Rock And Roll Saved Steve Almond's Life - Here's How

book cover rnr saved my life.jpg
It's one thing to enjoy music as the kind of casual background noise to a car ride, jog in the park or commercial extolling the incredible mileage of the new Honda. Fiction writer, memoirist and former Miami New Times music writer Steve Almond (My Life in Heavy Metal, Candyfreak) is not that kind of person.

His latest effort is aimed directly at what he calls the Drooling Fanatics, or DFs. You know, the High Fidelity John Cusack types who can spend hours arguing which "era" of Dylan was the best or who never thinks they have enough records no matter what every other person in their life thinks. And what do they know anyway with their American Idol watching and Eagles Greatest Hits spinning? Philistines!

The gloriously messy mixtape (remember those?) of a book includes essays on the majesty of the scrawny Springsteen, deep analysis of Styx's Paradise Theater and the lyrics of Toto's "Africa," lists ("Bands Shamelessly Overexposed by the Alternative Press," "10 Things to Say to Piss Off a Music Critic,") his own encounters/interviews with people like Dave Grohl and Bob Schneider, his wife's own sexual fascination with hair metal god Kip Winger.

Reading the book made Rocks Off feel better for two reasons: a) There is finally a manifesto for our own pathetic DFness; and b) This State of Being does not preclude sexual activity; Almond is married to an actual woman - a DF herself - and has produced two children who are apparently his.

We reached him between bottle feedings and compulsive spins of Gil Scott-Heron discs to discuss many, many things.

Rocks Off: Why a dissection of Paradise Theater, and not, say, The Grand Illusion or Kilroy Was Here?

Styx - 1981 - Paradise Theater.jpg
Steve Almond: Wow, Kilroy. That's brutal, dude. That's like the album that Ayn Rand and her pool boy fucked to. I'd be a little scared to perform a dissection on it. Like, what would such a dissection actually yield? The pickled remnants of Dennis DeYoung's bloated ego? Tommy Shaw's famous lost coke spoon? The Grand Illusion, on the other hand, is just your basic prog cheese.

But Paradise Theater was something larger, a direct musical transcription of the Reagan Revolution with all its phony nostalgia and self-regard. It was the precise moment when Styx maxed out on the credit card of their own talent.

Rocks Off: Is a DF happy for one of their favorite, little-known bands to break bigger and become more popular... or do they secretly wish not so as to retain an inside credibility?

Steve Almond: Yeah, that's really the core DF paradox, isn't it? Is our attachment about possession, what the Greeks called eros? Or do we love the band with a pure, selfless heart, which the Greeks called bonos? I always tell people it's all about unconditional love, that being proprietary about art is a sucker's game. But if any of the bands I wrote about in the book ever got huge, I'd be the tool reminding everyone that I'd been listening to them since they played Club 101 in El Paso in 1989.

Rocks Off: We totally related to the part where you talked about secretly hoping (even when time and time again it doesn't happen) that YOU'LL be the one music journalist who'll connect with the musician on a deeper level and become BFFs. Why is this a sad DF pipe dream?

Steve Almond: Because we're pathetic wannabes who worship fame while simultaneously being enslaved by it? I'm just guessing here. Actually, I think it has to do with fact that the rock-star media interview is this totally phony construct.

The rock star has to pretend to give a shit about the reporter to get the coverage, and the reporter has to pretend to give a shit about the rock star to get the story. It's a completely ulterior relationship. So for me, I was always trying to break through that inherent phoniness, especially if I liked the band. I wanted there to be something authentic behind the music. Oh shit. I just said "behind the music," didn't I? Now I owe fucking VH1 a royalty payment.

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