Meet The Expert: Rob Sheffield

Jun 15, 2018
Originally published on June 18, 2018 2:29 pm

Rob Sheffield, longtime Rolling Stone music critic and author, tackles some hardcore music trivia and chats about his newest book, Dreaming the Beatles. The book, which came out this spring, is an exploration of the beloved band through the ears of today's listeners.

"It's crazy the Beatles are still the most popular group in the world," says Sheffield. "There's nothing else anywhere in our culture that's like this." Later, Ophira tries to stump Sheffield with some extra-tough music questions.

Heard on Ed Helms: Tag Me In.

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OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

While Doug and Lindsay get ready for the final round, it's time for us to play a game with Rolling Stone music writer Rob Sheffield.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: And congratulations, Rob. Your book "Dreaming The Beatles" was released in paperback this week.

ROB SHEFFIELD: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: So it's - I mean, it is fair to say there are a lot of books about The Beatles out there. And your book is different in the sense that you are talking about how this music persists through time and is relevant and still loved 50 years later.

SHEFFIELD: Well, it's crazy The Beatles are still the most popular group in the world, that they still keep getting more popular than ever. There is nothing else in anywhere in our culture that's like this. There's no Beatles of movies. There's no Beatles of cookies.

EISENBERG: You don't think chocolate chip might be the cookies of Beatles?

(LAUGHTER)

SHEFFIELD: Close. I think chocolate chip are The Beach Boys, and maybe Oreos are Aerosmith.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I feel like you are writing a game right now.

SHEFFIELD: Maybe - yeah, yeah, yeah.

EISENBERG: Rob, your Meet The Expert quiz is all about artists you've written about. So it's basically anything because you've written about so many artists. So let's start with some Beatles. A popular Beatles conspiracy theory suggests that at the end of the song "Strawberry Fields Forever" - you're smiling - John Lennon is saying, I buried Paul. But according to a Rolling Stone interview with Paul McCartney from 1974, what is Lennon really saying?

SHEFFIELD: Cranberry sauce.

EISENBERG: Cranberry sauce is correct.

(APPLAUSE)

SHEFFIELD: Because it was around Thanksgiving that the outtakes were later, like, bootlegged. And you can hear they're talking about in America, it's this nutty holiday they have called Thanksgiving where they eat cranberry sauce. And so a couple of times during the jam, John says cranberry sauce.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You are a well-documented fan of Taylor Swift.

SHEFFIELD: Yes.

EISENBERG: So tell me; what is Taylor Swift's lucky number?

SHEFFIELD: Her lucky number is 13.

EISENBERG: That is correct.

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EISENBERG: Tell us a little bit more of why that is her lucky number.

SHEFFIELD: She was born on the 13th.

EISENBERG: That's correct.

SHEFFIELD: And 13 has always been a number that she proudly represents.

EISENBERG: Yeah, she has a pre-show ritual where she paints the number 13 on her hand.

SHEFFIELD: She has a lot of rituals.

EISENBERG: In 2018, Cardi B became only the second female artist to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with a rap song. Who was the first?

SHEFFIELD: I'm going to guess Nicki Minaj.

EISENBERG: Good guess. I'm going to give you a hint. The year was 1998, the song featured on an album with the word miseducation in the title.

SHEFFIELD: Lauryn Hill.

EISENBERG: Yeah, Lauryn Hill. Yeah, Lauryn Hill was the other one.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: So...

SHEFFIELD: Would it be "Doo-Wop (That Thing)"?

EISENBERG: That's right, "Doo-Wop."

SHEFFIELD: The late-'90s were such a golden age of female rappers. It was Lil Kim...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: ...And Foxy Brown and...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: ...Missy and Da Brat.

EISENBERG: Right. Yeah, and Lauryn Hill, and then 20 years later Cardi B.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: OK, this is your last one. According to Rolling Stone contributing editor David Wild, in the 1990s, what gift did David Bowie unsuccessfully attempt to send him?

SHEFFIELD: Goodness gracious.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: The 1990s. That was beard-era Bowie. It was...

(LAUGHTER)

SHEFFIELD: Wow. I don't know.

EISENBERG: I'm going to give you a hint.

SHEFFIELD: OK.

EISENBERG: It didn't make it through border security.

SHEFFIELD: Was it a live animal of some sort, maybe?

EISENBERG: Close enough, yeah. Close enough, I would say. It was a pig fetus in a jar.

SHEFFIELD: Wow.

JONATHAN COULTON: That David Bowie.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: He...

COULTON: What a nut.

SHEFFIELD: What a card, yes.

EISENBERG: He saw it on tour. And, you know...

SHEFFIELD: And thought, this reminds me of a beloved friend.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: He would love it.

SHEFFIELD: Pig fetus - under pressure this pig fetus.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: The fetus was under pressure. Did you ever get any weird presents from anyone?

SHEFFIELD: The closest I ever came was - I wrote about beloved British pop star Robbie Williams. When he released his first U.S. album, it was called "The Ego Has Landed." I wrote about how brilliant it was. And then I woke up one morning, and I found a bouquet of flowers on my doorstep with a little note from Robbie Williams saying, thank you for knowing.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Really?

SHEFFIELD: Yes.

COULTON: That's very nice.

SHEFFIELD: It's the only time a pop star has ever sent me flowers.

EISENBERG: That's a class act right there. That is a class...

SHEFFIELD: That is Robbie Williams. Yes, that is a class act.

EISENBERG: Robbie Williams.

SHEFFIELD: Yes.

EISENBERG: Rob's latest book "Dreaming The Beatles" just came out in paperback. And you can read his writing on music and television in Rolling Stone all the time. Rob Sheffield, everybody.

SHEFFIELD: Thank you. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.