Life and loss, one song at a time.

I like the idea of being able to chronicle your life through mix tapes. I remember the mix tape of They Might Be Giants and R.E.M. that my cousin made for me, the CDs that Sarah and I were given when we drove to Memphis in 2003, the countless playlists that Mike has devised for me, the CDs people made for me this year so I would know they were thinking about me. I like how the music that we listen to isn’t just about the music, but also about the things we were doing at the time, the way it makes us feel. I have been putting together a playlist of music from 2006, and I suppose I could do it by play count or something, but, really, when I close my eyes and just try to remember what I was listening to, what 2006 felt like, and it all comes back. Brandi Carlile, Over the Rhine, Kelly Clarkson, Eef Barzelay, The Dandy Warhols, Grant Lee Phillips, Sam Phillips, Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton . . . just like lives are made of tiny pieces of memories, so are years cemented by little scraps of emotion sung to music.

And I don’t even consider myself a music person, so I know it’s got to magnified for someone who is.

Which is why I wanted to read Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield, a writer for Rolling Stone. In it, he chronicles his love for music and his relationship with his wife by the music (specifically mix tapes) he was listening to at the time. The book jacket and reviews I read make no secret of the fact that his wife died after they were married just five years, so I’m not going to, either. Because of that, it’s difficult to read in parts. I liked, though, that he didn’t shy away from that, that he didn’t edit himself to make it more palpable. I liked that music was both healing and destructive in his life after his wife passed away – that it reminded him of the good times, but that it was hard to listen to the music they shared and the music that he would never get to share with her.

The chapter I liked best was called “MmmRob,” where he talked about how kind people were to him, and how he had to learn to accept that and even try to be worthy of it. In talking about it, he said, “You lose a certain kind of innocence when you experience this type of kindness. You lose the right to be a jaded cynic. You can no longer go back through the looking glass and pretend not to know what you know about kindness. It’s a defeat, in a way.” I have had a few conversations in the past week about how, at times, I find sincerity difficult. It’s easier for me to make light of something, to crack a joke, or even to be snide. But I agree with what Rob Sheffield said here – the overwhelming kindness I have experienced in the past few months has changed me. It wasn’t easy to ask for or accept the help that people were offering. It was tempting not to accept it, to play some kind of martyr. But I needed people, and they knew that, and they wouldn’t let me turn them away. As he says later in that same paragraph:

People kept showing me unreasonable kindness, inexplicable kindness, indefensible kindness. People were kind when they knew that nobody would ever notice, much less praise them for it. People were even kind when they knew I wouldn’t appreciate it.

I had no idea how to live up to that kindness.

I do know that this year taught me a little more about how to be kind. I am not great at reaching out to people, especially when they are hurting. It’s a bad old habit, not feeling secure enough to know what to say or that my presence would be welcomed. But now, on the other side, I realize the importance of just showing up, of sending the card or the email. Of giving the hug, giving of myself. Naturally gregarious people can do that more easily than the rest of us. But when the people around us are so kind, it’s awfully hard not to pass it on.

But this was about the book, right? I liked it. I didn’t know all the songs, but it was good. I liked the way he wrote about sharing music, about music in community. The first time you listen to a song with a friend or your spouse and you know that you’re never going to forget it. I was never a Nirvana fan, but . . . I almost got the Kurt Cobain thing when he described it. It was sad and raw, but it was very real, and I always like reading about music by people who know what they are talking about.

So, if you’re a music person, give this book a try. (If it doesn’t make you think about your own story and what the soundtrack would look like, well, I’ll be very surprised indeed.)

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