Or something more profound than that.  I don't have the book anymore so I can't look it up.  I did, however, find a whole webpage of great quotes from the book here:  http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/45332-love-is-a-mix-tape-life-and-loss-one-song-at-a-time

It was there that I re-read this gem from the book, about how there are certain songs he can no longer listen to:
“Sometimes great tunes happen to bad times, and when the bad time is over, not all the tunes get to move on with you."

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