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Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life: A Book by and for the Fanatics Among Us Hardcover – April 13, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
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. (Apr. 13)
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*Starred Review* 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
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Almond is a graphic and direct writer, enjoyable and true, but somewhere in the agent/editor process, I fear they came up with a name for the collection that was catchy - it just didn't catch the essence of the book. The essays in a book entitled "Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life" should convince me of that premise. But this collection possesses enough despair and angst (alongside its hope) to hold a much less certain name. Rock and Roll *Could* Save Your Life would have been more accurate, putting the author's/reader's quest onto the book spine.
Maybe the life-saving guarantee in the chosen title ultimately sold more, a la losing 20 pounds in a week, but I would have enjoyed the book much more had the narrator been described accurately from the get-go - in need of saving, but frantic, distraught, and uneasy by turns, possibly not even salvageable - like me. Alas, the publishing industry made promises in the title that the music industry just couldn't back up in this one slim volume. Ignore the name. Live the essays.
An even more accurate title (though I understand that it's entirely too cumbersome) might have been, "If Anything Can Save Your Life, Rock and Roll May Perhaps Be It. But Be Cool, Man, Be Cool. Shut Up and Listen to Me, and Maybe You'll Get Lucky."
But just as a good movie is more than its soundtrack, this book is more than the musicians it praises. In the end, Almond's a passionate, honest storyteller who uses music to explore deeper truths about love, family, friendship, loneliness, disappointment, joy, ambition, and human connection. The sections about courting his now-wife Erin, trying in vain to influence his children's musical tastes, and roadtripping with friend The Close are particularly moving. In short, this book is for anyone who turns to the written word to feel more alive.
Some reviewers are calling ROCK AND ROLL WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE a nonfiction version of Nick Hornby's HIGH FIDELITY, and I guess the comparison sort of works on a few surface levels: It's true that HF's fictional Rob and R&RWSYL's nonfictional Steve both have massive music collections. Both Rob & Steve use music to help define pivotal life experiences. And both compulsively compile mix tapes/CDs to express their feelings to and make connections with others. After that, the connection's pretty thin. A more apt comparison is Hornby's lesser-known essay collection SONGBOOK, which explores his obsessions and life experiences more directly than anything else he's published. As a result, it's Hornby's most soulful, personal book.
Likewise, ROCK AND ROLL WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE is as soulful and personal as anything Almond's published before, and that's saying a lot. (For a sampling of Almond's Hey-Soul Classics, check out his tributes to Kurt Vonnegut and Barry Hannah as well as essays on fatherhood in 2007's essay collection (NOT THAT YOU ASKED).)
Almond's biggest complaint about music is "you can't eat it." The same could be said of ROCK AND ROLL WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE. We all find salvation wherever we can. For some it's rock and roll. For others it's great books...like this one. Testify.
Which makes it hard to recommend it to anyone but a middle aged fellow traveller. On a personal scale, I give it 5 stars, but for those for whom musical hero worship is utterly alien, "Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life" is more a 3 star book, so I rate it 4 to split the difference. Almond's musical journey is intensely personal and oft-times extremely snarky (and even for a lefty like me, the constant Bush-slaps got in the way when they should have been edited away).
His snark occasionally turns back on himself, and that gives the book a few of its best moments. His exegesis on why Toto's "Africa" is genius is a riot, and the secret confession of being a Styx addict and loving "Paradise Theater" in spite of his older brother is almost worth the price of the book. On the other hand, Almond falls into the trap most rock writers fall into, and that is believing your favorite obscurity is Godhead.
In this case, the object of his desires is one Bob Schneider, a Texas singer songwriter. Almond takes this to an extreme, tracking the man down at his home and engaging him in a sadly painful dialogue, revealing another pitfall of artist worship, when your idols break your heart. Sadder still, they break your heart because you've jammed them into a corner that they can never work out of. I actually felt sorry for both Schneider and Almond by the end of the chapter. (And just as geekifically, I promptly went out and bought Schneider's "Lonely Creatures" after. Very Sneaky, Mr Almond.)
Which underlies the attraction and distraction of "Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life." Unless you're the kind of "DF" who would be naturally stoked to find out what Bob Schneider (or Joe Henry, Aimee Mann, Nil Lara and a series of other artists Almond is hot for) does to merit such magnificent praise in this book, you might wonder what the commotion is all about. Not me. Because as Almond himself accurately predicted, as soon as I saw the words "free CD" in the introduction, I put the book down and hit his website as fast as I could. Because I am that kind of person.