As a teenager I gorged myself on VH1 clip shows and countdowns. I learned my music history from lists of the 100 greatest insert-category-here, and despite not being born until 1988, my most beloved source of pop culture nostalgia was I Love the ’80s. If you know who Rob Sheffield is, it’s most likely that you know him as a Rolling Stone writer. I know him as a VH1 commentator.
I loved the idea of Rob Sheffield’s two music memoirs. From perusals at the bookstore, it seemed that he based chapters around ’80s songs or took inspiration from vintage mix tapes. I chose to read his second book first, simply because it sounded more light-hearted. As it turned out, my expectations were grossly out-of-touch with reality.
Talking to Girls About Duran Duran could have been in-depth musings about the way certain songs fit into Sheffield’s life, or it could have been a more traditional collection of stories that uses music as a loose framework. Instead the book tries to be a little of both, and it does neither side justice.
Perhaps if I ever read Rolling Stone, it would have prepared me for Sheffield’s writing style. His greatest downfall is generalizations. As a nonfiction writer, details are your best friend, but even when telling a personal story, he often remains infuriatingly broad. “My sisters always do this” or “all this girls I knew were like that.” Okay, great. Now give me a very specific example with lots of details, please!
Even more troubling are the gender stereotypes that constitute the book’s “themes.” (I can’t resist using the air quotes that he professes to hate.) For example: “But it’s tougher to talk to women about the Clash. (They love ‘Stand by Me’ but they don’t care that it’s really called ‘Train in Vain’ instead of ‘Stand by Me.’)” Au contraire, my friend! I know that it’s called “Train in Vain.” I care that it’s called “Train in Vain.” I am, in fact, obsessively accurate about song and album titles. And that’s just in the introduction!
Sheffield also assumes a lot of reader knowledge about his life, or else he doesn’t think context is important. (Hint: it is.) Perhaps he gives a more cohesive personal background in his first book, and he feared repeating himself for second-time readers. Whatever the reason, it left a first-time reader like me feeling adrift. Readers need context, Rob. It’s what makes us do important things like care. My favorite chapter was probably the least personal, in which Sheffield discusses Paul McCartney’s role as the “bitchiest Beatle.” When that happens in a memoir, something has gone wrong.
The silver lining is that I’m one step closer to my Read More for Four goal.