Rob Sheffield learned everything he needed to know about life from his pop music collection.
The journalist and author made that clear in his bittersweet Love Is a Mix Tape, the 2007 memoir in which he viewed the loss of his first wife through the poignant prism of songs by Pavement and Big Star. He makes it clear again in his latest mashup of remembrances and rock criticism, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, a breezy ode to growing up in the '80s that's fun to read but less focused than the earlier book.
Where Mix Tape concentrated on a single love story, Talking to Girls fills 200-plus pages with personal essays — each pegged to a different pop song — that wax nostalgic about everything from Sheffield's former schoolteachers to John Hughes movies to the ludicrousness of the Cassingle. It's a walk down a very specific memory lane, one paved by Generation X.
During that walk, Sheffield doesn't always successfully tie together his flashback with a pop chart-topper; a chapter about his summer gig as a garbage collector, dubbed "Total Eclipse of the Heart," barely refers to the Bonnie Tyler track of that name.
Yet in other places, Sheffield's prose shimmers with nostalgia. Recalling his soundtrack to another summer job, one that involved peddling frozen treats, he writes, "Every time Prince strummed that cathedral-sized opening guitar chord of Purple Rain, it felt like the ice cream truck was a spaceship lifting off to bring Creamsicles to distant constellations."
Moments like that, and there are just enough of them here, will make Sheffield's fellow early MTV worshippers happy to connect with such a delightfully wistful, new wave kindred spirit.