After about a year, I finally finished reading Love is a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield.

[An aside: Have I told you how much I love our local library? Seriously, rediscovering the library last year has been such a source of joy for me. Being able to renew Love is a Mixtape many, many times online, discovering obscure music — Derek Bailey, anyone? — and choosing new books with my daughter… the list goes on and on. My friend Richard inspires me through his work as a librarian to dream of better ways of being a church: giving ourselves away for the sake of the community, becoming a trusted resource, finding ways to engage people of all ages…]

In Mixtape, Sheffield weaves together honest stories of indie songs, love, and losing his wife at a young age. Several times I found myself searching out songs from the mixtape track listing he includes at the start of each chapter.

It wasn’t just the melodrama of holding a boombox overhead to win back the girl of his dreams, even if a bit of that is in there. Sheffield describes a soundtrack to his life, living inside the songs that surprised him, made him want to dance, and drove with him down lonely roads.

What Is love? Great minds have been grappling with this question throughout the ages, and in the modern era, they have come up with many different answers. According to Western philosopher Pat Benatar, love is a battlefield. Her paisan Frank Sinatra would add the corollary that love is a tender trap. Love hurts. Love stinks. Love bites, love bleeds, love is the drug. The troubadours of our times agree: They want to know what love is, and they want you to show them. But the answer is simple: Love is a mix tape.

I love the convenience of creating new playlists in iTunes. The endlessly rearrangeable track lists definitely appeal to my inner music nerd. I’m not an audiophile who insists on the purity of the vinyl sound (although I do miss the oversized artwork from the 12″ records I used to collect, and the collectibility of rare 7″ singles). There was something different, though, about crafting an actual mixtape.

Making a mixtape was slow. One-to-one slow, most of the time. In order to make a mixtape, I had to sit in front of my stereo to hit record, pause, record for each song. That physical proximity to the music, I think, is the reason why I can still song along to most of my New Order and Fugazi albums (at least, anything released before ’93. Yikes).

I miss the immediacy of making those mixtapes, carefully considering what songs would close out side A and introduce side B, clipping out interesting photos & images to make album art collages, even handwriting the track lists. It’s hard to pin down, but I like what Sheffield writes:

The cassette if full of tape hiss and room tone; it’s full of wasted space, unnecessary noise. Compared to the go-go-go rhythm of an MP3, mix tapes are hopelessly inefficient.

I still love receiving mixes from friends. Discovering new songs, being reminded of old favorites, noticing the movement of feeling as the track list progresses; there’s something about sitting down with the music that’s good for my soul.

Even with CDs and digital playlists, there’s something gloriously inefficient about sitting down to listen, really listen, to a set of disparate songs brought together in one mix. So much of friendship comes down to wasting time, together.

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