Summary: The 1980s meant MTV and John Hughes movies, big dreams and bigger shoulder pads, and millions of teen girls who nursed crushes on the members of Duran Duran. As a solitary teenager stranded in the suburbs, Rob Sheffield had a lot to learn about women, love, music, and himself. And he was sure his radio had all the answers.
As evidenced by the bestselling sales of Sheffield’s first book, Love Is a Mix Tape, the connection between music and memory strikes a chord with readers. Talking to Girls About Duran Duran strikes that chord all over again, and is a pitch-perfect trip through ’80s music-from Bowie to Bobby Brown, from hair metal to hip-hop. But this book is not just about music. It’s about growing up and how every song is a snapshot of a moment that you’ll remember the rest of your life.
Talking to Girls About Duran Duran 7.5
‘Talking to Girls About Duran Duran’ is a memoir by music writer Rob Sheffield. It explores his youth through the music that he listened to at the time, discussing its influence and impact on him. Unlike ‘Love is a Mix Tape‘, it doesn’t focus on a particular event or person – it’s a random assortment of recollections that have some sort of meaning to him.
Each chapter is named after a song, but it frequently only has a tenuous link to the chapter itself, which is usually more about the musical genre than about that particular track. In fact, although some chapters are more on point, Sheffield frequently goes in seemingly unrelated directions before wrapping things up with a quick, contrived nod to the title track.
The same could be said of its title, which barely pertains to the content itself: at no point does anyone talk to girls about Duran Duran, and the band (or its members) are not recurring figures – aside in the brief introduction and the closing chapter, which is named after Duran’s “All She Wants Is”. Despite its poor form, ‘Talking to Girls About Duran Duran’ is full of enjoyable material.
I loved the chapter (Ashes to Ashes) on David Bowie, because Sheffield spoke about his tumultuous relationship with Bowie’s music at length (“There was no getting away from Bowie. It was like trying to break up with the color orange, or Wednesday, or silent e.”) sometimes loving his music, sometimes being bewildered by it, but following every move and change of wardrobe.
I relished the one (Love Action) on the New Romantics movement. Although I know very little about The Human League and, thus, most of the Phil Oakey references were lost on me, I enjoyed Sheffield’s take on the period. He also has some biting comments to make: “At a time when guitar bands complained that keyboard geeks were too lazy to learn real instruments, Phil Oakey had the gall to announce he found synths just too hard to play.”
I really enjoyed his recollections (Purple Rain) about his summer in the ice cream truck, even if it has little to do with Prince’s song. His interactions with his unsophisticated supervisor were worth a few chuckles and his work ethic left him to bemoan that the others didn’t “respect the ice cream”. Ha! And when he commented “I was eighteen and I liked both kinds of music: Echo and The Bunnymen”, I lost it.
I really enjoyed the Paul McCartney chapter (No More Lonely Nights), in which he describes Macca as “the bossy Irish sister in The Beatles”, saying that, without him to push the other Beatles, they likely wouldn’t have lasted as long as they did or produced all that they did. I was amused when he explains that “He’s the only Beatles people really argue about”. So true. No one can agree on what to make of Paul.
The Morrissey chapter (Ask) was very tongue-in-cheek (“He devoted his life and mine to making me a lamer, dumber, more miserable person.””His songs were a Magic 8-Ball of the damned.”). I have never listened to The Smiths, but you could tell that it was chock full of references. I had a few good laughs when Sheffield created false dialogues featuring Morrissey, using some of his lyrics. It was absurd, Pythonesque, and terribly funny.
The John Hughes chapter (Pretty in Pink) was gold. Before going into his appreciation of John Hughes films, Sheffield also muses on the use of air quotes and “No worries” vs “Whatever”. His trek through ’80s teen movies was fun, even if the value of many of them is questionable at best. And on John Hughes: “For those of us who were sullen teenagers, it shocked us how he got the details right, especially the music”. Totally.
The Lita Ford one (Kiss Me Deadly) wasn’t bad. He spoke of Paula, a hard rocking girl with a penchant for pop music that he spent a large part of one summer hanging out with, watching a lot of MTV. It’s chock full of references to Cher, Def Leppard, Johnny Depp, Lita Ford, and… Debbie Gibson. I was really saddened to find out how it ended, however, because there was no closure, no way to understand what happened.
Enjoyed the chapter (Funky Cold Medina) on his fanhood of cassingles, even if I don’t share the enthusiasm (I remember them, and even then I thought that they were crap – they were never cool). But I understood his arguments and loved his passion for them. Plus which it was a whole of fun to read his list of all of his favourite cassingles – there was stuff I had forgotten and some that I had never heard of before. Fun.
The last chapter finally takes us into Duran territory, going through ‘Decade’ in a cursory fashion. Although he skips a few tracks on that compilation, I loved his Duran-related stories, to which he devoted a larger chapter than the others. He’s clearly a big fan because his bias can be felt everywhere (“All She Wants Is”, a hit? Not quite. All other band members but the original Fab Five are nobodies? Hmmm… not really.).
But he’s also a bit of cynic, so he won’t stop himself from ranting about “their bat-shit pretensions and preening pretty-boy bitch faces” – all the while admitting that he loves them anyway. He’s followed their solo and side projects, even when he finds them mediocre, for instance. And he claims to have done things he’s not proud of in his fervour for Duran Duran. Heck, even I haven’t done anything I’m ashamed of for them.
My favourite story must be the ridiculous 2007 Live Earth intro by Simon Le Bon (which I missed… what kind of fan am I?), in which he pleaded the crowd to save the earth by dancing to “Girls On Film”. Really, Simon? It’s ridiculous, and he knows it, but Sheffield loves them anyway. Maybe even because of it. He goes on at length about how they’re a band who make music for the girls in the room and don’t care what the boys think. Nice.
The fact is that I could somewhat relate to Sheffield, even though we lived largely different lives. Is it his ability to connect via relatable experiences that is at play here? Or is it just because I was a big white dork too (or, as he comments in the Bowie-related chapter, a “Thin White Douche”)? I couldn’t say for sure, but I totally gobbled up some of those chapters.
Although Sheffield’s book is short on tips for talking to the ladies about Duran Duran (a darned shame because, being a long-time Duran fan, I surely would have made use of that to great effect), it was nonetheless an enjoyable read and it was a breeze to get through. I think that I prefer his first book, however: it’s more cohesive and it pays off on its promise a bit more.
But… it doesn’t have nearly as much Duran Duran in it.