Steve Almond’s newest memoir concerns his life of rabid music enthusiasm, from teenage Styx fandom to covering music for newspapers in his 20s to his brief stint managing a Boston-area singer-songwriter to being repeatedly blown off by Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, whom he interviewed for Spin. The obvious predecessor for Rock And Roll Will Save Your Life is Almond’s entertaining 2004 book Candyfreak, in which he toured America’s local confectioners. But where that book’s road trip gave Candyfreak a coherent through-line on which to hang stories about his own obsession with sweets, Rock And Roll Will Save Your Life is more of a hodgepodge, full of digressions, and Almond occasionally stumbles, lacking a neat path to follow.
That’s particularly true early in the book, in which Almond spends so much time establishing himself as (in his own capitalized phrase) a Drooling Fanatic, rather than the critic he spent several years being, that he can seem as pushy as a used-car salesman. He also seems to have decided that since he’s writing about music, and music nuts famously like lists, that he’d better include a few just as protocol; these mostly misfire, though “Ten Things You Can Say To Piss Off A Music Critic” is a gem, especially No. 5: “Do me a favor and hold my beer. Thanks, dude. I’ll be right back.”
Save Your Life gets moving when Almond stops qualifying his point of view and/or clearing his throat and starts telling stories. While writing a story about a housing project for an alternative weekly, he takes some of its hip-hop-loving kids to the zoo and comes up against the limits of his own relationship with the music. In graduate school, Almond realizes that his favorite songwriters have something the writers he’s studying don’t: “They were in it for the impact. They wanted to fuck their fans up.” He begins an on-and-off-again relationship with the woman he eventually marries to the sound of Joe Henry’s Fuse: “What is this music?” she asks—as Almond writes, “the question every Fanatic yearns to be asked.” He arranges interviews with Ike Reilly and Bob Schneider, in which Almond paints himself as a holy fool in thrall to his rock heroes. And his wife teases him about her near- (and possibly future) dalliance with hair-metal has-been Kip Winger: “I’m serious, honey. Don’t fuck this up for me. Kip still looks good.”