Prequel to Rolling Stone contributing editor Sheffield’s Love Is a Mix Tape (2007).
There’s a truism in rock that a breakthrough hit the first time through will often lead to a sophomore slump. The author’s second attempt to use favorite songs to reflect on and illuminate his life isn’t really a disappointment, though it necessarily lacks the emotional power of Mix Tape. Where that memoir of the 1990s had a natural narrative arc, from the birth of love to the heartbreaking death of the author’s young wife, this successor, which focuses on the ’80s—the musical culture and the author’s formative years—is more of a hodge-podge collection of essays straining for cohesion. Proceeding chronologically, with 25 chapters titled after songs released during the ’80s, Sheffield pursues a general theme of how girls and boys talk about, think about and feel about music differently. There are incisive chapters on Hall & Oates, Paul McCartney and the Replacements (“they made good imaginary friends”), along with revelations about how the author was an altar boy until 16, never had a girlfriend until 19 and had a traumatic experience clipping his grandfather’s toenails. Though the reader learns in passing about the author’s remarriage, much of the talk about girls concerns his younger sisters, “the coolest people I knew.” Where Sheffield’s debut felt cathartic, some of this book seems comparatively glib—for example, “There are times in a man’s life that can only be described as ‘times in a man’s life.’ The first time he experiences A Flock of Seagulls is one of them”; “MTV was, roughly speaking, the greatest thing ever.”
Those who loved the author’s debut should enjoy this follow-up.