Review: ‘Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life,’ by Steve Almond

July 10, 2014

“Misery loves another idiot with a jukebox where his soul should be."

photo: Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life book cover

As lovingly described in the book cover, they are Drooling Fanatics: geeks who walk around with songs constantly ringing in their ears, own more than 3,000 albums, and fall in love with at least one record per week.

Sound like anyone you know?

"Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life: A Book by and for the Fanatics Among Us" is the story of rock critic and memoirist, Steve Almond (and maybe you and me), and his passion/obsession with music and musicians, from the phonographic era to the digital age, from interviewing obscure artists to major rock stars.

Along the way we are treated to humorous and snarky lists, interludes and essays on: the relevancy of Styx and Paradise Theater ("there is no sin in the realm of taste"), things to say to piss off a rock critic ("Jack Johnson is the Woody Guthrie of his generation") and the art of the romantic mix tape ("ever try to seduce someone to the sounds of Nick Cave's 'Murder Ballads'?")

There are also some poignant moments in the book too. Almond describes how, when his wife was young, Metallica's "Fade to Black" offered salvation from a strict Catholic upbringing.

She was a violin player who one day announces she's picking up the electric guitar, leaving symphonies behind and playing heavy metal. This leads to psychiatrists, a break from the family, loneliness and isolation. But somehow a song about suicide saves her from complete self-annihilation.

Also in one of the final chapters there's a discussion with a singer who makes the case that the people who listen to music get more satisfaction from it than the artists who make it. Respect for the Drooling Fanatic!

Almond does spend some time talking up artists, like Nil Lara, Ike Reilly and Boris McCutcheon, who for better or worse will only be foot notes in the big scheme of things. But to put them into context, the author has assembled a play list of some of their songs and others mentioned in the book at www.stevealmondjoy.com.

The book’s an enjoyable read and a reminder that for some, it’s not just only rock and roll.

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