As far as real-life modern romances go, few top the story of Rob Sheffield and his wife, Renée Crist, who lived in Charlottesville in the ’90s when they were young marrieds. Their story nearly swamped Sweet with emotion when she was reading Sheffield’s new book, Love is a Mix Tape (www.randomhouse.com/crown/mixtape), the other night. It’s not just the fact that Sheffield, now a very successful Rolling Stone (www.rollingstone.com) music writer after getting his start here, became a widower after five years of marriage, leaving his love forever young and tragic. Nor the fact that his wife wrote music reviews for this very newspaper and hosted WTJU’s most excellent Thursday afternoon tunefest, “Ground Rule Double Dutch.” Though, take Sweet’s word for it —especially if you want to avoid a streaky, tearful evening—the ending chapters that describe Renée’s premature death and Rob’s struggle to make sense of something insensible are incredibly sad and romantic. It’s a three-hanky ordeal, all the way.
No, Sugar has to say, it’s the way Rob appreciated Renée that propels this romance into the Top 10. (What else ranks up there, you wonder? Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson’s passion, of course, and the incomparable love story of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Don’t get Cook-
But back to Rob Sheffield. What really gets Sweet’s pulse racing is the way he took in the good, bad and everythingness of his sassy Appalachian bride. She knew her way around a sewing machine and the Baltimore Orioles’ lineup and the complete Pavement back catalogue with equal authority and accordingly he was ga-ga, as any deserving man should be. Rob was the perfect suitor: driven by instinct yet somehow funny and practical, too. He was very levelheaded about the things that really matter—small stuff like pop music, which can actually break the deal, as everyone knows.
“In the animal kingdom, Renée and I would have recognized each other’s scents; for us, it was a matter of having the same favorite Meat Puppets album. Music was a physical bond between us, and the fact that she still owned her childhood 45 of Andy Gibb’s ‘I Just Want to Be Your Everything’ was tantamount to an arranged marriage. The idea that we might not belong together never really crossed my mind.”
Sweet will wait to continue while you incurable romantics pick yourselves off the floor and reposition the newspaper in your hands.
To resume: Love is a Mix Tape is also about life’s living soundtracks, as you might expect coming from a music writer eulogizing his love affair with another music writer. As such, the book gave Sugaree some great ideas for tunes to bust out of the locked crate of musical memories. “Kiss Me on the Bus” by the Replacements. “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys.
But perhaps more than the musical numbers that Rob adds to his accounts, it’s the props and set and New Wavy back story that got to Sweet. What follows is maybe the most charming description in the pop culture canon of a man imagining a thoroughly beguiling woman. Read it and swoon, dear ones. Better yet, read it and then buy the book to savor the rest:
“I’ve always dreamed of a new wave girl to stand up front and be shameless and lippy, to take the heat, teach me her tricks, teach me to be brave like her. I needed someone with a quicker wit than mine. The new wave girl was brazen and scarlet. She would take me under her wing and teach me to join the human race, the way Bananarama did with their ‘Shy Boy.’ She would pick me out and shake me up and turn me around, turn me into someone new. She would spin me right round, like a record.”