Turn Around Bright Eyes: A Karaoke Journey of Starting Over, Falling in Love, and Finding Your Voice


Once upon a time I was falling apart. Now I'm always falling in love.

When Rob Sheffield moved to New York City in 2001, he was a young widower trying to start a new life in a new town. One night, some friends dragged him to a karaoke bar—and that night turned into many nights in many karaoke bars. Karaoke became a way to be someone else if only for the span of a three-minute song, and through the sublime ridiculousness of karaoke, Rob began to...

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Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke

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Once upon a time I was falling apart. Now I'm always falling in love.

When Rob Sheffield moved to New York City in 2001, he was a young widower trying to start a new life in a new town. One night, some friends dragged him to a karaoke bar—and that night turned into many nights in many karaoke bars. Karaoke became a way to be someone else if only for the span of a three-minute song, and through the sublime ridiculousness of karaoke, Rob began to find his voice.

And then the unexpected happened. A voice on the radio got Rob's attention. And the voice came attached to a woman who could name every constellation in the sky, every Depeche Mode B side, and could belt out a mean Bonnie Tyler. Turn Around Bright Eyes is a journey of hilarity and heartbreak with a karaoke soundtrack. It's about finding the courage to move on, clearing your throat, and letting it rip—and how songs get tangled up in our deepest emotions.

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Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
“Sheffield is fundamentally a gifted essayist.”
Los Angeles Times
“[What’s] remarkable about Sheffield’s new book is how deep he gets writing about how karaoke—bellowing pop songs to the accompaniment of canned backing tracks in front of supportive friends and drunken strangers—lifted him out of his existential gloom.…He examines the healing power of communal singing.”
USA Today
“Sheffield explores the healing properties of the much-mocked, beloved karaoke culture. He turns the ridiculousness of the aural horror show into something noble and meaningful.”
“Part love story, part ode to music by a lifelong fan…Sheffield doesn’t just know about songs, he feels them and what they do to him, and his fervent writing—part disciple, part critic-makes you feel the music, too. His insights into music’s importance for life and love are refreshing.”
Time Out New York
“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.”
John Taylor
“Romantic and addictive, Turn Around Bright Eyes is the most passionate and energetic performance. It could just be the funniest book ever written about music.”
The Atlantic
“In Sheffield’s hands, pop music is more than an object of cultural consumption—it becomes the language through which to navigate and negotiate his most intimate moments.”
Gary Shteyngart
“Turn Around Bright Eyes is a touching homage to ‘99 Luftballoons’ and other important chunks of our cultural heritage.”
Patton Oswalt
“Why in God’s name would anyone immerse themselves in the world of karaoke? Well, here’s your answer—and it’s a surprising trip out of some real darkness, set to a soundtrack of cheesy ballads, yelping rockers, and mangled standards. Turn Around Bright Eyes is an absolute treat.”
Julie Klausner
“Rob Sheffield understands music’s power to not only individuate ourselves, but to connect people to one another. His prose keeps such kind, sharp company. In Turn Around Bright Eyes he writes about what, and who, he loves without sentimentality. The world is a better place with Rob Sheffield.”
Publishers Weekly
In this hilariously affecting follow-up to his Love Is a Mix Tape and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, Rolling Stone writer Sheffield sings us through his journey to rebuild his life with the help of good lovin’ and a hot karaoke machine. After the untimely death of his first wife, a bereft Sheffield moves from Charlottesville, Va., to New York City, where he casts about the streets of lower Manhattan in search of meaning in life; eventually, he remembers the joys of staying out late and discovers the healing power of karaoke bars and clubs. Sheffield regales us with tales of a world unknown to most of us, but precious to the faithful: there’s J.J., the guy in Brooklyn who gets paid for singing karaoke, and the bar in the Mojave Desert where Sheffield croons Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” to group of stone-faced, die-hard Haggard fans. Through it all, Sheffield discovers that karaoke creates community that provides universal support for everyone who tries to sing the songs. He is also hopelessly “obsessed with karaoke because it lets me do the one thing I’ve craved every minute of my life.” It lets him sing. He also learns that karaoke is there to remind us that it’s never too late to let a song ruin your life by shaking you out of your emotional doldrums. Agent: Daniel Greenberg, Levine Greenberg Literary. (Aug.)
Library Journal
In 2007's Love Is a Mix Tape, music journalist Sheffield envisioned 22 mix tapes to recount his relationship with wife Renee, who died suddenly in 1997. Now he returns to the years directly after Renee's death as he copes by moving to a new town and throwing himself into music, especially…karaoke? Mix Tape was a cult favorite; with a 100,000-copy first printing.
Kirkus Reviews
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062207630
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/20/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 230,829
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 5.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Rob Sheffield

Rob Sheffield is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, where he writes about music, TV, and popular culture. He is the author of the national bestsellers Love Is a Mix Tape and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife.

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