One of the things I enjoy most about doing this book club is that it gives me the opportunity to meet—over e-mail, anyway—many of the authors we’ve read. And what inevitably comes across is how much they enjoy hearing from readers and answering questions about their books. Case in point: Rob Sheffield. “[A]s you can see, it was a pleasure to answer them. Some of them I went on for 2 or 3 paragraphs—it was hard to stop!” he wrote. “I feel really honored to be part of your book club.” On the club’s behalf, I think I can say (at the risk of sounding like a fangirl) the honor is ours. Read Rob’s answers to your questions.
From discussion leader Lisa Whitmore: How/when did you come up with the title? Did you know that would be the name of the book while you were writing?
Rob Sheffield: I had to call the book “Talking to Girls About Duran Duran” just because that’s how I’ve spent my entire life. When I was growing up in the Eighties, every woman I know went crazy for Duran Duran, and all these years later, all these women *still* do. I’m in awe of that.
For me, learning to speak female languages meant that I had to learn to talk about the music they loved, especially Duran Duran—and I’m still trying to learn! So I’m kind of obsessed with Duran Duran. Although not as obsessed as my wife is.
Which chapter was the hardest to write, and why? Which was most fun?
The most fun chapter was the one about driving an ice cream truck around Boston in the summer of 1984, listening to Prince and Madonna on the radio while eating away at all the goodies in my freezer. I was on the road 18 hours a day, so every song on the radio became permanently fried on my brain. I can still sing the German lyrics of “99 Luftballons”—and I don’t understand a word of German! Wheels, music, and ice cream—you can’t beat that combination, right?
The hardest might have been the chapter about Morrissey, just because I was so obsessed with the Smiths in such a quintessentially teenage way. When you have that kind of fan experience, you hope to solve the mysteries of your life through music, because you’re positive your favorite band has all the answers. I sure do cringe while I remember those details. But I never get sick of those songs.
If you grow up as a music fan, you have experiences like that. Because I grew up in the Eighties, mine were about Morrissey and Prince—but for my little sister, it was LL Cool J and the New Kids on the Block. Everybody’s got their own idols. The music changes but the fan experience is the same—whenever you grow up, you have that intense personal connection to the music you love. It’s like falling in love—it changes the way you experience everything.
Were there songs and vignettes that you left out of the book? What were they, and why didn’t they make it?
Well, I could rave on forever about the Eighties music I love—I could have filled up 600 chapters no problem, except that I had to stop somewhere. I didn’t have room to get to my favorite Chic or Bon Jovi or Stacey Q or Taylor Dayne songs. I would have needed a couple dozen chapters just to cover all my favorite songs by the Human League. I agonized over whether to devote the chapter to their most famous song (“Don’t You Want Me”) or their funniest (“The Things That Dreams Are Made Of”) or their most ambitious (“Love Action”). I went with “Love Action.” But every couple of days I think to myself, hmmm, maybe “Don’t You Want Me” is a little better than “Love Action.” Then I change my mind again. It never ends!
It’s all part of being a music fan. You’re always having those arguments in your mind, trying to figure out the songs you love best.
How did the friends/family members who made it into the book respond when they read their chapters?
The whole time I was writing, I was grilling my friends and family about these stories—it was really funny to hear their take on the same memory or the same song. So every time I’d ask my sisters to read a chapter, they’d come back with some different version of the story, with details I had totally forgotten. That just made it all more fun to write. I could listen to my sisters talk for hours, and writing this book was like hearing them talk and joining in. Although they tell me I *still* don’t know the correct way to clap to Hall & Oates’ “Private Eyes.”
If you had to identify one favorite band from the ’80s, what would it be?
Duran Duran are the ones I keep coming back to—they’re like sages and gurus to me. They seem to understand so many of the secrets of the universe, or at least the secrets that have to do with impressing girls.
There are so many great bands from that time, though, in so many different music styles. The other day I sat in the park with my iPod and listened to forty Replacements songs in a row. Last night I was up until the wee hours listening to the New Order album “Low-life.” So my favorite music never runs out of surprises for me.
From reader Renee Sharkey: My question to Rob would be, if you were to make a mixed tape of music in the “noughties” that has had some influence on you, or held some significance in relation to the memories it takes you back to, what song would be a definite on the list?
Great question. The past ten years have been full of songs I love, and I keep putting them on mixes. I could go on for dozens of songs here, but I’ll go with three that I’ve been listening to today.
LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” (2007) is a song I never get tired of—it’s a powerful seven-minute song with a heavy electro beat, like David Bowie in his most Euro phase with a really emotional vocal about the way your life changes as time changes and your friends have their own adventures.
Franz Ferdinand’s “You Could Have It So Much Better” (2005) is a perfect summer song—a mod guitar boy in tight pants singing about how he goes around carousing in the city, as girls chase him down the street, although you can tell this is all in his dreams.
And all day today I’ve been listening to Ciara’s “Oh,” from 2004, with that really sultry R&B beat as Ciara lays down all the rules about how dancing gets done in her town. Atlanta has its own party style. (I guess every town has its dancing rules? Until Ciara entered my life, I didn’t fully realize the imporance of this.)
From reader Isabelle Kafarela: I wanted to know (if the author doesn’t mind sharing)…what happened to Renee? It just says that she died…
She died on May 11, 1997, of a pulmonary embolism. She was just 31. It happened suddenly and unexpectedly, at home with me. We were two months away from our sixth wedding anniversary. The whole story of Renee is in my first book, “Love Is a Mix Tape: Love and Loss, One Song at a Time,” from 2007. It’s the story of this girl and the music we shared.
From reader Joanna Ouellette: Having grown up in Medfield & Franklin in ’80s and ’90s, this brought me back to my childhood and teens. in what way(s) did growing up in New England shape your perspective as a music listener and writer?
Medfiiieeeld! I always love New England—I go back all the time because I still have my sisters and parents there. I grew up in Milton, right next to Boston, which is a great town for music and a perfect place to grow up as a music fan, with all these different cultures and generations on the radio. When the Eighties began, I was listening to the rock stations (like WBCN and WCOZ and WAAF) to hear the J. Geils Band and the Cars and Aerosmith; by the end of the decade, there was New Edition and Bobby Brown. But everybody seemed to listen to a lot of different music, and all the musicians seemed to be checking out each other’s styles. So there was excitement in the air.
From reader Chris Himmelwright: I really enjoyed this book! My question for Rob Sheffield is what do you think of the music now and how does it compare to the music of the ’80s?
Thanks, Chris! I’m always hearing new music I love—the same excitement is definitely there. It’s funny how many of my favorite albums from this year are playing around with sounds of the Eighties. Whether it’s Lady Gaga and Rihanna on pop radio, or arty indie-rock kids like Bon Iver or Destroyer or EMA or Oh Land—a lot of the sounds on those records come straight from Eighties new wave and dance music, except twisted in weird new directions. I love that.
The new album by Explosions in the Sky reminds me of the Smiths and the Cure, except with no vocals. And two of my favorite albums this year are the new ones by Duran Duran and Stevie Nicks, so it just goes to show—you can never count anybody out. “All You Need Is Now” is my favorite DD record in at least 20 years, but if some hot young band made it today as a debut album, people would think, “These kids are brilliant. How do they do it?”
The other day I was talking with a friend about the new Bon Iver album and she said she liked it because it reminded her of Peter Cetera. I guess that’s what I love about Eighties music—it always comes back in strange new disguises. If young musicians are trying to re-embrace Peter Cetera, *anything* is possible. I guess that’s all part of (as Peter would say) the glory of love.