Love is a Mix Tape

Love is a Mix Tape
Rob Sheffield
Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013

I like to think of myself as a modern woman -- cool, level-headed, doesn’t cry easily, likes Duran Duran, but not too much.

Leave it to Rolling Stone editor Rob Sheffield and his ruminations on Pat Benatar, Whitney Houston, Sleater-Kinney and Pavement to make me cry like a baby. It also wreaked havoc on my bank account as I went on an iTunes downloading spree. Hanson's "MMMBop," anyone?

In Love is a Mix Tape, written half a decade ago, Rob Sheffield chronicles his marriage to a punk rock, hell-raising Appalachian girl; a love affair that ended tragically when she suffered a pulmonary embolism with no warning at the age of 31. Sheffield writes about their relationship in the best way he knows how -- each chapter is prefaced with the tracklist from a mix tape that describes each phase, from their first meeting at a South Carolina bar (Big Star’s Radio City) to the painful process of grieving and becoming a young widow (Sleater-Kinney’s One More Hour).

It’s a device that you suspect might get tired after a few chapters, except it doesn’t, because Rob Sheffield is a music critic god -- a brainy guy with a pop culture sensibility that infuses each sentence of the book. On his sexual awakening at the junior high dance: "It was a painful night, but I got the message: Let the dancing girls dance. [...] By the second verse of 'Bad Girls,' it was obvious everything I knew was wrong. 'Toot toot, beep beep' was meaningful on a much deeper level than I could have fathomed." And so on.

As a fellow purveyor of pop culture, and someone who agrees that stories and songs are mostly meant to connect us to each other (and also to keep the girls dancing), I stand by Love is a Mix Tape as the perfect little summer book. Check it out, but make sure you’ve got your credit card handy. You might be downloading a lot of Debbie Harry and TLC over the weekend.

Rachel S.H.

Written by Rachel S.H.

Fun fact: I once swallowed a live fish for a team challenge.