Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time (2007)

Back in the '90s I published a zine devoted to the various arts and sciences of mix tapes; it went by the somewhat unseemly name of "Tapeworm." I also had a good deal of interest then in writing personal essays, which I occasionally practiced in that zine and various others percolating along at the time (notably Frank Kogan's "Why Music Sucks"). I had the great good fortune to attract Rob Sheffield to contribute to "Tapeworm," which is neither here nor there, maybe more like an exercise of name-dropping and beside the point. The point is that, with this memoir, Sheffield has taken both those strains and virtually run circles around anyone else who has ever tried or even contemplated it. That's partly because he has such a sad and harrowing story to tell—in 1997 his wife of less than 10 years, Renee Crist, died suddenly at home with him from a pulmonary embolism—and partly because he's such a damn good writer, charming and witty and warm and knowledgeable. Crist was not just his partner in life and marriage, she was also an able music journalist in her own right (I was working on her to contribute to my zine back then too). They lived close to the bone in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the wages of the work and all their money went to sensible things such as music, shows, and clothes. Naturally they were consummate mix tape artists too. Sheffield opens up a box of his old mix tapes here, many made for Crist or with her in mind, a few with her direct input, others that preceded or followed her, and he listens and he remembers. There are 22 chapters, each featuring a tape, out of which Sheffield builds the story of a romance, a relationship, and a tragedy, weaving all through his encyclopedic knowledge of pop music and his good taste and his even better nature. It's hard to read in places—anyone who has ever lost anyone can expect to find Sheffield probing painful places one way or another. But it's amazingly light-hearted too, even as it never shrinks from anything. In the end, Sheffield does a good deal toward making something substantial out of what too often seems among the most inconsequential and silly career choices imaginable: the rock critic. He makes something substantial out of it, and brings the dignity too. This is a very nice book.

In case it's not at the library.

1 comment:

  1. Damn, I have read Rob for years but somehow this book and story escaped me. thanks for sharing