"Talking to Girls About Duran Duran," Rob Sheffield

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When I was 16, I was the Secretary or Vice President of The Culture Club at my high school. The fact that I can't remember what position I held says everything about my devotion to this club. The '80s were making a trendy comeback, at least among teens, and my friends claimed they were '80s enthusiasts and talked me into joining them in creating a club. (I believe the words "it'll look good for college" were thrown around.)

I felt like a complete fraud, because in comparison to my friends and the few people who came around to share in this likely fabricated appreciation for the '80s, the '80s to me meant sleazy saxophones, Molly Ringwald, glowy music videos and pre-English accented Madonna. At the time, I thought the only truly good things to come out of the '80s were Nick Carter (born 1980), me and my friends (born 1984-1987), and the movie "For Keeps" (1988, and still one of my favorite movies). The Culture Club met probably only a handful of times, and the only meeting I really remember was the viewing of a Molly Ringwald movie (again, can't remember which).

Anyway, this is just a long-winded way to say that I probably had very little business reading Rob Sheffield's memoir-ish book "Talking to Girls About Duran Duran," set mostly in 1980s Boston. I'll be very honest: I first picked up the book (while killing time at Barnes & Noble at the Prudential Center in Boston, very fitting) because I had read online reviews and my curiosity had been piqued; I picked up the book the second time because I knew he had a chapter devoted to "Hangin' Tough" by the New Kids On The Block.

Really, the chapter is about his little sister Caroline, who was obsessed with the New Kids when they were still just local celebrities. If you too are a New Kids fan and as confused as I am by what exactly New Wave entails, I'll save you the trouble of reading the book (by no means a terrible read): Caroline and her friends stalked the New Kids in 1988, sometimes in conspicuous flocks. One of Caroline's friends' friends (' friends?) sees one of the New Kids buying condoms at Osco Drug. And that's about it.

The memoir is charming -- basically a collection of anecdotes told through the veil of song. My problem with this is that on the whole, it doesn't make for a particularly coherent read. At times, Sheffield hardly even tries to weave the song the chapter is dedicated to into the story that he alleges is linked in some way to the song. He name-drops people from his past, but forgets that after 12 chapters, the casual reader can no longer remember who "Ally" is.

The concept of the memoir is great, and the writing is funny and heartfelt, but it's inconsistent. It starts out strong but "the point" of each anecdote grows weaker and weaker as the memoir goes on. But his enthusiasm for music, good and bad, is made clear as day. Not bad for a Rolling Stone contributing editor, but he could do much better. I suspect his first memoir "Love Is A Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song At A Time" is exactly that.

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