Sterling excerpts from Love is a Mix Tape: Life & Loss, One Song at a Time

Rob Sheffield
pg. 29
I had never made out, smoked, drank, broken a law, set fire to a car, vandalized a cemetery, or worn socks that matched. But I had the passion for rock and roll; I was a regular Dr. Johnny Fever in the body of a Les Nessman. Nobody could truly understand my quest to rock—except maybe Annie, my favorite Solid Gold dancer. I was totally clueless about social interaction, and completely scared of girls. All I knew was that music was going to make girls fall in love with me.
pg. 90
I was still serfing away at grad school. My friends and I assumed that we would soon be tenured professors, which is an excellent life goal—it’s like planning to be Cher. You think, I’m going to wear beads and fringed gowns, and sing “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” on the way to work every morning, and then one day, I’m going to get a call saying, “Congratulations! You’re Cher! Can you make it to Vegas by showtime?
pg 214
There’s a lot I miss about the nineties. It was an open, free time of possibilities, changes we thought were permanent. It seemed inconceivable that things would ever go back to the way they were in the eighties, when monsters were running the country and women were only allowed to play bass in indie-rock bands. The nineties moment has been stomped over so completely, it’s hard to imagine it ever happened, much less that is lasted fix, six, seven years. Remember Brittany Murphy, the funny, fizzy-hared, Mentos-loving dork in Clueless? By 2002, she was the hood ornament in 8 Mile, just another skinny starlet, an index of everything we’ve lost in that time.
When Avril Lavigne sings “Sk8tr Boi,” a song about how lucky she is to wait backstage for her rock boy, how is anybody supposed to remember that the Avril Lavignes of yesteryear were sold pop fantasies in which they had a place onstage, too? (“Sk8tr Boi” is a great song, too—which is part of the reason why there’s nothing simple about these questions.) Something was happening in nineties music that isn’t happening anywhere in pop culture these days, with women making noise in public ways that seem distant now. Nirvana brought mass appeal back to guitar rock, and the mass appeal made the bands braver—some of them even had something to say about the real world, which is way more than anybody has a right to expect from musicians. A kind of popular song existed that didn’t before and doesn’t any more, as arty guitar bands sized the moment to communicate with huge numbers of fans and go to extremes and indulge their appalling drug-addled muses and say dangerous or dumb things and expand the emotional/musical languages with which people communicated.
I remember the summer of 1996, at a drunken wedding with one of my professors, a Hendrix-freak baby boomer, when he was complaining about the “bullet-in-the-head rock and roll” the kids were listening to today, and he asked Renee, “What does rock and roll have today that it didn’t have in the sixties?” Renee said, “Tits” which in retrospect strikes me as not a bad one-word off-the-dome answer at all. The nineties fad for indie rock overlapped precisely with the nineties fad for feminism. The idea of a pop culture that was pro-girl, or even just not anti-girl—that was a 1990s mainstream dream, rather than a 1980s or 2000s one, and it was real for a while. Music was not just part of it but leading the way—hard to believe, hard to even remember. But some of us do.

One thought on “Sterling excerpts from Love is a Mix Tape: Life & Loss, One Song at a Time”

  1. I laughed out loud about the Cher quote! Hilarious!

    It is an interesting comment about women in music and the 90’s. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it is true. Sad, but true. -Sara

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