Front Page Reviews & AIR
Sixteen Questions with writer Steve Almond
Q: Since I was in your class (Boston College, Nonfiction Writing Workshop, 2001; I had long red hair and was probably a pain in the ass), you've written TEN books. The fiction titles include My Life in Heavy Metal: Stories, 2002; The Evil B.B. Chow, 2005; Which Brings Me To You, A Novel in confessions, 2006; This Won’t Take But A Minute, Honey; and the newest collection, God Bless America. As for nonfiction, we’ve got CandyFreak, 2004; ( Not That You Asked): Essays, 2007; Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, 2010; Bad Poetry; and Letters from People Who Hate Me. You also resigned from Boston College to protest Condoleezza Rice speaking at commencement, and become a father. How would you describe the last decade for yourself as a writer, and as a person (aside from wildly prolific)?
SA: I've been busy, for sure. But the way it works, at least for me, is just to write about things I'm obsessed with, and that I'd be babbling to my wife about, and boring the shit out of her with, so instead I write it down. Hey, it's a living. As for starting a family, I had to do all this stuff in a hurry, because I wasted so much of my twenties and thirties sitting around yanking my pud and feeling aggrieved. So there was a backlog, I guess. Having kids has been awesome. I'm probably not doing the deepest work I could, but my kids don't care. They just want to hang.
Q: Our theme this month is fiction, yet we're primarily a Music & Culture website: you include suggested playlists with your books and have written extensively in a nonfiction capacity about music, starting your career as a music critic--how important is the link between music and fiction for you, as a writer; does music inspire your creative process?
SA: Yeah, I listen to music whenever I write, and as I point out in the Rock and Roll book, I suspect nearly all writers are failed, or thwarted, musicians. Deep down, we're all looking for our little chance to sing.
Q: Would you ever cover music again, if you were, say, asked by Spin to sit front row at a Springsteen show and write the cover story?
SA: Sure. I don't expect I'd be asked, but I'd love that. Getting paid for rocking out -- yes.
Q: Here at the Mule, there are always countless discussions ongoing: how many stars to give an album; whether Jack White is original or derivative; how opinionated we should be as editors...What did you find to be the most difficult aspect of writing about music?
SA: Not being a tool, basically. Writing about music as an emotional experience, something that's meant to get you to stories, not just snotty opinions.
Q: How does music figure into the new book, God Bless America?
SA: If there's any music in the stories, it's in the language in particular spots. Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life is the book that's explicitly about music.
Q: The "Bitchin' Soundtrack" for Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life includes Chuck Prophet, Nil Lara, Bob Schneider, and Gil-Scott Heron, among others. These are not necessarily household names, unless you're a music fanatic. How did you choose these songs? Are they meant to accompany certain stories? Do they inform the reader, or are they just part of the book's sonic landscape, so to speak?
SA: Yeah, those songs are meant to be listened to, because you can write about music all you want, but you have to listen to songs to truly understand them.
Q: Let's talk about "The Tip" for just a second (Steve’s online music ‘zine: The latest issue features Railroad Earth, Sam Roberts, Mia Dyson, The Fruit Bats)...is there anything you don't listen to? How enormous is your music collection?
SA: It's huge. And there's very little I won't listen to, which is as it should be. There's joy in every neighborhood.
Q: You've devoted writing and readings to the brutal and comical dissection of Toto's lyrics in the song " Africa," which is one of the outright funniest parts of Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life -- why are those lyrics so infuriating to you?
SA: It's just such a fraudulent, dopey piece of writing, so full of false profundity and colonialism. But it's a great song. You can't really ruin a great rhythm and melody.
Q: You're known for writing about sex honestly and at times, unforgivingly. We recently ran a piece suggesting that the bodies of musicians are integral to their success, (http://mulevariations.com/features/you-know-my-body) and that perhaps "the body" is where the primal connection between musicians and their fans is stoked and maintained -- do you agree?
SA: It's in the body and the heart and soul -- all three at once. It's the first and final language and it operates simultaneously on all our systems. It's sex for the soul, basically.
Q: Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life is hilarious in its depiction of an obsessed music fan as a "Drooling Fanatic." You are a self-admitted DF...So who are you currently obsessed with?
SA: Unsigned band out of Seattle called Pickwick. Full of soul. Love em.
Q: Let's go back to the Candy Freak days: If Jack Johnson were a candy bar, what would he be?
SA: Guilty pleasure. Doesn't last too well.
Q: Jack White?
SA: Clearly a genius, but not really my thing.
Q: Arcade Fire?
SA: Some great songs. Some.
SA: Don't know 'em. Will check em out.
Q: What is more offensive, bad poetry (as featured in your book Bad Poetry), or bad song lyrics?
SA: Bad poetry. Always bad poetry.
Q: You also suggest that "old tropes" rule the airways, and govern popular music; simple love songs. Will this always hold true, do you think?
SA: Yeah. Listeners just want a big juicy melody and rhythm. Critics want other things, as is their right. But the fans (the masses) decide what songs get hugely popular. Always have. Always will.