Harry Styles, the object of my 15-year-old self’s affection, was born on Feb. 1, 1994. On Feb. 1, 2019, Rob Sheffield, the Rolling Stone writer whose words are the continual object of my amazement, wished Styles a happy birthday via a quote Tweet of a photo of Styles reading Sheffield’s book Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.
Since Sheffield tweeted the photo out for the world to see, the book has sold out on Amazon Prime. Alas, I sit here waiting for my used copy to arrive sometime between Thursday and Monday—an absolutely unbearable waiting period given my growing impatience due to my usually reliable Prime subscription.
I didn’t order Love Is a Mix Tape because it looked so perfectly placed in Styles’ hand, and I didn’t order Love Is a Mix Tape because I hope that someday I will be sitting in a job interview with Rolling Stone talking about all the auxiliary books I read in college that were written by its staff—I already own Sheffield’s Dreaming the Beatles, Joe Hagan’s Sticky Fingers, and Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in the Bathroom. I ordered Sheffield’s book because the title immediately vocalized something that I had subconsciously known to be true my entire life.
Love is a mix tape. Well, for my generation, love is a Spotify playlist haphazardly strewn together in an airport lobby or painstakingly queued on a long road trip. No matter how the playlist enters this often harsh, seemingly loveless world, love is the words in a song that makes us pause and feel something. Love is the comfort of a beat or a melody that takes us home.
Whenever I hear “Home” by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, I think of my sister. It might seem obvious: For roughly 18 years of my life, home literally was where she was. But even after I moved to Boston and she moved to Providence, I still feel that “home is wherever I’m with her,” whether walking the cold streets of the North End on Thanksgiving night or sitting in the sand on our favorite beach 3,000 miles away. Even the warm beat is the sonic version of a fuzzy blanket, each stitch an acoustic guitar note or a folkish background “huh” shouted in synchrony.
Loving yourself is truly the prerequisite for learning to love another. It’s a little less obvious why The Lumineers’ “Slow It Down” has always been a self-love song for me: The lyrics act as a mournful account of a relationship breakdown from one lover to another, lamenting “And when it came to love / We were not good enough.” Even so, the lyric “And when she stood she stood tall / She’ll make a fool of you all” is the one that sticks in my head. Music can be a very personal experience, and the meaning of that song has always been one of recovery and growth for me. I’ve always preferred the live version of the song—partially because I accidentally bought the live version on iTunes when I was 14, but mostly because the rawness of the sound reminds me that imperfection is sometimes what makes something beautiful.
There is no shortage of songs about romantic love: U2’s “With or Without You,” Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” Hozier’s “Work Song,” Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” and Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” are some of the best in my humble, unexperienced opinion. There is one song that I have on reserve, much like the clothes that I don’t yet have an occasion for but leave in the “Saved For Later” bin on the Urban Outfitters app. Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is not only my grandparents’ wedding song, but also a song that just holds so much weight. The idea of a force so strong it is likened to a river flowing “surely to the sea” is somewhat foreign to me, but Presley’s dreamy ukulele strumming leads me to believe it’s out there somewhere.
Art is not real in the sense that it is not what it claims to be. When walking through a museum, you cannot smell Van Gogh’s bright “Sunflowers” or see the illumination of his “Starry Night” reflecting off your skin. But upon seeing either of the two paintings, you can recall a time when you got a waft of the fragrant sunflowers at Trader Joe’s or saw the stars hanging over your head on a cloudless night. Art is but a depiction of something that is real or that is made of real things. Songs can’t make you fall in love, but they can help you paint the picture of the time when you did.
Featured Image by Helene Pambrun