In her memoir Music to My Years: A Mixtape Memoir of Growing Up and Standing Up, out today on Atria Books, the Los Angeles–based comedian Cristela Alonzo recalls a wish she made at age seven: to get out of her hometown of San Juan, Texas. Alonzo spent part of her childhood squatting with her family in an abandoned diner, where her mother cooked dinner on a space heater that had been turned on its side to use as a grill. Radio and cable TV provided comfort for Alonzo and her three siblings, but they were also ways to see the world outside South Texas; Alonzo remembers being suffused with hope when she would hear the seventies pop ballad “More Than a Feeling,” by Boston.
Alonzo more than made good on that desire to travel, setting off on a trajectory that involved breaking into the L.A. comedy scene and starring in her own eponymous sitcom as well as a Netflix special, Lower Classy. In that vein, Alonzo’s debut book revisits pivotal life moments, with each chapter introducing a song as a vehicle for a specific memory: Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” reminds her of her devout mother and Catholic upbringing, so strict Alonzo had feared she might be pregnant after her first kiss. In a chapter about Selena’s “Dreaming of You,” Alonzo shares how her fellow Tejana’s rise to stardom made her feel that she could find success as an entertainer without sacrificing her culture. Like any good mixtape, Alonzo’s compilation of songs-as-stories is crafted with love and humor—for her family, and Texas, though she once wanted nothing more than to leave.
This article will appear in the November issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Laugh Tracks.” Subscribe today.