Turn Around Bright Ears

Was planning to read Turn Around Bright Eyes (no, silly, not that Turn Around Bright Eyes, the one by Rob Sheffield) but for reasons too complicated to explain (it involves two Christmas gifts, one of which was embarrassingly last minute), I ended up not reading it but purchasing and listening, mostly in my car, to the audiobook version through iTunes instead (cashing out an iTunes certificate I won at work several months ago). It’s read by Rob himself, as were his previous two books, neither of which I’ve heard, both of which I’ve read and loved. I’m not sure how prevalent non-fiction audiobooks are, but I know of only one other rock critic title in this format—Greil Marcus’s The Doors, which is not read by the author himself–though surely there must be others? Listening to a book, rather than reading it, adds another dimension to the whole thing, obviously; you’re not just thinking about the writer’s “voice,” you’re forced to think about his or her voice–their timbre, their accent, their range (you know, important questions like, are they a mezzo soprano or a basso baritono?). There’s also the point that, as a reader, you more or less invent a writers speaking voice–particularly a writer whose work you love–if you have never actually heard him or her speak. When I interviewed Richard Meltzer in 2000, it was the first time I’d ever heard him speak, and it seemed like such a disconnect to me–his low, almost sheepish-sounding drawl was far from what I anticipated, though of course, when I read Meltzer now–and I’ve since heard him in other interviews–what I “hear” as a I read him is something much closer to what I hear when he speaks. Though it’s still a little different than the voice that comes through for me in his first book. Weird.

I knew Rob’s voice well enough going into Bright Eyes. We’ve met in person once (years–decades–ago now, mind you), and I’ve listened to various podcasts and YouTube interviews with him also. So there was no shock to the system hearing him speak, and in general I thought his reading was clear, funny, self-deprecating, and emphatic (though not obnoxiously so). And he was great with the punchlines. Certain lines in the book stood out for how they sounded, as much as how they (might have) read. I still laugh thinking about him quoting some has-been rock star (honestly can’t recall who) at Rock and Roll Band Camp saying, “Fuck it–fuck it hard.” Only occasionally does he slip into voices–modes, I guess you call them–that felt a little off to me. While his English accent is a hundred times better than my own (as my wife points out, me trying to sound English is usually some godawful combination of about three or four different dialects, “English” not chief among them), I usually found it an unnecessary distraction anyway. The post-9/11 section–beautifully written–might have crossed the line from heartfelt to ponderous, intoned, as much of it is, in a deep hush. Couldn’t decide, frankly–maybe I’m being insensitive–but the point is, I spent too much of that section mulling the question, which was a distraction in and of itself (and which I doubt would have been an issue on the page).

Still, as a different way to enjoy an excellent work of criticism and biography, I enjoyed it lots; I LOL!’d often in the car. A mixture of cheap karaoke tunes playing in the background would have been swell, though.

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