Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “rob sheffield”

Amurph11’s #CBR4 Review #11 – Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, by Rob Sheffield

“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like. Books, records, films – these things matter. Call me shallow but it’s the fucking truth.” -High Fidelity

I was at a panel at Northeastern University the other day talking about activism (specifically talking about activism around rape. That’s the only subject I ever receive invitations to speak publicly about. It’s kind of depressing). There was a professor on panel who was head of Northeastern’s Communications department, and in an attempt to explain why people don’t speak out more about these issues, he made a salient point: “Caring about things isn’t cool,” he said. “And we desperately want to be cool.”

I could tell right then and there that I was getting old, because my first thought was, “wait, when did this fucking start?” As background, age-wise I am placed squarely in between generations X and Millennial – I think they call us Generation Y, which seems like an insulting afterthought. Growing up as the bastard middle child between two generations gave me some amount of perspective on both, and I can tell you: Gen Xers did not think caring was uncool.

Let me qualify: the 1980s and 90s offered up a lot of opportunities for activism (activism that was albeit scoffed at by narcissistic Boomers because it wasn’t loud enough for them), but that’s not the kind of caring I’m referring to here. Gen X was marked by how much they cared about their pop culture passions. Movies, music – these things mattered. They were cool as fuck, but more than that, they were important, and people treated them as such.

Author Rob Sheffield is just such a person. By his own account, Sheffield was definitely not that cool growing up. In fact, you might call this book a catalogue of his uncoolness, from his obsession with religion, to his really overbearing Smiths phase (didn’t we all know someone who went through that phase?). It is here, at this intersection of an uncool young man and his music, that we find both the heart of the story and the meaning of its title.  The young Sheffield didn’t know how to be cool. But Simon LeBon of Duran Duran – that guy knew how to be cool. He was cool, and women loved him. Therein began Sheffield’s education in love and coolness, because don’t kid yourself – they go hand in hand.

The book is fantastic, just to be clear. Like his first effort, Love is a Mixtape, each chapter corresponds to a musical moment, in this case, songs from the 80s and early 90s. Each of those songs corresponds with an intimate moment of Sheffield’s childhood – nostalgic, usually embarrassing, always poignant and hilarious.  The music ranges from Madonna and New Kids on the Block to the Psychedelic Furs and Roxy Music, Haysi Fantayzee to, of course, Duran Duran. There are some really good songs in here, and there are some really bad songs. What impressed upon me the most from the musical selection was that even the really bad songs (“Cars With the Boom,” by L’Trimm, for example, and don’t tell me you don’t remember that song because you’re lying) are so much better than most of what is on the radio today. Because at least they have a personality.

Dave Grohl made this point about the dearth of diversity and personality in today’s music at the Grammy’s (which was then ridiculously misinterpreted, more on that here), and I think it bears repeating. I’m not saying there isn’t still great popular music out there – though I would argue almost all of it is being made by rap and hip-hop artists – but the mass of auto-tuned shit that dominates the airwaves today is indicative of a much broader, much scarier cultural theme: the music on the radio all sounds the same because it all is the same. It’s the audible interpretation of a culture where it’s uncool to care too much, to try too hard. I’m not arguing Duran Duran’s “All She Wants Is” is some sort of masterpiece of lyrical perfection (what? what does she want??), but it’s certainly better than fucking “Baby” (“and I’m like baby, baby oh, like baby, baby, baby no?” REALLY, BIEBER?). That’s why I loved this book so much. Because it brought me back to a time when the good music was great, but even the bad music was at least trying. When, in short, people gave a shit about what they did and didn’t like.

This book is many things, but it is at it’s most basic point achingly, sometimes cringe-inducingly, sincere. In that way, it’s like the best of John Hughes and Cameron Crowe put together – two Gen X directors who taught us that it was never uncool to be yourself, and to stand up for what you like.

That’s the beating heart of the book – it is goddamn cool to care. It doesn’t even particularly matter what you care about: music, movies, liturgy (because there’s some of that in here too), the Red Sox, obscure first edition graphic novels. All that matters is that you claim something in the world as your own and love it fiercely, even if it doesn’t particularly deserve it (Duran Duran is not that good). You know the saying, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference? The same thing goes for coolness. Indifference is easily confused for cool because of its uncanny similarity to confidence. But those indifferent assholes who think Leonard Cohen is old and boring and has a shitty voice, whose taste in film doesn’t go past the top 5 box office performers of the present year, who root for whichever team is currently winning championships, who sure as hell wouldn’t be spending their free time reading and reviewing 52 books in a year: fuck those people. Those people are going to be so boring once they hit adulthood. Hell, they’re boring now, and they definitely aren’t cool. Because coolness isn’t about being apathetic and auto-tuned. It’s about embracing what you love and not giving a shit what anyone else thinks about it. By that measure, Simon LeBon is indeed cool but you know what? So is Rob Sheffield.

Recommended for: Gen X-ers for the nostalgia factor, but really anyone who loves music or a good coming-of-age story.

Read When: You’re on a bus, or somewhere otherwise tedious, like the waiting room of a dentist’s office. It’ll make the ride/wait/whatever much better.

Listen With: The book is literally a playlist, you lazy fuckers.

