Cassette Tapes and Heartbreak

A rock critic mourns his wife and celebrates the music of the scene they shared

Of course the Nirvana chapter begins with the goofball announcement, "The spring of 1994 was marked by two key events in rock history: The death of Kurt Cobain and the birth of Zima." As with Pavement's Steven Malkmus, Sheffield's quick quips have long been mistaken by dumb people for straight-up glibness. Make no mistake—those people are our enemies. They would have us deny that there was a time sincerity and irony were not mutually exclusive options, before the gaping chasm between snark and emo swallowed up any ambiguity of emotion. That time was the '90s, a decade whose flimsy promises were always already broken. We could only afford to approach our future with such irreverence, after all, because our dreams were so pathetically limited. Adequate health care, listenable radio, a modicum of gender parity—who would deny us these crumbs?

It's tempting to moan that our decade holds a funhouse mirror up to the '90s, minus the fun. Irony, once a strategy for surviving mass culture, has soured into a cheap tic, as the knowing slacker repartee of MST3K devolves the inane rat-a-tat of Best Week Ever. And the self-proclaimed sluts who grind for the webcam mouth the same language of empowerment that made sense in riot grrrl. But Sheffield refuses to settle for that cheap comparison, and we should too—that way lies the sins of Boomerdom. True, Love Is a Mix Tape makes me wish I'd loved the '90s more at the time, but it also reminds me that if I had, they wouldn't have been the '90s. The feeling it generates is the opposite of nostalgia, a swelling sense of the importance of basking in the present, and being grateful that I still have a chance to love the '00s as much as they deserve.

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