#68 ~ Love is a Mix Tape

Cover of Love is a Mix Tape

Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

I found out about this book from Pop Candy, my favorite pop culture blog written by Whitney Matheson. As soon as I found out what this memoir was about, I had to buy it.. It tells the story of a man’s life and, more specifically, his love life, through his mix tapes. Rob Sheffield sounded just like my husband to me. I bought it for Danny, but I knew that I would eventually read it myself. So, when I found myself without a book I had to read, I plucked this off of the bookshelf having no idea what type of impact it would have on me.

A little background…

I “met” my husband in 1995 on Dreamscape, an Internet talker that required users to enter commands to do or say anything to anyone else. At that time I was obsessed – there is no other word for it as much as I care to deny it – with Michael Stipe. As ZenLauda, I would go on and see how fast I could get everyone to say something – anything – about Stipe. Of course, if someone said something nasty, I excommunicated that person from my persona. One time I brought Stipe up and HoneyPoison said, “Stipe is unripe.” I nearly axed HP, but then I didn’t and I don’t know why. I’d banished others for less. This started a long conversation about R.E.M. and music in general (Danny was in a band called “Ancient Astronauts” in 1989) that continues on to this day. I fell in love with him at an R.E.M. concert in Greensboro in 1995 and I moved to southwest Virginia 8 months later. The rest is history.

R.E.M. Monster era

The first thing I remember Danny giving me was a mix tape entitled 24 in honor of my 24th birthday. Most of the music on it was new to me and stuff that I still love today – Julian Cope‘s “China Doll,” Died Pretty‘s “D.C.,” and Miracle Legion‘s “You’re The One Lee” were my favorites, but the rest was great. Reading this book made me very nostalgic for that tape. Sheffield’s descriptions of the time and energy he puts into his mixes rings true to this woman made to another mixer. You know that you mean something to a man or woman like that when they make you a mix tape. In fact, one of the first things Danny thought to do after meeting our oldest daughter’s birth mother was to make her a mix tape for when we saw her after Emma was born. Knowing all of what goes into a mix, it’s one of the saddest things ever when a person being gifted with a mix tape doesn’t understand the significance.

Back to the book…

Sheffield grew up in Boston in a world of his own where all outside stimuli filtered into him through music. He loved music like nothing and no one else. From school to Catholic summer camp he tried to impress his peers with his mix tapes or, when necessary, he escaped into them. It wasn’t until he was in college that he made himself break out of his shell. And it is in grad school at the University of Virginia that he met Renee Crist, an Appalachian girl who stole his heart from the very beginning.

When you live in southwest Virginia, it’s not every day that you pick up a book and it starts talking about places you’ve been or places you live. Renee was born in Georgia, but she grew up in Pulaski and attended Hollins College (now University) where I earned my Master’s degree. She lived in Roanoke for a time before heading to Charlottesville, where she met and feel in love with Rob. As he describes when he fell in love with her, the connection to Danny grew even stronger than I ever could have expected:

I squeezed into a booth next to her and we talked about music. She told me that you can sing the “Beverly Hillbillies” theme to the tune of R.E.M.’s “Talk about the Passion.” That was it, basically; as soon as she started to sing “Talk about the Clampetts,” any thought I had of not falling in love with her went down in some serious “Towering Inferno” flames. It was over. I was over.

While in Roanoke, Renee met Danny and hung around in the same circles with him. At one point, she was roommates with Claudia, the wife of Danny’s good friend from high school. While in Roanoke, Renee heard the Ancient Astronauts play “Talk about the Clampetts,” a song Danny, the lead singer, mashed up himself. Danny is responsible for Rob and Renee getting together and, therefore, responsible for this book being written!

Click here to listen to a live performance of “Talk about the Clampetts” performed by the Ancient Astronauts in 1989.

When we figured out that this book was about Renee Crist (at midnight on a work night – I didn’t end up getting much sleep), Danny went into his closet and pulled out his shoe box of pictures. In that box he found a picture of her with Jimm (with two Ms), the same person who she was seeing when she moved to Charlottesville.

Renee Crist and Jimm

After seeing the picture of her at a New Year’s Eve party, this book came alive to me in a way I’ve never experienced before. Not only was it a reminder of the time when I first fell in love with my husband, my reading of Love is a Mix Tape became a couple’s project. It set us off on a mini archaeological dig of Danny’s musical past, and I’ve always wanted to be an archaeologist.

Reading Sheffield’s memoir made me feel very happy to be alive in a world of music and mix tapes. If you love music and have ever made a mix tape – even if you ever just taped songs off of the radio, you will enjoy this book.

To buy this book, click here.


  • At 2008.05.05 16:28, Steve Myers said:

    Girl, I love your writing style!


    • At 2008.05.05 18:28, Literate Housewife said:

      Thank you! How’s life down under?

      P.S. Your check is in the mail… 😉

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      • At 2008.05.05 20:41, SubAstute said:

        I’ll try to find the track listing for the “24” mix and post it. I know that tape had music by Game Theory, Red House Painters, Dead Can Dance, Billy Bragg, Uncle Bonsai, The dBs & John Trubee, but that’s all I can remember. Then there were bits between songs I got from an album where some astrologer dude is talking about the compatibility of Libra (you) and Sagittarius (me). I’m not a believer in that mess, but what he said was pretty accurate!

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        • At 2008.05.14 11:38, Devourer of Books said:

          Your post inspired my sister to go and look for this book. That’s quite impressive, as she’s not a huge reader.

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          • At 2008.07.23 21:12, readerville said:

            What a crazy coincidence that your husband knew Renee! It must have been kind of weird to realize that as you started putting the pieces together. I don’t think I’ve really known anyone I’ve read about in a book, though I have a met a few of the researchers Mary Roach talks about in Bonk.

            Thanks for sending the link to your review…it came before I knew about your site, so I’m glad to have a chance to see it.

            • At 2008.07.24 06:14, Literate Housewife said:

              It was such a fun time for me and my husband! 🙂 Since the book didn’t have any pictures at all (which bothers me in memoirs for some reason), I just had to post Danny’s picture of her. It also jazzed Danny to find his tape and digitize Talk about the Clampetts for my post.

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              • At 2008.09.28 16:51, annie stipe said:

                i’ve been soundtracking my life since the whatever so i felt deeply identified with you. i love your writing.
                i used to be obsessed with stipe too til i met him. now im just still in love with him and their music in a less fanatic way.
                hes one of the most beautiful humanbeings alive. so pure. so unique.

                • […] best blogging experience I had personally revolved around Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield.  I bought this book for my husband, but read it first.  Little did either of us […]

                  • At 2008.11.05 23:30, industryfinest said:

                    Great song!!!!!

                    • At 2010.02.05 23:10, Julie said:

                      I just finished listening to the audio version of this book and fell in love with it! I spent hours upon hours making mix tapes and loved the way Sheffield wrote about his expriences with music and love and life! That is such a coincidence that your husband knew Renee! She sounds amazing and it sounds like they were an amazing couple. This book was a great tribute to her.

                      • At 2012.07.06 17:09, Beth said:

                        This is one of my all time faves, so seeing a picture of Renee gave me goosebumps.

                        Also, I used to be a super user on Dreamscape! Small world. 🙂

                        • At 2012.09.26 10:32, Jennifer said:

                          It is a small world! No one I talk to has ever heard of Dreamscape. Of course they’re a lot younger than I am. 🙂 I have such great memories of that site.

                        (Required, will not be published)

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