By Sara Keegan
Welcome to the ’90s through the eyes of Rob Sheffield — a world bursting with new grunge music and new love. Sheffield, now an editor of Rolling Stone magazine, welcomes us to join him in his memoir Love is a Mix Tape.
Music is what brings Sheffield to Renee, who becomes his wife and best friend. Sheffield takes us with him on his journey through love: his initial attraction, his surrender — one he compares to Nirvana’s album In Utero — and later, his heartbreak as he loses Renee to a pulmonary embolism.
After her death, Sheffield discusses the effects of his grief and his long recovery. This part of the memoir is a painstakingly honest section, as Sheffield tries first to accept Renee’s death and then slowly learns to live without her. Sheffield paints a vivid picture of what it is like to lose someone you love and proves that it is possible to overcome even the worst situations with the help of good friends, good music and, surprisingly, a Jackie Kennedy documentary LP, which Sheffield explains in detail, finding a connection in being fellow widows/widowers.
His commentary on both love and music is done as an example of his exalted style, and it is an idealism that is easy to believe. Every mushy line about Renee is so pure that its cheesiness is acceptable. It is the same kind of tone he uses to discuss his favorite songs and bands. Parallel to Sheffield’s relationship with Renee is the rise and fall of Pavement, a favorite band of the couple. Pavement breaks up a few years after Renee’s death, when Sheffield finally figures out how to deal with her absence.
As the title suggests, each chapter begins with a track listing of some of the many mix tapes Sheffield makes throughout this period of his life. He explains the meaning behind each tape and how he chose which songs to put on them. It is truly a flashback to the ’90s, before the world of Napster and CD burning.
Sheffield brings a sense of romance to the idea of mix tapes, indicating something has been lost in the transition to CDs. Mix tapes are more personal; they take more time to make and require more work. All of his memories are deeply connected with the songs on these mix tapes, and he often names the songs on his tapes and explains them in the context of his life. One tape is strictly for when Renee sews her own clothes, while others are for certain car rides Sheffield takes.
The memoir is filled to the brim with musical references, making it entertaining for the Rolling Stone fan base. However, Sheffield brings a feeling of excitement to the music he discusses, making the ’90s musical experience available to anyone who reads it.
Beyond the music, though, is Sheffield’s undeniable ability to make you feel. His passion for both music and Renee hits a nerve simply because he cares so deeply about both things. Sheffield just might have brought back the mix tape, not to mention a general love for the songs that are found on them.