Book review: Turn Around, Bright Eyes by Rob Sheffield

The music critic and commentator finds refuge in karaoke after the death of his wife in this poignant and hilarious essay collection.

Photograph: Jessica Lin

By Rob Sheffield. It Books, $26.

Longtime rock critic and cultural commentator Rob Sheffield’s third autobiographical essay collection, Turn Around Bright Eyes, is a love letter to the karaoke scene that gave him the strength to move on with his life after his first wife’s tragic death, while affirming his passion for music—one song at a time.

Employing a clever format in which each individual chapter is dedicated to a favorite karaoke tune, the author adroitly weaves accounts of his personal experiences with insights into the songs and artists in question. Highlights abound throughout the breezy 270 pages, including a funny and thoughtful essay on Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs”. There’s a poignant, yet hilarious, recounting of singing “New York, New York” at his parents’ Florida retirement community, where the geriatric contingent was deathly serious about its karaoke.

Sheffield comes across as an impressive storyteller, encyclopedic in his knowledge of both high and low culture and convincing in his presentation of loss and redemption through music. Turn Around Bright Eyes is a seemingly benign treatise on the silliest of subjects with the undercurrent of a profound existential enterprise.

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