Music Feature

The Music Man

by Molly Sprayregen
Music Writer Rob Sheffield Speaks at the University of Pennsylvania Kelly Writer's House

The only thing more animated than Rob Sheffield’s writing is Rob Sheffield. In the quaint Arts Café of Penn’s Kelly Writer’s House, his hands move up and down as wildly as his voice changes accents. A reading from his latest book, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, becomes a theatrical performance in which Sheffield transforms into his 1980s, music-obsessed self that the book depicts.

His obsession hasn’t gone away. Sheffield has been a music journalist for the past twenty years and currently writes a pop culture column for Rolling Stone. His knowledge and passion for music commands the room; he can barely stand still as he gushes about every genre from Grinderman to Taylor Swift.

 Talking to Girls About Duran Duran details the adventure of Sheffield’s youth through the lens of the music he listened to. Each chapter, he explains, is set up like a song, a song that reminds him of a particular theme or story.

 On his book, author Darcy Steinke says, “Sheffield uses music the way some people use scripture—to elucidate and sanctify the mysteries of life.” At the Writer’s House, Sheffield’s fervent digressions on the rockstar status of Neil Diamond, the “squeakocity” of Justin Bieber, or the confusion that his purple shirt—decorated with the name of a band called Thank You—caused at the train station makes clear his ability to find enchantment in music.

 This enchantment comes through in his writing, and he is not intimidated by the abundance of opinions feeding music blogs and websites twenty-four hours a day. “I enjoy the instant babble feed of nothingness that is constant…I just don’t want it to end there,” he exclaims. The critiques that appear just hours after a song or album is released cannot tell the whole story. Sheffield allows new music to linger in his mind, revealing the multiple layers he knows all songs contain. Even if he doesn’t like a song or artist, a huge rarity, he sets out to understand why.

 No musical artist can escape Rob Sheffield’s vivacious opinions, but as a man who absolutely refuses to dislike a song without considering every possible praiseworthy quality, I don’t see why they’d want to. 

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