”I believe that when you’re making a mix, you’re making history. You ransack the vaults, you haul off all the junk you can carry, and you rewire all your ill-gotten loot into something new. You go through an artist’s entire career, zero in on that one moment that makes you want to jump and dance and smoke bats and bite the heads off drugs. And then you play that one moment over and over. A mix tape steals these moments from all over the musical cosmos, and splices them into a whole new groove.” (Rob Sheffield, Love is a Mix Tape, 23)
We’re all friends here, right? Let’s start by being honest: I really wanted to like Love is a Mix Tape, but the first few pages kinda turned me off. Rob Sheffield threw me into the deep end with references to songs and bands he’d loved, and knew his Rolling Stone fan base would agree with. It was all just a little too hipsteriously self-aware for my taste.
The book started with a playlist, and these words, “The playback: late night, Brooklyn, a pot of coffee, and a chair by the window. I’m listening to a mix tape from 1993. Nobody can hear it but me.” My response wasn’t so much a “bleh,” but it was a pretty adamant “meh,” which was enhanced by my temptation to “rest my eyes”. Reading in bed is the worst idea ever. Don’t do it.
Still, I powered on through. After all, I’d made my students back in Harlem promise to read 30 pages of a book before renouncing it as dumb. I figured I should probably hold myself to the same lofty standards.
I was also drawn into the book on account of this nagging urge I had to rediscover my musical self. I’d recently heard a Mozart song I’d performed at a piano concert as a kid, and felt this gravitational pull towards my now old and graying musical sensibilities. Faced with this opportunity to (re)define myself, I jumped.
I read on. Then, all at once, a single phrase leapt in front of me: “…I need some new sounds to remember.” Yes. Brilliant, Sheffield. Just brilliant, and so simply put.
Eureka, I thought. This whole music mixology business might just be the golden ticket I’d been looking for. Maybe this search for the perfect mix would help me with that blasted definition of self I’d been fixing to figure out over the past few months: I’m taking on an entirely new name, getting used to the fact that I chopped off all my hair and seeking out inspiration to help me define and create myself. I feel old and young, all at once.
But with the help of music, all those experiences could be encapsulated in a definitive and memorable way, I thought. At last, a simple solution to a challenging problem.
And so, straight from the soul and shooting from the hip, I give to you, my Re: Definition mix tape:
I wound up doing quite well with sticking to Love is a Mix Tape — devouring it just in a weekend — and left with a satisfying sense that my time had been well-spent. The book was heartfelt and rang very true with the love Jimmy and I are feeling right now, as newly weds — a renewed sense of youth by reliving old memories together. More than being a great story of self (re)discovery, the book coaxed me into bringing sound back into my life. And that’s worth plugging away at a book for.