Lately I'm starting to believe that 90% of what makes a good book is the subject matter and the other 10% is the author not being a total ass wad. In Geoff Emerick's Here There and Everywhere it would be hard pressed to find a subject matter that is more interesting to me right now. Emerick was like 15 years old when he started working for EMI and participating on Beatle recordings. He was there in fact for the first ever Beatle recording and eventually became the sound engineer for all of their later work. All while still a teenager. His love for music and the Beatles comes through in his narative and he conveys a number of fascinating insights and anecdotes. There was a section early in the book that dealt with his youth/background that I didn't find particularly interesting and should have been edited out in my opinion. Also I could have done without some of his judgements and tooting of his own horn, but for the most part this was a very enjoyable read and I give it a strong recommendation.
4 Wagemann Heads.
Who's Who In Rockism: Steve Almond
The following is a letter I recently sent to the publisher of a book called Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life:
Hi, I just finished reading your book Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life and I’d like to review it for my blog: Rockism101. Before I write my review I’d like to share some of my thoughts about your book with you and give you a chance to comment on these thoughts.
For the first 100 plus pages or so I had a hard time trying to figure out what the point of this book was. Maybe I was confused by the title, which is very misleading. In fact, until you explained where you got the title from—a Boris McClutheon show you put on—I was wondering/expecting whether this book was some kind of hipster parody of a self-help book like “I’m Ok, you’re Ok” or “How to win friends and influence people.” Maybe it should have dawned on me earlier, but this book was about you, Steve Almond, not about “you” the reader who wants to have his life saved by Rock and Roll. I understand that writers have to conjure up intriguing titles to draw the prospective reader’s attention, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit cynical and that this title choice might have been a slick trick on your part. This slick trick though, ties in well with what I think the real theme of your book is. You aren’t a famous celebrity—and you address this in the book—so why would anyone want to read a book that is essentially a lengthy memoir of one aspect of your personal development as it relates to Rock and Roll? Maybe there are some fans out there who have read your stuff before or who know of you, but that is small fries, I image. You certainly aren’t a Chuck Klusterfuck, I mean. So the title of this book revealed to me that you think that Rock and Roll can save your life.
So Rock and Roll is the vehicle through which you have chosen to gain a larger audience—and gaining a larger audience (gaining celebrity if you will) will make you happy and in the end save your life. Throughout the book then there are a series of musicians who you have come to worship: Nil Lara, Joe Henry, Ike Reilly, Boris Mccutcheon, Bob Schneider, Chuck Prophet, the Strawze. But none of these artists made it big, either because they wouldn’t or couldn’t compromise. Their commercial failure seemed to make them appear lesser and unhappy beings (from your perspective) and the lessons you gleaned from them was that being a creative genius (something that you admittedly aren’t) wasn’t all it is cracked up to be. In the end in fact, it is Dave Grohl, a Commercial Pop Hack (in my opinion), who is your role model. Grohl is the best example of someone who is happy and famous at the same time. And somehow that inspires you to conclude that you might be able to be perfectly happy being a “midlist toiler”. But honestly, after all that has come before that, I find that epiphany a bit hard to swallow. The more believable point of your book seems to be that if you (and by you I mean Steve Almond) want to be happy, you have to be successful. And to be successful (since you aren’t a creative genius) you have to be a Commercial Pop Hack—which is why you have written this book.
Not that there is any shame in that, for being a Commericial Pop Hack isn’t easy—it takes hard work, a little luck, etc. Still though it seems a million times easier than doing the heavy lifting, soul searching and hard living it takes to become a tortured creative genius. Which is why, in the end, you will still be a Drooling Fanatic.
With that said, I’d like to throw you a compliment. While reading your book I was also reading another book called Bandalism by Julian Ridgway. This book was incredibly terrible. In fact after about a half dozen pages I decided to just skip around and I skim through it hoping to find at least one nugget of something that seemed the least bit entertaining or interesting. And I found nothing. This poor sap Ridgway doesn’t even have the skills/ability to be a Commerical Pop Hack. I have no idea what kind of moron would want to buy this book (I get all of my books for free through my library by the way) so I’m not even going to make an attempt to describe how terrible this book was (mainly I just want to forget about it). Maybe you can pick it up for yourself if you are truly curious. But my point is that even being a commercial Pop Hack takes some talent. And there were definitely parts of your book that were very good. Early in the book you described how listening to the Cars “Moving In Stereo” on a walk man transformed the people around you, making them appear deeper, etc. I thought that was a great insight/description. I read a book or two a week, and I have a low threshold for mediocre writing, and it was little gems like that which were enough to keep my interest. One of my favorite sections from the first part of your book was when you described the listening process, from vinyl to 8-tracks to cassettes to cds and to digital files. This one section convinced me that you were worth continued reading. There were times that I would skip a paragraph or two, or even a page or two, but overall I ended up reading about 98% of the book. The end of the book (beginning with the chapter about Ike Reilly) was a lot better than the start of the book. I think you have a real talent for capturing the interesting lives of the musicians you covered.
To end with, I want to nitpick one minor thing that really irks me, and that is when people include hip hop as part of Rock. If you are going to include hip hop in your narrative, then you are talking about Pop music—not Rock. Rock has a history, an evolution, an ethos, etc that is an entirely different animal than hip hop. Talking of Rock and talking of hip hop as if they are of the same ilk is likely to not only piss off Rock fans, but piss off hip hop fans as well. And again, it makes the title of your book appear disingenuous. If you need to include Hip Hop in your story, then maybe a better title would have been “Commerical Pop Will Save My Life.”
I hope to hear from you soon.
As of the publication of this blog Almond nor his publisher have yet responded to me. I give Rock and Roll will Save Your Life 2 Wagemann Heads.