Tag Archives: rob sheffield

TALKING TO GIRLS ABOUT DURAN DURAN by Rob Sheffield

Sheffield In theory, I should have loved Talking to Girls About Duran Duran. It’s about rock journalist Rob Sheffield’s relationships with various 80s songs and bands, and the role that they played in his teen and early adult years. 80s music and its role in one’s formative years? Sign me up!! OK, so maybe I didn’t really like Sheffield’s first book, Love is a Mix Tape (reviewed here), but I thought that I’d give him another chance, give the subject matter.

Each chapter of Talking to Girls about Duran Duran focuses on a different song. But with the exception of the last chapter, there was often almost no nexus between the song and the subject matter of the chapter. In fact, it was often hard to figure out the subject matter of the chapters, period. Sheffield’s writing meanders from topic to topic with little rhyme or reason. It’s like he took a whole list of random memories from his teen years and grouped them roughly by year and then wrote about them in stream-of-consciousness. Occasionally, he’d mention the song in the chapter title, but sometimes only briefly and not until the end of the chapter.

The last chapter gave me a glimpse of what this book could have been. In that chapter, Sheffield focuses on Duran Duran and explores the reasons for the band’s unexpected longevity. (Here’s a hint – girls love them, even when those girls are my age.) I wish the whole book had been like that. I guess I wanted to hear less about Sheffield’s life in Boston with his sisters and random crushes and more about the bands that loosely inspired the book. He is clearly a knowledgeable music critic – I would rather read his criticism than his memoirs.

I really wanted to like Talking to Girls about Duran Duran. Sadly, I didn’t. Thankfully, it was a library copy, and it will be returned tomorrow.

TALKING TO GIRLS ABOUT DURAN DURAN by Rob Sheffield

SheffieldThose of you who know me IRL know that I am obsessed with 80s music. I was obsessed with it then, and I am even more obsessed with it now. I wasn't cool enough in the 80s to go to live shows, so I have made up for it in the last year or so, seeing The Police, The Psychedelic Furs, The English Beat, Tears for Fears, and The Cure on their recover-the-glory tours. I even break out the Live Aid DVDs on cross-country flights.

So it's probably no surprise that I am excited to read this book: Talking To Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield. I sadly missed Sheffield's book signing at BEA this May, but I did read his last book – Love Is A Mix Tape - and I am intrigued by this latest one.

From Amazon:

Don't be fooled by the title: Talking To Girls About Duran Duran may sound like a dream come true to all the women who she-bopped through the 80s, but at heart it's the Feminine Mystique that every boy-next-door has been waiting for (and will actually read). It's something like a prequel to Rob Sheffield's first, fantastic memoir, Love Is a Mix Tape taking its cue this time from a musical decade so addictive and eclectic that, as he notes, "every night in your town, you can find a bar somewhere hosting an Awesome 80s Prom Night." This hilarious and heartfelt collection of coming-of-age vignettes is arguably a much more satisfying way to spend an evening, though, particularly if you have even an ounce of the New Wave obsession that courses through it. Sheffield riffs on the songs that saw him through the rapture and misery and bewilderment of being a guy who wanted to understand girls, gleefully skewering Duran Duran along the way (even as he professes his love for them) and paying tribute to tunes that captured some of his best moments. If you're going to revisit your youth, let Rob Sheffield be your guide. Nothing compares to him.

I liked Love Is a Mix Tape, but I didn't love it. I have a feeling that the construct in Talking to Girls About Duran Duran - going through the songs that defined Sheffield in his formative years – might be a more compelling framework for a book about music than Love Is A Mix Tape was. (I certainly felt for Sheffield in that book, but in the end, I found that the importance of the music to him and his wife was underdeveloped.)

Anyone else 80s obsessed? Would you read this?

LOVE IS A MIX TAPE by Rob Sheffield

Sheffield I was very excited to read Love Is A Mix Tape, by Rob Sheffield, the memoir of a young, music-obsessed husband who suddenly loses his wife in his early 30s to a pulmonary embolism.  Each chapter is named after a mix tape that he or his wife made, and provides a backdrop, both thematic and chronological, for that part of the book. I expected to love Love Is A Mix Tape. I've been mix-obsessed my whole life, and while I knew this story would be a sad one, I thought I would be especially able to relate to the author's relationship with music.

