Generally Eclectic Review

Reviews of book on music - all sorts. Feel free to share your comments, criticisms, and replies with my readers!

Location: Fredonia, New York, United States

Feel free to contact me at mason2042 at gmail dot com

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

“Talking To Girls About Duran Duran” by Rob Sheffield (Dutton Books)

Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield’s latest set of remembrances has attracted much more attention in the mainstream press than most music-oriented books. This may well be because, despite its outward appearance, “Talking To Girls About Duran Duran” isn’t really a music book. It is, rather, a series of short essays about growing up in Boston during the 1980’s to a constant backdrop of the music being played on the radio during this much-loved (by some), much-reviled (by others) era.

Each of these 25 essays is named after a specific new wave, hip-hop, or pop record of the period. In some cases, the song plays a defining role in the essay. In others, it is barely mentioned. In a few cases, songs other than the one that supplied the essay’s title perform a more significant role in the telling of Sheffield’s story. The titles and artists serve as themes, as reference points, which situate his reminiscences in time and mood, as guides to where Sheffield’s head was at any given time.

Thus, we learn about Sheffield’s relationship with his sisters (who recur throughout the book) as he tells us about his musical encounters with Duran Duran (who bookend this collection by being the focus of both the introduction and the final essay). He tells of his sexually frustrating experiences dancing with girls as an exchange student in Spain, represented by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “Enola Gay”. In two of my favorite chapters, we discover him working on a garbage truck in an essay entitled after Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (for reasons which would take too long to explain here), and spending an idyllic summer driving an ice cream truck, which very tangentially connects to “Purple Rain”. Indeed, the connection is definitely tangential in a few other cases as well. These, however, are balanced by essays that directly connect to the artist or song under discussion. Perhaps the most entertaining of the latter is Sheffield’s look at the virtually forgotten one-hit wonders Haysi Fantayzee.

I might surmise that the reason I so thoroughly enjoyed reading this book is that I can easily relate to the concept of phonograph records as the essential soundtrack to my own life, albeit two decades earlier. While I would never get around to writing my own Sheffield-inspired memoirs of my own defining era, the 1960’s, I can imagine which songs and vital performances would figure into it – “Runaway”, “Running Scared”, “Pipeline”, “California Sun”, “96 Tears”, “Pushin’ Too Hard”, and so on through the psychedelic era. While reading this book, I felt a kinship to Rob Sheffield, a man I’ve never met, almost as if he and I were brothers, born eighteen years and a world apart.

Or perhaps I simply enjoyed the book because Rob Sheffield is a lively and engaging writer, a fellow who has overcome much of his teenage angst, yet who can still relate to it and can express his fears and small triumphs with both humor and poignancy. Anyone who enjoys true-life coming-of-age tales, whether the reader is able to relate to ‘80’s pop music or not – I hereby confess it’s not really one of my favorite decades – will have a good time with this book.

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