Steve Almond's latest book, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, is a quick little read, full of comic asides and Nick Hornby-like lists, but which doesn't really take off until he abandons the gimmicks and big-picture discussions of rock fandom and just tells stories from his twenty-year career as a music critic. Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life has a few too many digressions and unexpected shifts in tone to really hold together as a book, per se, but has much to offer as a collection of insightful stories and charming turns of phrase.
Its telling that a book about one's love of music spends mots of its time discussing its disappointments - being let down or stood up by the big stars, and his relationships with talented musicians whose bad luck kept them from making it big. Almond describes a back-stage view of an early MC Hammer performance as looking like "an ad for a delicious soda that makes people want to commit murder." Describing his first position as a movie critic, with the El Paso Times, he writes "Every year or so I got to review a band I liked, such as R.E.M. or Concrete Blonde or Steve Earle. But for the most part I was writing about Winger and Alabama and Reba McIntire and Vixen and Poison and George Strait, whom I reviewed four times, making me the only Jew (that I know of) to have his work excerpted in The George Strait Newsletter." Most bittersweet are the great bar bands, underground rappers, and alternative songwriters he meets on the music beat, none of whom achieve the sort of widespread fame and exposure their talent warranted. Almond appends an "official playlist" at the end of the book, and even streams a lot of their music on his website. Its difficult to listen to these bands from the nineties and early aughts and not wonder how much different popular music would have looked if those acts hadn't been sidetracked by arrests, alcoholism, or simple bad luck. Almond's love of music is obvious, but this book never fails to remind us that that love usually comes from a sad and depressed place.