The first book I ever read by Rob Sheffield was Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, about how he used to feel out of place because of the music he liked, since Duran Duran had a very large female fan base. Love Is A Mixtape followed, discussing how the personal, romantic even, nature of mixtapes led him to fall in love with his first wife. Turn Around Bright Eyes picks up right from there, discussing the heartbreaking loss of his first wife to a sudden death and how karaoke was an important part of their lives.
This love for an activity that is inherently public and even self-effacing helped him gain confidence and fall in love with an new woman, after crashing her radio program. He found her when he was returning to his hometown as a way to rediscover his life as it was crumbling around him without his truest love. Luckily, both Sheffield and his new love found solace and magic in picking up a microphone and trying to sing your favorite songs to midi files and bouncing balls tracking lyrics on a big television.
Sheffield mixes observations about the karaoke phenomenon, his own personal music geek experiences, and even artist profiles (Neil Diamond and Rod Stewart, most notably). The way he tells these stories is so genuine; the way he explains the songs he and his colleagues perform truly extrapolate on the underlying emotions and meanings behind the lyrics. As a fan of music, I really learned about the psychological and emotional attractions of this karaoke thing, which I previously saw as cheap entertainment. Trust is necessary between members of your group and a shared openness to different artists and genres is encouraged. It really is a special social place that is unique in its universally-appealing means and ends, as guided by music.
Over the past couple years, I have been legitimately exposed to karaoke – a few times at various Korean clubs where I scared my close friends with my passionate rendition of “Helter Skelter” and honed my fake British accent on “Wonderwall,” and another time with live band karaoke in front of a public crowd where my friend masterfully led the band in Heart’s “Alone.” (She received a standing ovation from the crowd.) I get it now. It suddenly makes sense. Whether you are in a good mood or a weird mood, karaoke can help to heal.
It’s a great read that will certainly turn you on to new music, and if not that, then motivation to get you up on that stage and belt out your favorite songs. You will inevitably ruin them, but who really cares. You will gain friends, self-respect, and empathy in the process.