In reality, I found this to be a very uneven book. The first two-thirds explore the author's childhood and his relationship with his wife Renee. The two – opposites in many ways – met in Charlottesville and found common ground in their love of music, both popular and obscure. To be honest, I found this part of the book somewhat boring. While it is obvious that Sheffield adored his wife, I didn't get a very good sense of what they were like as a couple or what they loved about the music they shared. Renee was a unique woman with many interests and quirks, and Sheffield clearly treasured each one. I just didn't feel that I got a particularly thorough feel for her or their relationship. As for the music, Sheffield has an extremely broad range of tastes and musical knowledge. Again, though, I didn't get much of a sense for whyhe loves these bands or what the music meant to him. He simply seems to love everything.

The part of the book that worked for me, though, was Sheffield's depiction of his grief and how he eventually emerged from the fog he experienced after Renee's death. This section (basically from pp. 150-200) is excellent. It's tragic and honest and very, very sad. Here's an excerpt:

[A]ll of the things you want to learn from grief turn out to be the total opposite of what you actually learn. There are no revelations, no wisdoms as a trade off for the things you have lost. You just get stupider, more selfish. Colder and grimmer. You forget your keys. You leave the house and panic that you won't remember where you live. You know less than you ever did. You keep crossing thresholds of grief and you think, Maybe this one will unveil some sublime truth about life and death and pain. But on the other side, there's just more grief. … No matter how good I get at being Renee's widower, I won't get promoted to being her husband again. The loss doesn't go away – it just gets bigger the longer you look at it.

Wow. For me, those 50 pages redeemed the whole book.

I'd love to hear from others who have read this. Judging by the Amazon user reviews, I am definitely in the minority (though Florinda at the3rs blog agreed with me).

Let’s Get Ready To Rock: DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME, ROCK ON, AND LOVE IS A MIX TAPE

I finished Run today, thanks to a pair of long flights west, and am looking ahead to my next books. I love combining two of my favorite interests – books and music – so I have two books on tap that might fit the bill. The first is Don't You Forget About Me, by Jancee Dunn, which I wrote about here. The second is Love Is A Mix Tape, by Rob Sheffield, a book I discovered a while ago and wrote about here.

Both covers have cassettes on them:

Sheffield

Dunn

Perhaps when I finish these two, I will finally get to Rock On, by Dan Kennedy – a rock and roll/fiction trifecta.

Of course this plan might fly out the window after my planned visit to the famed Powell's bookstore tomorrow.

Reminder: The online book club for Run will take place here on Thursday Sept. 25th. Happy reading!

LOVE IS A MIX TAPE by Rob Sheffield

Ok, I was intrigued off the bat because of this book’s title: Love is a Mix Tape. As someone who has spent her life making mix tapes, CDs and, now, playlists, I was curious as to what this book was about.

Turns out it’s a well-reviewed memoir by Rolling Stone critic Rob Sheffield about his relationship with his wife, who died suddenly at age 31.  From the Village Voice:

SheffieldSheffield writes about their life together with such excitement that her death never looms; its inevitability fades. We meet Sheffield as an awkward kid in Boston and follow him through high school and college. When he encounters Crist, they’re both grad students in Charlottesville, Virginia. We see them fall in love and get married and go on road trips and argue and watch TV. The boy-meets-girl stuff might not be anything new, but Sheffield tells the old story with an impressionistic warmth. And so when she dies, it’s a sudden jerk out of a hazy dream. It’s a hard book to finish.

Sheffield builds his story around 15 mix tapes that he and Renée made. The device would be insufferably precious in almost any other writer’s hands. But Sheffield is a music critic (as was Crist), and the constant talk of music never feels like a self-conscious distancing technique; it’s the prism through which the two saw the world. Sheffield’s love for Renée and for music are so tightly intertwined that it’s a wonder he was still able to listen to anything after she died. But he kept all those old tapes, and has built an enormously moving book out of them.

I love this quote from Sheffield:  "Every fan makes [mix tapes]. The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with – nothing brings it all to life like an old mix tape. It does a better job of storing up memories than actual brain tissue can do. Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they add up to the story of a life."

The Denver Post says: "As if there was any question, this is Renee’s book. Sure, Love Is a Mix Tape also touches on Sheffield’s early years making mix tapes for school dances and his current life as a Rolling Stone contributing editor who spends his nights at rock clubs holding hands with someone not Renee. It’s a loving homage to an extraordinary relationship, and Sheffield obviously took a great deal of time, nuance, love and care in crafting this, his greatest mix tape yet." 

However, the review also says, "Sheffield’s post-Renee depression is drawn out to the point of exhaustion. The sadness is overwhelming, and even the jaded will sympathize with him. But the tone isn’t the problem. The length is. Just as Renee emphasized life, this book should spend more time on the living, love and lives that Sheffield is so adept at capturing." So the book is not without its flaws.

Here is a blog post on Love is a Mix Tape from the Bad Muse Blog.