April 2010

The trials and triumphs of life as a fanatic

By Steve Almond
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A long-lasting trend, and one that hasn’t gotten tiresome, is memoirs about how rock music matters. Music is such a personal experience—Air Supply may remind you of your first love; it reminds me of interminable childhood car trips—that every writer brings a different approach to the material. It makes for some great books (e.g., Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City, Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mix Tape). Now you can add another to the list: Steve Almond’s Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, wherein the author recounts his life as a “drooling fanatic,” or DF, which includes a gigantic record collection and a slightly unhealthy attachment to certain bands and artists. “Chances are, the only periods of sustained euphoria in our lives have been accompanied by music,” Almond writes of DFs.

For Almond, he was doomed after discovering the Police’s Outlandos d’Amour in his older brother’s bedroom. He eventually becomes a music critic, an occupation he finds surprisingly unfulfilling. When Almond embraces adulthood in Miami, a local musician destined for stardom sets the tone for the author’s salad days, though both end abruptly. He then learns how to write fiction thanks to the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits and meets his future wife Erin—”a former metal chick with literary aspirations.” Almond breaks up his narrative with lots of lists and “interludes” on Styx, Toto’s “(I Bless the Rains Down in) Africa” and how Erin almost canoodled with ‘80s rock has-been Kip Winger.

Somehow a meeting with Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters ties everything together for Almond, who never comes across as a snooty analyzer or an overbearing gossip. Whether he’s writing about the depressing beauty of “Eleanor Rigby” or stalking a favorite musician in the men’s room, there’s observational sharpness, unflinching honesty and biting humor. You’re compelled to read to see how music and love and life intersect for him. The result is the nonfiction equivalent of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, a knowing and exhilarating look at how one man dove headfirst into rock music and emerged on the other side intact.

Pete Croatto is a New Jersey-based writer and editor.

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