Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reading Rainbow: Love is a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

Over the past year or two, I have come to realize that I rather enjoy reading about the role that music plays in other people's lives. Maybe it started with Fargo Rock City. Maybe it predated that. Regardless, there is something comforting to me about reading about how important something as arguably unimportant can be in someone else's life as it adds an air of normalcy to my perception of my life that probably shouldn't be there.

But somehow reading someone whose own pop obsession rivals mine validates my perpetual preoccupation.

Rob Sheffield's account of music and the role it played in his life is compelling, funny, and even devastating. You see, while Love is a Mixtape is a chronicle of the musical experiences of a rock writer, it is at least as much a stirring elegy paying tribute to his wife, Renee, who died one afternoon in their Charlottesville apartment at the age of 31 from a pulmonary embolism.

And weirdly, this book works fantastically well, and I don't think that it is solely because it plays to my biggest fear* and my appreciation of music (fandom).

*Despite my gross self-centeredness, my biggest fear is actually losing The Special Lady Friend, not my own death (but trust me, that's way up there on the list). Death fucks me up anyway, but every time TSLF is abnormally incommunicado and unaccounted for my imagination works into horrific overdrive and I start to freak the fuck out. Maybe I'm a morbid person, but I'd be fucking shattered if anything happened to her.

Sheffield lovingly paints a picture of a vibrant, magnetic woman, one whose relationship with him was colored largely by shared musical interests. If ever he worried that Renee would be forgotten, this book assures that she won't. After endearing her to the reader, illuminating her quirks and injecting her joie de vivre into nearly every page, her death knocks you on your ass. His account of the aftermath is heartbreaking, and it seems clear that he'll never truly be over her.

Music was a backdrop for their life together, permeating nearly all of their experiences together. Their consumption of music of all types informed and enriched their lives. Their shared experiences are defined by their mutual love of music, and his memories of Renee are rehashed, rekindled, and recalled at the insertion of a mixtape into a tape deck.

It may sound weird, but somehow reading a book with each chapter of the author's life framed by a mixtape from the time period is insanely entertaining. The tragic sudden death of a young bride makes for a heart-string puller, and his recount of trying to pick up the pieces of a broken life afterward certainly resonated with me.

In short, it's a good music read that's not nearly as light as most similar works.

(If you read the book, you'll get why that trailer is there...)

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