Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, by Steve Almond

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I have a weakness for Steve Almond’s non-fiction work. I loved Candy Freak, a fantastic book in which Almond writes about a huge variety of candy-related histories.

In his latest book, he talks about his life as a rock critic, and more importantly, as a Drooling Fanatic. He talks about all sorts of music that he’s loved, bands that he’s hung out with. He talks about how powerful music is — says when he hears “Sunday Bloody Sunday” he’s about ready to join the IRA; how listening to “Sweet Home Alabama” makes him want to drink beer and shoot things, along with some less charitable emotions.

Skewers lots of really awful music, like this:

“I said before that there is no objectively “bad” music. I must now amend that statement. In so doing, let me cite Duke Ellington, who once famously declared that “there are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music. And by bad music I mean specifically the song ‘(I Bless the Rains Down in) Africa’ by Toto.” Ellington died two years before Toto formed as a band, which speaks to his prescience.”

and later in that chapter:

“What makes “(I Bless the Rains Down in) Africa” so bad? Mostly, it’s the lyrics. Also, the instrumentation, the vocals, and that virulent jazz-lite melody, which, despite the manifest wretchedness of everything I’ve just mentioned, means that you are no doubt conjuring the song even as you read this—those hypnotic banks of synthesizer and phony “tribal”-sounding drums—and without at all meaning to, sort of … grooving to “(I Bless the Rains Down in) Africa,” sort of digging it, sort of bathing in the buttery memory of sixth grade or tenth grade and hand jobs and lip gloss and really actually kind of remembering, or rediscovering, how much you love “(I Bless the Rains Down in) Africa” even as you’re hating yourself for this love. It’s complicated.”

That’s comedy gold right there. Leads right up to him talking about his early dating life, where he really, really liked a woman until they went to her house and she was so excited to put on Air Supply’s Greatest Hits, whereupon he immediately wanted to stop seeing her. But then considered that that make him shallow. And then decided to break up anyway.

Great book. Highly recommended.

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