Rob Sheffield Discusses Karaoke’s Mesmerizing Draw in Turn Around Bright Eyes

Turn Around Bright Eyes is more than a karaoke love song–though it’s certainly that. Rob Sheffield‘s latest musical-infused memoir is a powerful homage to music as a pathway to new experiences and flash imprint of the moments–both fleeting and enduring–of our lives.

Sheffield, a writer for Rolling Stone, moved to New York City in the summer of 2001, a young widower trying to start anew after the sudden death of his wife, a story he wrote movingly about in his 2007 memoir, Love is a Mix Tape. When a few friends introduced him to a West Village karaoke bar, Sheffield found not just a new hobby, but also a way forward.

Sheffield’s book, like the Bonnie Tyler 1983 blockbuster hit it borrows it’s title from (“a karaoke international anthem”, Sheffield explains in our interview) will stick in your mind long after finishing.

In a review for Amazon.com, fellow writer and music lover Chuck Klosterman hits a perfect note describing Sheffield and his new book, some of which we’ve excerpted here:

“What you realize from Turn Around Bright Eyes–and from its narrative progenitor, Love is a Mix Tape–is not just that Sheffield calibrates his entire existence through popular music. It’s that this calibration is simultaneously reasonable, creative, and profoundly satisfying. This is not a book about how karaoke helped some depressed person escape from reality; this is a book about how karaoke continually allows a happy person to perform his own reality, in public, whenever he so desires. When Sheffield describes how it feels to cover “Ziggy Stardust” in a windowless room, he is only halfway talking about David Bowie; he is mostly talking about himself. When he defines why Neil Diamond is the cornerstone of the karaoke universe, he is defining what he values about culture; when he outlines why he added Rush to his karaoke repertoire, he’s outlining the process of personal growth; when he explains the sensation of singing Bonnie Tyler’s masterwork alongside his wife, he’s explaining things about his marriage that would be impossible to explain otherwise. It might seem crazy, but it works every time.

There is no question about life that Rob Sheffield cannot answer through the lyrics of a Top 40 song everyone else forgot to remember. He understands Rod Stewart the way Frederick Exley understood Frank Gifford. He understands made-for-TV Lifetime movies the way John Didion understood hippies. He understands Bon Jovi slightly more than the members of Bon Jovi. He understands why life hurts and why life feels good.”


Recorded at Book Expo America, New York, 2013.
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