#68 ~ Love is a Mix Tape

May 4, 2008 at 9:59 pm | Posted in Books, College Life, Inspiration, LIfe, Memoir, My Life with Books, Reading | 10 Comments
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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 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.

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To buy this book, click here.

#14 ~ The Cider House Rules

April 4, 2007 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Culture, My Life with Books, Reading | 2 Comments
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The Cider House Rules by John Irving

Of the 13 books that have preceded this, The Cider House Rules has been by far the hardest to read. The first 100 pages were more difficult than I had imagined. I never wanted to know what the inside of a uterus feels/sounds like when a D&C is completed successfully. I would imagine no one really does. At one point during Dr. Wilbur Larch’s journey from OB/GYN to OB/GYN and abortionist, I wanted to stop reading it. I decided that to honestly meet the challenge I had to finish every book I start. This isn’t about reading 52 books I will enjoy. For me, as a fast reader, there’s no challenge in that. So, I finished it. It’s a sad, sad book.

The protagonist, Homer Wells, begins life as an orphan as St. Cloud’s in Maine in the early mid-1900s. This is the orphanage in which Dr. Larch practices medicine. Attempts to adopt Homer failed. Homer preferred to be at St. Cloud’s. In order to be “of use,” Dr. Larch makes Homer his apprentice. Homer has a natural talent for medicine and successfully delivers a women suffering from sever eclampsia. During the course of his studies of Grey’s Anatomy and through dissecting adult female and infant cadavers, Homer comes to believe that the unborn have souls. He confronts Dr. Larch and refuses to be “of use” to him when he’s performing those procedures. Shortly thereafter, he leaves St. Cloud’s with Wally and Candy, a rich couple who traveled from the coast to get an abortion.

While living at Ocean View Orchards, Homer quickly falls in love with Candy and becomes an expert in farming an apple orchard. Dr. Larch, on the other hand, planned for the day that Homer would return and take over all aspects of “the Lord’s work.” St. Cloud’s Board of Directors was increasingly unhappy with him and as he grows older, the pressure to add staff to oversee all aspects of the orphanage continues to strengthen. He took the name of a deceased orphan and manipulated college and medical school records to make him a doctor. It’s is Dr. Larch’s hope that life experience will lead him back to St. Cloud’s and, if his beliefs cannot be changed, he will feel compelled to provide abortion services in a day and age when it is illegal.

This book is decidedly pro-choice. Still, there is no glorification of the procedure or those who perform them. Abortion is a consequence of the human condition and those who provide those services have their own weaknesses and crosses to bear. Irving took great effort to describe the procedures and its affects accurately. Women carrying the burden of an unplanned pregnancy do not leave the orphanage relieved of their burdens. In fact, Homer observes that their posture makes them look more weighted down. Dr. Larch uses the phrase “products of conception.” Eventually, Homer confronts him about this oversimplification. There is no sugar coating.

I believe that this story took place during World War II purposefully. It illustrated that there are forms of murder deemed as necessary and good by American society. There is no shame in killing the enemy or in losing a child to war. In fact, both may even be considered a duty and an honor. Many states in this country support the death penalty as a means for punishing its most heinous criminals. In both situations, keeping our society safe is found more important than the lives of individuals. Both sides of the abortion debate oversimplify or sugar coat the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Why are we afraid to address this issue head on and decide, as a society, whether abortion serves the greater good?

Although I believe that Irving intended to end this book with hope, I felt quite the opposite. It seems sad that the best our society has to offer women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy is an abortion, an adoption, or a life as a single parent. Ensuring that all three of those options are available to women does not change the fact that – apparent rewards aside – they all bring about their own pain, feelings of loss, and heartache for everyone involved.

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