Rolling Stone contributing editor Sheffield (Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut, 2010, etc.) muses on love, loss, life, Rod Stewart, female Rush fans and much more in an homage to the art and attitude of karaoke.
Moving to New York City in 2000 as a young widower—his wife died at age 31—Sheffield spent most of his time “in a catatonic stupor on my couch, caked in despair and Cheetos dust.” Then he discovered karaoke and met Ally, the astronomer and fellow “rock-geek” he would later marry. Coming from a long line of Irishmen with bad voices, Sheffield found that in karaoke, perfection didn’t matter, effort did: “It’s a place where no-talents and low talents and too-low-for-zero-talents tolerate each other, even enjoy each other, as we commit brutal crimes of love against music.” If perfection is missing, a shared community of momentary rock stardom and mutual support is not. So it was with Ally, his partner in karaoke obsession, but they were, and are, different people. In a long passage containing some solid marriage advice, Sheffield warns to “give up on the idea of perfection”—however, you must work at it. The author wanders far afield, from family memories to karaoke nights in a Florida senior living village to hilarious takes on music’s biggest names—e.g., David Bowie was “the only rock star who ever pretended to be from outer space in order to seem less weird.” Throughout, Sheffield returns to the theme of the mysterious ways music can bring people together, offering hope and renewal. Eschewing cynicism, the author writes with a seemingly effortless blend of evocative pathos and spot-on humor that moves and inspires.
It’s only rock ’n’ roll writing, but Sheffield nails it.