It seems wrong to connect this memoir – which is so sincere, honest and lovely – to Valentine’s Day, which is little more than a marketing conspiracy put together by Hallmark, the neighborhood florist and Tiffany’s. But if you’re looking for a little romantic reading, and don’t mind a tragic ending, then pick up a copy of Love Is A Mix Tape, by Rob Sheffield. It’s the true story of his love affair with Renee, a charismatic Appalachian with a penchant for Pavement and REM. (Rob, on the other hand, was a “shy, skinny, Irish Catholic geek from Boston.”) They got married at the tender age of 25. Renee died of a pulmonary embolism a few years later.
The book is a heartbreaking account of grief, told through the prism of their shared mix tapes. Both Renee and Rob were obsessed with music, and lived their lives to an awfully fine soundtrack. As the memoir unfolds, the tapes become both a mechanism for healing – they provide Rob with an opportunity to remember their relationship – and a symbol of what Rob will always miss. The mix tapes remain, but the music will never sound the same.
Here’s a short excerpt:
Walter Benjamin, in his prescient 1923 essay “One Way Street,” said a book was an outdated means of communication between two boxes of index cards. One professor goes through books, looking for tasty bits he can copy onto index cards. Then he types his index cards up into a book, so other professors can go through it and copy tasty bits onto their own index cards. Benjamin’s joke was: why not just sell the index cards? I guess that’s why we make mix tapes. We music fans love our classic albums, our seamless masterpieces, our Blonde on Blondes and our Talking Books. But we love to pluck songs off those albums and mix them up with other songs, plunging them back into the rest of the manic slipstream of rock and roll. When you stick a song on a tape, you set it free.