Back Catalogue » Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life
A Book by and for the Fanatics Among Us
- April 13, 2010
- Random House
- ISBN: 1400066204
Who is the book for?
What's a "drooling fanatic"?
I couldn't shake the notion that we had gone wrong somewhere, that we belonged to some special category of the thwarted. We spent an inordinate number of hours mourning the fact that we had not wound up as rock stars or one-hit wonders or near-misses or bar bands or wedding bands or KISS cover bands or midget KISS cover bands. We had wound up, instead, as wannabes, geeks, professional worshippers, the sort of guys and dolls who walk around with songs ringing in our ears at all hours, who acquire albums compulsively, who fall in love with one record per week minimum and cannot resist telling other people—people frankly not that interested—what they should be listening to and why and forcing homemade compilations into their hands and then calling them to see what they thought of these compilations, in particular the syncopated handclaps on track fourteen.
Any defining symptoms?
Chances are, we've loaned money to musicians.
Chances are, we were DJs in college and had a show with a name so stupid we are vaguely embarrassed to mention it now, though we are quite happy to mention that we were DJs in college.
Chances are we've spent weeks in puzzled anguish over why our favorite band isn't more popular, given how much the songs on the radio suck, though if our favorite band suddenly hit it big we'd feel more resentment than pride.
Chances are, the only periods of sustained euphoria in our lives have been accompanied by music.
Is drooling fanaticism contagious?
I've been trying to make the case—in my own discombobulated case-making fashion—for Drooling Fanaticism as a spiritual condition, that music is, for certain of us, the chosen path toward what William James called "a larger, richer, more satisfying life." James was talking about God, but I'll happily regard that as a term of convenience for That Which We Worship with Irrational and Perhaps Head-Banging Glee.
In fact, I'm willing to argue at this point that we are all Drooling Fanatics, that every single human being carries within her or him the need for music and that we differ only in matters of degree and expression.
What sort of stupid things do drooling fanatics do?
Once his manager was gone, James Cotton turned and, as if noticing me for the first time, said, "You suppose you could do me a favor, young man?"
"Of course," I said.
"I need to get some medicine."
"Sure," I said.
This would make awesome color for my story. What could be better than fetching medicine for a dying, legendary bluesman? I pondered what sort of medicine the old fellow might need. Hopefully it would be something dramatic, such as nitroglycerin tablets.
"We gotta drive somewhere," Cotton said.
He was whispering and so I whispered back, "Okay, let me get my friend. He has the car."
"Hurry now," Cotton said.
It did not occur to me to question why Cotton had entrusted this medical task to me, rather than (say) his manager, or a person in some way affiliated with his tour. I was really a very sheltered human being. Nonetheless, I fetched Holden and Cotton stood up and placed himself in our custody.
"You all got a liquor store around here?" he said.
I understand the book includes several "obnoxious lists." What sort?
Ten Things You Can Say to Piss Off a Music Critic
- Sonic Youth—are they the ones that do "Pass the Dutchie"?
- People who don't like Steve Miller should fucking move to Canada.
- Jack Johnson is our generation's Woody Guthrie.
- Don't you sometimes wish "Free Fallin'" were the national anthem?
- Do me a favor and hold my beer. Thanks, dude. I'll be right back.
- Yeah, but have you ever seen Michael Bublé play live?
- Don't you wish these jazz dweebs would learn to play a real song?
- Exile on Main Street is okay, but it's no Steel Wheels.
- Did you ever want to be, like, a musician yourself?
- Paradise Theater is an American classic.
What was it like for you to cover the Grammys?
Here's what I figured would happen: I'd arrive at the Shrine Auditorium and there'd be this giant diamond-studded vacuum device which would suck me into the inner sanctum of The Music Industry, a softly lit pillow lounge sort of place where Prince and Springsteen would be jamming with the remaining Beatles and someone would hand me a drink and I'd get spun into the arms of Linda Ronstadt, who would be dressed in a mariachi garter-belt type ensemble and who would muss my hair in aroused proto-cougar fashion and reach into my back pocket and toss my reporter's notebook away and laugh girlishly, then whisper into my ear that her "needs" would have to be met before she could go out and do her song, and by the way could Toni Tennille tag along?
In the event, I spent three hours standing in line outside the Shrine Auditorium, the wrong line it turned out, a line intended for those media with "floor credentials," which explained why the others in line were so tan and nicely dressed and attractive, why they had monstrous heads and blinding teeth and hair that didn't move: they were TV reporters. The situation was clarified by a kindly security official named DeWayne, who directed me to a second, much uglier line in the back of the building, located downwind from the septic outflow. Ah yes, the Shrine Auditorium's anus.
What, in your fanatic opinion, are songs supposed to do?
They remind us that emotions are not an inconvenient and vaguely embarrassing aspect of the human enterprise but its central purpose. They make us feel specific things we might never have felt otherwise. Every time I listen to "Sunday Bloody Sunday," for instance, I feel a pugnacious righteousness about the fate of the Irish people. I hear that thwacking military drumbeat and Bono starts wailing about the news he heard today and I'm basically ready to enlist in the IRA and stomp some British Protestant Imperialist Ass, hell yes, bring on the fucking bangers and mash and let's get this McJihad started. I feel these things despite the fact that:
- a. I am not Irish
- b. I sort of hate U2
- c. The song actually advocates pacifism
What else is in the book?
- Sometimes drunken interviews with America's finest songwriters
- The terrifying specter of Graceland stoned
- Recommendations you will often choose to ignore
- A reluctant exegesis of the song "Africa" by Toto
Can you talk a little about the mating habits of drooling fanatics?
