Love is a Mix Tape (Life and Loss, One Song at a Time), by Rob Sheffield, is not a particularly happy book. But I knew that going in, since I think anyone who knows anything about the book or about Mr. Sheffield knows a little about the focal point of the underlying story — Rob’s wife dies suddenly and unexpectedly.
But it’s a pretty great book. As a successful writer and editor for Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield knows how to talk to the kids, including yours truly. He’s got an easy-to-read writing style, and has a knack for dropping in hot button words and references frequently enough to keep you interested. While this book is not particularly long (219 pages), I still marvel at how quickly I read it, given my history of turning even small books into marathons.
The way Sheffield sets up the book, each chapter starts with the track listing for a specific mix tape that he or someone he knew put together, and which somehow ties in to the events that occur in that chapter. And unlike some other great books that include references to specific bands and songs (e.g., King Dork), I felt that the point of these track listings and the narratives that went with them was not so much about the specific songs, but about the ideas behind them. The idea of creating actual mix tapes in the 1980′s and 1990′s (as opposed to burning CD’s); this endeavor was truly a labor of love, and it shows in the painstaking way that the tapes were put together.
I don’t have a lot of history or knowledge of a lot of the songs on the featured mix tapes, but that doesn’t matter — it’s the thought that counts. And this book takes me back to a lot of important times in my life, when there was a particular song or artist, or even a mix tape, that was absolutely critical to me at the time.
The book chronicles Sheffield’s life as a music geek and student, and takes you through his relationship with his late wife and his attempt to cope with loss after her passing. It’s beautifully done and represents triumph over tragedy and the way music can aid you through difficult times. And I’d be shocked if most of you BGBers wouldn’t finish this in one sitting.
P.S. — Props to Mr. Sheffield for including some bands that I love but that I don’t think ever got the recognition they deserved (Sloan, Bettie Serveert, Lois, Unrest, Shonen Knife, Love Child, Fuzzy, the Wedding Present, Soul Coughing, and even Teenage Fanclub, who probably should have been the biggest band in the world).