October 11, 2010

One Final Mix Tape

This month, for From Left To Write, we read a memoir called The Kids Are All Right. This book is not the same as the movie that recently came out by the same name; rather, it is a memoir written by four siblings. In it, the siblings, in rotating chapters, tell the story of their early childhoods, through the deaths of both parents, and into their adult lives.

If you've read other posts for From Left To Write, you know that we don't do book reviews, but instead write posts inspired by the book we've read. This book inspired me over and over, touching on topics from parenting style to legal guardianship for your children, eighties music and fashion to the importance of family wherever you can find it. But ultimately, this book is about siblings, and this book reminded me over and over of my relationship with my brother. He was my one and only sibling, and he died in 2002.

I don't write about Billy very much on this blog, but he is in my thoughts daily. His absence in my life is painful, but his presence is powerful, especially in the little things. I remember once, as kids, talking about our favorite time. Mine was 11:11. He said his was 12:34. I smile whenever I catch "his time" on the clock.

My brother and I shared a sense of humor, and an unspoken connection. It has become family lore that we were unbeatable at Pictionary. We both went to Cal, and enjoyed many Berkeley dinners together on mom and dad, as the deal was that they would pay if we went out together (a tradition I hope to pass along to my kids someday). And we shared similar taste in music.

The Kids Are All Right is filled with mentions of the mix tapes they made. If you visit the incredibly cool website for the book, you can watch some iconic seventies and eighties music videos and hear the iTunes playlist they set up. There, the authors comment, "While writing this memoir, we realized just how important music has been in our lives – so many of our memories involved specific songs."

My brother and I were almost four years apart, but despite our age difference we got along really well, especially as we got older. One thing we shared in common was our music. Our tastes were slightly different. My favorites were Depeche Mode, The Smiths, and The Cure. He loved the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, and Smashing Pumpkins. But we had a lot of overlap, and there was a lot of music that we listened to together. Some of our favorites were James, Oingo Boingo and Barenaked Ladies. Like the siblings in the book, we made mix tapes for each other, or copied CDs to tape whenever one of us bought something we thought the other would appreciate.

After my brother passed away, I made him one final "mix tape." I actually bought a CD burner so I could make this for the funeral. We brought it and played it as people were arriving for the service. Making the CD was something to do to get through the first few days of grief, but I know he would have appreciated the mix.

The photo above is me, my brother and my grandfather, Pop Pop Dave, on a Southern California beach around 1979-80.

I was given the book, The Kids Are All Right, by the publisher free of charge and with no obligation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


  1. I remember walking into Billy's funeral and hearing Barenaked Ladies playing. It just felt right.

  2. The Welch kids did a great job integrating the music into their story. It was clearly important to them, especially Amanda and Diana -- and now Diana is a musician.

    I'm so sorry to hear that you lost your brother. What a terrible tragedy for your family.

  3. Music is so so powerful that way. People who don't get that are missing out on a big part of life as far as I'm concerned. Mix tapes are the equivalent of a long handwritten letter...I have old ones that take me back more than any letter could. So sorry that you lost your brother.

  4. Oh man, I'm crying my over here! What a beautiful post, Jennie.

    I absolutely LOVE that tradition that your parents started of buying meals that you and Billy shared. It is one of the sweetest things I have ever heard, and if my son Harvey ever has a sibling, the same will go for them!!!

    It's true that music is a huge connector for me and my sibs. I still make them mixes - no longer tapes, sadly, but CDs - for Christmas and birthdays. I know that the music of my childhood shaped me - and I will be foerver thankful to Amanda for turning me on to Adam Ant.

    thank you so much for writing, and reading The Kids are All Right!

    xDiana Welch

  5. Such a beautiful ode to your brother, and your mix tape gives me goosebumps. I think we all connect music to specific moments in our lives, I cannot listen to Elton John's "Daniel my brother" without thinking of my brother and I have so many memories of sitting in Amanda's room as a teenager listening to Supertramp, Cream, David Johansen, Depeche MOde, Psychedelic Furs, OMD and in that order from say 1982 to 1985. Whenever I hear the Alarm song, We are the Light, my chest fills up with the pressure of tears fast coming. I listened to that song over and over again the night my mom died. Diana now plays music--her band StormShelterr is based in Austin--and I love that she has made music a part of her life. for me, it is still this emotional connection to my past (and present too. These days I can't get enough of Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake. ) But back to your brother--that you have a playlist that reminds you of him makes my heart swell up. Now everytime I hear the barenaked ladies, I am going to think of this man I never got to meet. But it will make me happy because I know he had a sister who loved him AND parents who supported that love by treating them to a meal everytime they got together. (Awesome.) Thanks so much for this post... I have a hunch my siblings are going to weigh in on this one too. xxliz welch

  6. Thank you for sharing your memories of your brother. Great mix, too!
    (Also, I love James.)
    Making mix-tapes was such a labor of love. Sitting there with albums strewn around, poised over the deck and turntable to get the transitions just right. Reading the liner notes as the songs recorded. Trying to time the sides so there wouldn’t be too much blank space at the ends. I even experimented with splitting songs at the end of side one so it would reverse and finish the song, like an 8-track. (Yes, I am THAT old!)
    When I lived in NY, my trunk gotten broken into and my box of mix-tapes was stolen. I’m sure they took other things, but it is the tapes I still miss. That’s the good thing about mix cd’s. At least if they get stolen, you can just re-burn the playlist.

  7. For my twin sister and I, there are so many moments where music connects us. We used to sing (in perfect harmony, I'm sure...) Gallileo by The Indigo Girls while cruising around her scooter when she lived in Bermuda for three years. Last summer, we went to see Toad The Wet Sprocket at the Mountain Winery (we may have had too much wine?) and sang our lungs out to "Walk on the Ocean." I'm going to go make a mixed tape for her right now!

    Beautiful post, Jen - I'm sorry for your loss, your musical tribute seems very fitting.

  8. Stopping by from SITS...First of all, I love your blog layout, very nice! Secondly, what a touching post about your brother. As an only child, I never got to experience that sibling closeness, but hope myown two sons will someday. I love it that your parents paid for you and your brother to go out to dinner, what a neat tradition, I will have to do that with my boys as they get older! Finally, so sorry to hear of the loss of your brother, what a beautiful tribute to him with your love of music.

  9. Ahhh, the love of mix tapes..I know it well! I have always felt as though music is a kind of time-machine. It can transport you back to a time when you first heard it and many of those times were when the ones we loved were still with us.

    I notice this a lot with songs my mom and I loved to hear and sing together.


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