Erin is Scrumtrulescent’s #CBR4 Review #05: Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield

When I was fourteen, I was a friendless mute in the halls of my high school. In classes I barely spoke and spent most of my time with my limp hair over my face, hiding both my acne and the tiny headphones from my Discman. It all changed when one of my brother’s friends tapped me on the shoulder one day and extended an olive branch in the form of pointing out the fact we were both wearing the same exact band t-shirt. The year was 1995, the band was the Smashing Pumpkins and from that day on everything else in life got easier. I had someone better than a friend; I had somebody who also spent way too much time memorizing song lyrics, minutiae about four people we had never met, and who also spent their money on unofficial picture-laden biographies and singles remixes.  You just don’t find that every day, people.

This is the general theme behind Talking to Girls About Duran Duran.  Having grown up in the 1980s, Sheffield starts each chapter with a song from a year within that decade. Sometimes the chapter is about that song or band and sometimes it is just an undercurrent in memories from that era. It is a fun look back at a decade I am too young to really remember through the eyes and ears of somebody whose record collection I would love to pick through. Everybody from Madonna to The Replacements to Haysi Fantayzee is included, and Sheffield does a great job of convincing you that you do remember that song and band even if you have no idea who they are.

While I have not always been crazy about Sheffield’s  contributions to Spin magazine, I really enjoyed his debut Love is a Mix Tape. While this book does not have the emotional gut punch that his debut had, there are still some very nice moments captured. A large chunk of my memories between the ages of thirteen and twenty-three are based around music as well, but it was nice to read about somebody else’s. I would not go so far as to say you have to be a huge music nerd to enjoy this book, but it certainly would not hurt.

In one of the essays in the book, Sheffield goes into detail about the ups and downs of his relationship with the Smiths. His love was so intense at one point that even listening to them while doing mundane things made it seem as though Morrissey was reading his thoughts and having a conversation with him through the lyrics he was hearing. Even things like walking around or doing laundry were totally different with or without a soundtrack. This sounds a bit ridiculous, and you sense that Sheffield knows this as he is writing about it.  I laughed when I read it, it DID seem silly but it was a silly I am still young enough to remember but old enough to already miss. I never thought I would miss seeing Billy Corgan in shiny silver pants but, God help me, I still do.

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #2: Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

I’m having a really hard time reviewing Love is a Mix Tape and I can’t figure out why. Maybe it’s because this book was as near to perfect as I could ever hope. Or maybe it’s because, as anyone who is familiar with the late 90s tour de force Playing by Heart (all 10 of you) knows, talking about love is like dancing about architecture. I don’t know if that’s true or not, because Rob Sheffield talks about love just fine. Maybe he has a dance about The Sears Tower, too, and that’s what his next book is about. Fingers crossed.

When I “met” my husband on, we spent a week emailing each other before meeting in person. We spent most of our first date talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, David Sedaris, and Rushmore. It’s how we bonded, how we got to know each other and I think that’s true of so many of our generation, especially now that the Internet, home to All Pop Culture Knowledge Ever, exists in such a way that we can access any aspect of pop culture at ANY TIME. Did you forget how Alex Mack got her superpowers? Wikipedia has the answer. Want to know how many companions The Doctor has had? Easy. Well, sort of. My point is (if I have to have one), it’s all pop culture all the time in our house. My husband and I are still finding random bits of pop culture (POP POP) to bond over. It’s why we recently purchased Hey, Dude and honestly, it’s akin to a secret language at this point, our ability to converse in movie and TV quotes, quotes that have mated with other quotes and given birth to brand-new-baby quotes at this point, leading to inside jokes that even we don’t really understand anymore and yet still never fail to make us laugh.

This was true of Rob and Renee in Love is a Mix Tape, only replace movies with music. I had no idea what Love is a Mix Tape was about when I picked it up, which is weird because someone bought it for me BECAUSE IT WAS ON MY WISHLIST. Most likely I’d heard good things about it (for good reason) and put it on my wishlist, or I was drunk online-window shopping again. The world may never know. Anyway, I didn’t even know this was a memoir until I started reading it and thought, “Hey, the main character’s name is Rob, just like the author’s! Oh, and the cover says memoir on it.” Duh-DOY.

Rob Sheffield is a writer for Rolling Stone and knows more about music than anyone in the world (I’m assuming). Love is a Mix Tape was published in 2007, which means, as usual, that I am super late to the party, a party that probably had the most epic mix tape imaginable. The story begins with Rob, freshly widowed, sitting in his apartment, listening to a mix tape, and missing the hell out of his wife, Renee. Objects that remind him of her litter the apartment. He doesn’t actually say outright that she’s died, not right away. In fact, at first, I thought he was reminiscing about an ex-girlfriend. And while it’s true that I’m not very observant, I think the reveal is spectacularly done.

Each chapter of Rob’s memoir begins with a mix tape that leads the way into the narrative. Stories throughout the book flash back to before Renee died, how the two met and came to be married, to her death and the days and years afterward. It’s heartbreaking and funny and I was not only in awe that a person could make it through something so terrible with such wit and humor intact, but it made me wish I’d known Renee. One of her favorite movies, after all, was The Cutting Edge and I think I’ve already made it obvious that I have a soft spot for wonderawful 90s movies.

Having read this, I’m adding Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Man’s Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut to my Wishlist immediately. Five stars all around!


Cross-posted here.

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