#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 | 11 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.

To buy this book, click here.

#38 ~ You’re Not You

September 10, 2007 at 9:21 pm | Posted in Beach, Books, College Life, LIfe, Reading, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity | Leave a comment
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You’re Not You by Michelle Wildgen

Okay, so it took a LONG while for me to write this review. The book, while enjoyable at the time, was not that remarkable or rememorable. The main characters (whose names have since escaped me and I’ve sold the book), are a young college woman (CW) having an affair with a professor and a 30ish woman suffering from ALS (SW). CW takes a job with SW and her husband to help SW when the husband cannot be at home. As expected, CW has some trials at first but begins to gain confidence as time goes on. When SW divorces her husband because he cannot remain faithful to her (although her disease is working rapidly), CW truly begins to question her affair with her married professor (MP).

I do not enjoy reading about food or cooking. Unfortunately for me, CW begins to enjoy and prosper as a chef throughout her relationship with SW. I found myself speed reading through descriptions, etc. This isn’t the fault of the author – just a pet peeve of mine.

There is an interesting and embarrassing scene with a vibrator included in this book that I’m not at all sure what to think about. Sure, every woman needs her sexual release. Was it necessary in this story? One could say that SW teaches CW about many things about female sexuality and that this is one of them. Still, I can’t help my lingering feelings of exploitation. I enjoy a good, explicit sex scene. I just was uncomfortable about this. Maybe I’m a prude in some ways.

One thing that I did find refreshing in this book is the discussion of the lack of perfection in the male body – specifically how it relates to a sexual relationship. It’s often that you read about a woman’s insecurity over her naked body. Equally often you read about a man’s enjoyment of a perfect specimen or notice of imperfections. When CW describes her first sexual encounter with MP, she notices and comments upon the stretch marks on his hips. I about dropped my book. It wasn’t mentioned in a negative manner at all. They just were there. I really appreciated that.

Despite my lack of character name recall (and lack of ambition to research and hide this fact), this book would make a beach, vacation, work trip travel read.

The Summer of Love Turns 40

June 12, 2007 at 10:08 pm | Posted in Allen Ginsberg, Books, College Life, Culture, LIfe, Poetry, Reading, Summer of Love | 1 Comment

I was reading the Life section of USA Today last week Friday and there was an article about the summer of 1967, its impact, and how it is being celebrated in San Francisco as we speak. I don’t have much of an interest in the hippie movement or to the Summer of Love. As much as I love to camp, you’ll never find me in a commune or eating an entirely organic diet. I’m not big into poetry, psychedelic drugs, or psychedelic music. I guess you had to be there. Half of me wasn’t even a mature egg cell until 1971. I missed that train.

This is not to say that the generation involved with the late 1960s hasn’t had an impact on my life. A great many of my professors could very well have lived in the middle of Haight-Ashbury. My first adviser at Grand Valley State University was a Canadian who wished he was an American hippie. He went without shoes whenever possible. Cool, right? Nope. Who really needs an adviser who, during our first meeting, provided me “support” by offering to help me apply for food stamps? Perhaps he was trying to use some weird form of psychology on me and it may have worked. The very next day I switched my major from poly-sci to English.

Overall, their influences were positive. I count reading and enjoying Ulysses as one of the great accomplishments in my life. I would never have had the awesome experience I had with James Joyce without Dr. Susan Swartzlander. I don’t think that an older professor could have been as passionate about it the way that she was. I can’t tell you how sophisticated I felt to be invited to her home to eat hors devours and watch The Dead. She will always be my favorite professor. No one ever made me want to learn the way she did.

My only personal experience with the Summer of Love came about because of one of my English professors. I hate to admit that I cannot remember his name, but he made us read Howl by Allen Ginsberg. I can honestly say that I had never in my life read anything quite like that. To a young, inexperienced Catholic girl from the Midwest, he was simply scandalous. Reading his poetry made me feel uncomfortable. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but I was drawn to its taboo much like a moth to the flame. During the following semester, I learned that he was giving reading at the Fountain Street Church. I brought with my sister, Donielle, saying that it would be a cultural experience for her. Really, I just didn’t dare go by myself. It was incredible. During those 90 minutes or so, his writing and his world came alive. It is the only time in my life that I ever enjoyed poetry. More than that, I got lost inside of it. I doubt that I’ll ever have such an experience with poetry again. What I experienced was Ginsberg’s writing within his sphere. It was expressed through his charisma, persona, and stage presence. There will never be another Allen Ginsberg. I am so happy to have been in that church with him. My only regret is that I didn’t have the courage to walk up to him after the reading and ask him to sign my copy of Howl.

In celebration of this 40th anniversary summer, I’ll call Donielle and reminisce about that experience that we shared. It’s one of my favorite memories with her. Then, I think I’ll reread Howl while drinking an adult beverage with The Doors playing in the background. I still have the unsigned copy that I slipped into my warm winter coat that frigid February night. Here’s to you, Allen Ginsberg. I hope that you are now enjoying one eternal and warm summer of love.

#23 ~ I Am Charlotte Simmons

May 18, 2007 at 6:31 pm | Posted in Books, College Life, LIfe, Post-Partum Depression, Reading | Leave a comment
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I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

Have you ever read a book like mad just to get the darn thing over with? That’s what I’m doing right now. It’s not that I Am Charlotte Simmons is a bad book. It’s not. Tom Wolfe is a wonderful author. Reading this book is like getting a second hand look at the thought processes I had when I was in the midst of the worst two years of my life suffering from PPD. Charlotte’s situation and neurosis are very different from mine, but it all stems from “perfection anxiety” that is entirely focused on the body. I recognized this pretty quickly after the first time I found myself yelling inside my head, “If she thinks about that again I’m going to throw this book against the wall.” If Tom Wolfe were to write a novel about me, Charlotte would do the same thing. “Get over it already!”

While I’m determined to finish every book I start this year, it is tempting to skip over some of those page and a half long paragraphs. I just can’t wait to finish this book. It’s painful to get such a close-up look at how crazy things were in my head while I thought I was thinking and reacting in a perfectly rational way.

Tom Wolfe accurately paints a portrait of someone whose unrealistic expectations for herself and her body morph into a deep depression and anxiety when experiences related to those expectations head south. That isn’t all that is included in this book. It’s a pretty interesting look at modern college life. I Am Charlotte Simmons is different from anything I’ve read thus far. I don’t regret reading the book, but I’ll be very happy when Charlotte and my experiences with PPD are put someplace on a shelf and get lost in the dust.

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