Friday, March 11, 2011

Book Review: Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut, by Rob Sheffield

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut
by Rob Sheffield
274 pages

By the time I had finished reading the very first paragraph of Rob Sheffield's memoir, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, I was already laughing hysterically.

"If you ever step into the Wayback Machine and zip to the 1980s, you will have some interesting conversations, even though nobody will believe a word you say.  You can tell people the twentieth century will end without a nuclear war.  The Soviet Union will dissolve, the Berlin Wall will come down, and people will start using these things called 'ringtones' that make their pants randomly sing 'Eye of the Tiger.' America will elect a black president who spent his college days listening to the B-52s.

But there's one claim nobody will believe: Duran Duran are still famous."  (pg. 1)

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran gets its title from Sheffield doing exactly that.  "It's how I've spent my life," he continues.  "I count on the Fab Five to help me understand all the females in my life - all the crushes and true loves, the sisters and housemates, the friends and confidantes and allies and heroes. Girls like to talk, and if you are a boy and you want to learn how to listen to girl talk, start a conversation and keep it going, that means you have to deal with Duran Duran. You learn to talk about what the girls want to talk about.  And it is a truth universally acknowledged that the girls want to talk about Duran Duran." (pg. 2)

This is not, however, a book solely devoted to the virtues and appeal of Duran Duran (although there's a fun mix of that in the introduction and last chapter.  The other chapters - all titled with various '80s songs and artists (ones that are each, in some way, meaningful and influential to Sheffield) - are vignette-like stories of Sheffield's suburban Boston escapades in the '80s.  Spending a summer driving an ice cream truck, rushing home from a school dance at 10 p.m. to catch the premiere of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" on MTV and then heading back to the dance to show off the moves, trying in vain to master the hand-clap sequences of various songs ("Private Eyes", by Hall and Oates, who get an entire chapter in this book).  If you grew up in the '80s, you will definitely see yourself in these hilarious tales and understand exactly what Sheffield means when he says, "When Michael Jackson, John Hughes, and Patrick Swayze died, these were national days of mourning." (pg. 3) and "Any wedding I attend degenerates into a roomful of Tommy and Ginas living on a prayer." (pg. 3)  

I promise you, I'm not going to quote the book verbatim in this review ... but I could, simply because there's so much good stuff here. For many of us who grew up in the Big Hair Generation, music was what we knew and what our lives revolved around.  It was also our very foundation of life itself.  ("Top 40 radio was a constant education in the ways of the world." (pg. 25)

Sheffield manages to weave all kinds of  '80s references - from music to songs to fashion - into his narrative, much of which is peppered with lyrics or '80s "in-jokes" (just like that ...the use of "air quotes" for certain words and how you won't find people under a certain age doing that or even knowing what that is.)  There's more coverage of new-wave music here, but there's certainly enough to make anyone nostalgic and appreciative for this glorious decade.

I will admit, I was a little surprised and taken aback (and disappointed, truth be told) by Sheffield's treatment of Paul McCartney, who at one point he calls "dumb," his manner "cartoonish," and his public actions "moronic."  Now, as regular readers know, I am a huge Sir Paul fan.  I've never paid $250 to see anyone in concert until Paul played Philadelphia in September 2005 (maybe that makes me dumb) and I doubt I will ever pay that amount for a concert ticket again. I also don't doubt that Paul has his faults (he's a knight, not a saint) but in my world, he'd have to do something more horrendous than make his wife part of his band or release an album the likes of "No More Lonely Nights" (which I actually really like) in order to fall from my graces.

Which is why I was perplexed (and cringing, actually) at passages like these:

"Paul was the bitchiest Beatle. Everybody knows the other Beatles thought he was bossy. Even in the interviews for the 1990s Anthology documentaries, George Harrison physically bristles in his company. But he was the Beatle who worked hardest, who forced the others to finish their songs and show up in the studio."  (pg. 154)

Even lovely Linda, God rest her soul, isn't immune.

"He [Paul] didn't just sing about the way love messes up your mind - he lived it out. He even let his wife, Linda, join the band. Everybody made fun of him for that; everybody knew the joke, "What do you call a dog with wings?" There's no way Paul didn't know the whole world was laughing at him for giving his wife so much of his attention - he just didn't care.  Or maybe he did it to annoy people." (pg. 156)

That may be true (that Paul just didn't care), but the fact is that Linda is an intrical part of Wings.  He wanted to be with her, he wanted to be in a band and on the road. How is that any different than John and Yoko? Or any other husband-wife duo? 

Want more?

"It's his virtues that seem profoundly fucked up. He was a man deranged by love, driven to madness by a happy love affair, a deeper madness than other rock stars got from their unhappy ones .... "Maybe I'm Amazed" is an infinitely freakier song than "Revolution Number 9."  [my note: absolutely, completely disagree 100% here.  I cannot abide "Resolution Number 9" - fingernails on a chalkboard is preferable to listening to that - and I make The Husband turn it off if it is played in my presence.]  Linda seemed like nobody's idea of an obsession-worthy muse, just some random hippie chick Paul liked. ...

Um. "Maybe I'm Amazed" is an amazing song, a tribute to Linda for essentially saving Paul's life post-Beatles breakup, while he was in the throes of a breakdown and a depression so deep that he couldn't even get out of bed.  

"I'm not claiming to like all the music - far from it. "Let 'Em In" is some kind of high-bongwater mark for how zonked and sedated a grown man can sound when things are going too smoothly. Songs like this terrify me. I mean, Keith Richards has some impressive vices, and I always love hearing gossip about them. But they only disturb me in theory. In real life, I'm not in any danger of turning into Keith Richards and neither are my friends.  But turning into Paul McCartney? It could happen to anyone.  Some of your friends are probably already this fucked."  (pg. 158)

I'll be honest here.  I really, really enjoyed this book - up to this chapter. I can't say that these 9 pages ruined the book for me, but they managed to leave a sour taste in my mouth. (I had recommended this to The Husband before getting to this point, but there's no way in hell he'll pick this up now after hearing me read to him the aforementioned quotes.)  It's just that it's hard to quantify devotion to Hayzsi Fantayzee (an '80s band I've never heard of) with this. 

Enough of that.  I'll let it be, and I'll leave you with the thought that Talking with Girls About Duran Duran is indeed well worth listening to what the man (Rob Sheffield) says.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Eleventh Stack (blog of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which is very high atop my list of places to visit when we move to the 'Burgh)
The Girl from the Ghetto
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Amused said...

This book sounds like a hoot! Books set in the 80s crack me up for some reason and memoirs I am really into these days. I better check this out.

Jessica said...

Oh, this sounds hilarious! I must read it.

nomadreader said...

I adored his first book (Love is a Mixtape) but haven't read this one yet. I did pick it up at BEA (loved meeting him!) and read the first chapter, but the premise didn't appeal to me as much. I will get around to reading it, I'm sure, but you should make time for his other memoir. It's fantastic.