This post is in partnership with Publisher’s Lunch, the book industry’s “daily essential read,” delivering web and print publishing news, original reporting and insightful analysis.
The second installment in a weeklong series of excerpts, produced in partnership with TIME.com, is from the sequel to Rob Sheffield’s widely praised 2007 memoir Love is a Mix Tape.
Turn Around Bright Eyes picks up the story where Love is a Mix Tape left readers—with Rob Sheffield’s life imploding. After the death of his wife, Rob begins to create a life in a new city with a new circle of friends, finds the job of his dreams, and ultimately, loses himself in the campy fun of karaoke—and in doing so, finds himself with the woman of his dreams.
Publishers Lunch’s just-released free ebook Buzz Books 2013: Fall/Winter includes a pre-publication excerpt from Turn Around Bright Eyes—from which this shorter selection is adapted—plus samples of dozens of other high-profile books that will published in the months ahead. To get a free copy of the book, click on the widget at the bottom of the page.
8:04 pm: TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART
Welcome to Sing Sing, our beloved karaoke den on Avenue A. This is our favorite spot because it has everything you want in a karaoke place: great songbook, private rooms, surly bartenders, cheap drinks. Every time we head over to Sing Sing, I get that thrill of anticipation as we pad down Avenue A. As soon as I see that red awning over the door, even from a few blocks away, the adrenaline starts to flow. The awning has the classic yin-and-yang symbol of the Tao. Except it’s at the center of a microphone.
From the sidewalk outside, Sing Sing looks like any other karaoke bar. There’s always a picture of a microphone outside. There’s a door guy checking drivers’ licenses, probably wishing he could be the door guy somewhere swankier, maybe a club where they have a velvet rope and a strict no-Journey policy. Inside, it’s dim fluorescent lights and red walls. The customers perch on their barstools, just a few notes away from crashing to the floor. There’s usually a bartender. And there are always songs. That’s why we’re here.
My voice has never actually killed anyone. I am positive of that.
But yeah, did I mention I can’t sing? I can’t. It’s bad. I have loved music all my life, and as they say, you always hurt the one you love. So I have spent my whole life trying to sing, while other people try to escape. I have been described variously as a “hard trier,” a “good sport,” and a “vocal Chernobyl.” But oh, it’s bad. And hence my karaoke problem. I am hopelessly obsessed with karaoke because it lets me do the one thing I’ve craved every minute of my life. It lets me sing.
It’s not like I haven’t tried before. I’ve always been an obsessive pop fan. I write for Rolling Stone, so I blast music all day, every day, constantly on the prowl for my next favorite song. But I never had the talent to sing or play an instrument. Here’s a list of my credentials as a singer: A kind-hearted music teacher let me sing baritone in the high school chorus. I am fantastic at remembering the lyrics to every song. I rarely gush blood from the mouth. I have both of my lungs. And let me emphasize: my voice has never killed anybody.
But that’s it for my vocal credentials. Tacos will grow on Christmas trees before I learn to carry a tune. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. In karaoke, talent means nada; enthusiasm is everything. What I lack in talent, I make up for it in passion. Hence my karaoke problem.
If you’re someone like me, a fan who loves music but could never hack it as a musician, karaoke changes everything. It unlocks the door to center stage. It’s a safe and welcoming place where anyone can join in the music. So even if you never summoned the courage or skill to cross that line from fan to participant, karaoke is something anybody can do. Your only limits are emotional. Indeed, it forces you to keep upping your emotional ante, as you voice your innermost feelings out loud. And that’s the weirdest thing about karaoke—sometimes you can feel like you’re experiencing some of the most honest, most intimate moments of your life, while butchering a Hall & Oates song at 2 A.M. in a room full of strangers.
That intimacy is what makes it such an addictive vice. With karaoke you’re really putting yourself out there. People are going to watch you and stare. But the whole culture around karaoke creates a temporary environment of total acceptance. When we do karaoke, we sing along with songs we hate. We cheer for the weirdos across the room. We high-five strangers. You dim the lights, crank the volume and you can get away with anything.
Over the years, I’ve gotten totally obsessed. Like I said, I have a karaoke problem. But admitting the fact that you have a problem is the first step toward making it an even bigger problem.
I got obsessed with karaoke around the time I got obsessed with Ally. It’s a fact: Getting obsessed with a girl is a good way of getting obsessed with anything.
For us, karaoke is one of our shared passions, and it’s one of the ways we communicate. Ally is an astrophysicist and a glam rocker, so I always keep learning new things about the universe from her. And even after years of marriage, I still find out strange new things about this girl when we sing together. Every time we get our microphone cords tangled up, I get a little more obsessed with her.
I got into karaoke at a time when I felt like my life was a used firecracker. I was only in my early 30s, but I figured it was all too late for me. I was a miserable widower with no idea how to muddle on. The happy chapter of my life was over, and the world had run out of surprises. But it turned out my life was just beginning. I fell in love, I got married, I found a new life and a new home. Karaoke was just one of those surprises. But for me, it turned out to be a way of finding my voice. Something about it opened up doors for me emotionally. For me, it was part of coming back to life.
Right now, here in the basement of Sing Sing, Ally and I are in for the night. We’re punching in the numbers and loading up the machine for hours to come. We don’t know where the songs will lead us, what kinds of memories or sensations they’re going to trigger. But we will clutch the mike and feel the surge. If friends show up to join us here, all the better. That just means more songs. We’ll blast each other with requests and duets until they kick us out at 4 am. Then it’s goodnight hugs and cabs. There will be friends dropped off until it’s back to just Ally and me. As soon as we get home, we’ll fix some toast with cheddar on it, before we fall asleep to dream of rock & roll.
Is this thing on? Good. Because I am. We’re here to sing. Every now and then we come together. Every now and then I fall apart.
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Copyright © 2013 by Rob Sheffield. Used by permission of HarperCollins.