Did I honestly believe Elise lacked the emotional depth required to be involved with me simply because she loved Air Supply? Was this even possible? Indeed, wasn't my willingness to dismiss this woman based solely on her earnest devotion to a soft rock duo proof of my own spiritual disfigurement?
In a word: possibly.
What was it like to visit your musical heroes?
It will sound hokey, but I honestly felt like I was standing in a holy place. I had 559 Bob Schneider songs in my iTunes library. I had listened to his music for entire days at a time and thought about him, in some capacity, every day for the past five years. I recognized the chance that we would run off together was extremely low, but I also believed—and I think Drooling Fanatics cannot help themselves in this regard—that I understood Bob in a way nobody else on earth did, that we were soulmates and though he didn't know this yet he had a secret message to impart. This is perhaps the most annoying aspect of Fanaticism, from the musician's point of view. They owe us nothing beyond their songs, but we keep hounding them for more.
Why was it so hard for you to interview Dave Grohl for SPIN magazine?
Because there was a protocol, predicated on the fact that a reporter was an interloper, a non-famous person, an envoy, in fact, from the larger world of non-famous people. The idea that a non-famous person would make a demand on the time of a famous person is inherently offensive to the keepers of celebrity.
Journalists are dependably loyal to this protocol, because their professional stature depends on access. When that access is promised then suddenly denied in irrational ways, when you are basically standing around in a strange place far from home with an unctuous publicist as your only ally, it makes you angry, but more than that it makes you very very needy. I hope this helps explain why, the first time Dave Grohl spoke to me, approximately 59 hours after we were first supposed to meet, six hours before my return flight to Boston, I was so instantly grateful, so starstruck, so possibly and confusingly in love, that I could only nod my head and fight back tears.
What did Ike Reilly teach you about rock and roll?
It occurred to me, as we cruised along the darkened shoreline of Minear Lake, that this was the central allure of rock and roll: the creation of a personal mythology. Rock and roll allowed people to lie about themselves, and to be sanctified for the extravagance of their fictions. This was how a mama's boy from Tupelo became our gyrating Jesus, how a nasally Jew from Hibbing, Minnesota, reinvented himself as a hipster messiah. Rock had enabled Ike Reilly to buy Gatsby's mansion and still shout the savage truths of punk rock.
How about Boris McCutcheon?
Music lay at the center of everything. He had led us astray and risked the injury of his lead guitarist, but now, as the sun set over Buzzards Bay and golden light flooded the room and dust motes made wild circles around his head, we stood behind him swaying and nobody said anything for a long time. Later there was dinner and booze and pot. Boris busted out his guitar and played a few new songs. He was writing all the time, between gigs and travel and the jobs taken and not quite kept. We all waited, in those months, for what he would write next, our desire being not a greed for proximity or ownership, but for particular forms of beauty and what they might reveal about ourselves.
Are you concerned about your children inheriting your fanaticism?
So Josie and her little brother will probably dream of being rock stars, too. Why not? They'll grow up with two parents who dreamed of being rock stars, in a house filled with instruments those parents can no longer play. And probably (this must be said) they won't be rock stars. How many of us get to be? But what they will have, what we all get, is the chance to be Drooling Fanatics. And I hope they feel as I do—a bursting gratitude for those musicians brave enough to speak the first and final language of our hearts.
Finally, how will Rock and Roll Save My Life?
One song at a time.
"For some of us, music is true religion, and Catholic to boot. Steve Almond comes off as devout—and divided—as any altar boy. His strange and funny book should be required reading for all of us fans and musicians who belong to the Church of Rock and Roll." — Aimee Mann
"The goofiness and magnetism of rock is celebrated in this exuberant memoir. Rock critic and memoirist Almond (Candyfreak) describes himself as a drooling fanatic of rock and roll with a morbid passion for obscure bands, arcane record collections, and proselytizing his musical tastes. This freewheeling mix tape recounts the central role music played in his relationships, sexual encounters, and life transitions, while sprinkling in idiosyncratic lists, from Rock's Biggest Assholes to Silly Names of Rock Star Spawn, and tragicomic exegeses of songs great and terrible. His rock-critic gig enables his obsessions, giving him cover to profile, hang with, and otherwise stalk rockers while gazing into the bleak underside of their lives, the desolation in which... art continues to bloom. Almond deftly straddles the line between intellectual and fan. He's canny about the ways rock stars manipulate their idolators, yet happy to be seduced by them. He veers smoothly between funny, cruel takedowns of rock fatuity while registering its emotional impact (the song I Bless the Rains Down in Africa may be the lovechild of Muzak and imperialism, but you can't help sort of digging it). Almond's snarky, swoony counterpoint makes for a hilarious riff on the power of music." — Publishers Weekly
"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." — BookPage
"Almond makes clear from the start that he's no rock star, just a guy who obsesses over music he can't play. Dreams of rock stardom danced in his adolescent head, but he soon realized, watching Springsteen's 1975 concert film at London's Hammersmith Odeon, that he'd never make it and better get used to it. So he and like-minded friends became "Drooling Fanatics"—"the sort of guys and dolls who walk around with songs ringing in our ears at all hours." If you've read Nick Hornby's High Fidelity (1995) or seen the movie, you know the type. Almond fills the book with gratuitous lists (e.g., of bands shamelessly overexposed by the "alternative" press) and the neurotic urge to overshare personal details. It isn't enough that he's an obsessive listener. He needs others to like what he likes. Among the many pleasures his rants afford are his deconstructions of bad pop songs (e.g., Toto's "Africa" and Air Supply's "All Out of Love"), but really, dipping into his ramblings at virtually any point quickly becomes addictive, impertinent fun. His hilarious musings seem to contain elements of both Hornby and David Sedaris, but he's truly a character of his own idiosyncratic making." — June Sawyers, Booklist