Posted by: hannah jo | May 21, 2010

Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life

I know that sounds like something I would just randomly say, but it’s also the title of a book I just finished, written by Steve Almond. Actually, it’s part of the title. Here’s the full title:  Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life: A Book by and for the Fanatics Among Us (with Bitchin’ Soundtrack).

Am I a fanatic? Of course I am. I have done ridiculous, embarrassing, and shockingly stupid things because of my rock and roll fanaticism. So, I am the perfect audience for this book and I loved it. I cringed repeatedly while reading it because I saw myself in it so often, but I also laughed a lot.

Almond describes us as Drooling Fanatics or, simply, DFs.

Here’ a definition from the inside of the book’s jacket:  “Drooling fanatic, n. 1. One who drools in the presence of beloved rock stars. 2. Any of a genus of rock-and-roll wannabes/geeks who walk around with songs constantly ringing in their ears, own more than 3,000 albums, and fall in love with at least one record per week.”

Also, from page 8 (getting ready to cringe here): “Chances are, we were DJs in college and had a show with a name so stupid we are vaguely embarrassed to mention it now, though we are quite happy to mention that we were DJs in college.” OUCH! For the record, here are the names of the shows I hosted or co-hosted on my college radio station.

My first show was called “On the Air” after a Peter Gabriel song from one of his self-titled albums (produced by Robert Fripp, whom I was a DF about for a while so you can imagine the drooling that occurred when I recently found out that one of my friends at work took guitar lessons from him) that also featured a song I thought about constantly during the second George Bush administration because of its main phrase, “Fear, she’s the mother of violence.” I loved doing this show because I was all alone, late at night, and I could play whatever I wanted, but, in truth, I played way too much Velvet Underground.

My second show was co-hosted with Lori. We called it “This Is Not the 80s” after a repeated drunken rant made by a man named Mac who passed out in his bunk bed in the Fairhaven dorm on the same night that he did a pretty good Bob Dylan impression. I think that was the night these things happened, but I could be completely wrong. Lori remembers this kind of thing like it was yesterday. I can’t even remember the names of the streets I lived on while I went to college. I do remember, though, that Mac was mad that we hadn’t removed his boots after he passed out and that he threw up during one of his classes the next day because he had to watch a bloody movie about life-saving first aid. Lori and I played a lot of pre-80s music during our show and celebrated things like National Outdoor Intercourse Day with songs that fit that theme. Lori was pregnant then, I remember, so we thought that was pretty hysterical. 

My third show was co-hosted with Mike. We called it “Extended Dance Mix with Fred and Ginger.” We played some awesome music — anything you could dance to, so that included everything from Motown to Prince to punk to the Beach Boys. I created a cute little poster for the show and illegally used the copier at work to make lots of copies we could post on campus. Stupid me, though, I left the original in the copier, which was found by one of my co-workers. The thing is, I worked as a disc jockey for a commercial radio station then, so I was seen as a traitor in both environments. When my doofus co-worker brought me my original from the copier, he acted like he had just busted a Russian spy in the act or something. I could tell he thought he was going to FRY me with that. Instead, I said, “Don’t you just LOVE it?! I had so much fun making that poster. Thanks! I would have hated to lose that original.” It killed him that I didn’t act all guilty or troubled by his discovery. That place was weird. That’s where I truly learned what professional competitiveness is all about. It was ugly and I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t want any part of it. The college radio show was my outlet. We played fun music with no commercial motivation or interruptions and I hid who I was by using Ginger as my name, sidestepping the whole “sell-out” aspect of also being a professional DJ at the same time.

During college, living with Mike, who worked at a record store and owned hundreds (thousands?) of albums and booked all of the concerts on campus, was pretty much DF squared times infinity. I’m not blaming my DFism on him, though. I was passionate about music before that, of course, thanks to my parents and Bruce. And, I’m still obnoxiously devoted to music, which, by music, I mean rock and roll.

Reading Steve Almond’s hilarious and heartfelt book made me feel better about this obsession, believe it or not. Even with all of the cringe-worthy moments, I am making peace with the fact that a sizable part of my life is dedicated to a mostly solitary and self-serving act — listening to rock music. The amount of joy it brings me is immeasurable and spills into all other areas of my life. Like on Wednesday, when I turned on KEXP in the afternoon, Kevin Cole was celebrating Joey Ramone’s birthday because Joey would have been 59 that day if he were still alive. Not only did Kevin play part of a great interview he did with him in 1999, but he played an impressive variety of Ramones covers and Ramones originals, such as  Tom Waits singing The Return of Jackie and Judy, Husker Du and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs each covering Sheena Is a Punk Rocker, and the Ramones singing Rock and Roll High School. Earlier that day I had been feeling depressed after hearing some sad news about a friend of mine, but I was so buoyed by Joey Ramone.

And, the beauty of it is, this kind of thing happens to me almost every day, thanks to a CD I spontaneously picked up at the library (this morning it was Between the Buttons by the Rolling Stones) or a mix CD made by a friend (like the mind-blowing CD of Lily songs Lori made me for Mother’s Day) or some new music that friends share with me (like Corey telling me about the Black Keys or Mike turning me on to Chuck Prophet or a fabulous live recording of the Who’s Quadrophenia or Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings).

The bitchin’ soundtrack for Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life doesn’t actually come with the book. You can access it online here. I listened to it before reading the book and was blown away by some of the songs, but listening to it today while writing this has been even better now that the book has provided me with some context for understanding who these artists are and why they matter to Steve Almond. He’ll be at Elliott Bay Books tonight (Friday, May 21), reading from the book. Here’s a taste of what he’s like, with a very funny examination of the Toto song, Africa.

And, if you’re wondering, How will Rock and Roll Save My Life? Here’s Steve Almond’s answer:  “One song at a time.”

Amen, brother.



  1. My shows were called “Walk on the Wild Side” (cringeworthy), “House of Dread” (still totally cool), and “Radio One” (lame cop of some BBC program). I would like to think my programming choices were better than my name choices.

    Radio waves being what they are, our programs are still spreading out across the universe. Maybe some alien beings will enjoy them someday.

    Oh, and you can never play too much Velvet Underground.

    • House of Dread RULED. Who knew that such a tall, skinny, white guy was behind that low, smooth voice and those rocksteady beats?

  2. The only show name I can remember other than Extended Dance mix was a ‘world music’ show I did called Global Textures. Yeesh. Conjures up images of the Tim Robbins character in High Fidelity.

    • YOU WIN! “Global Textures” made me laugh out loud. Now get your patchouli stink outta my store!

      • It sounds pretty dorky now, to be sure. At the time I was swept up in the whole ‘Biko’ era Peter Gabrial and Byrne/Eno thing. I remember playing some pretty cool stuff but I’m sure there were plenty of duds in there as well (johnny clegg and savuka, anyone?). In hindsight, the show would have benefited from less talking drum and more Lou Reed.

  3. Steve Almond was reading at Third Place Books on Thursday, but I had to miss him, ironically, because I had band practice.

    One of my strongest memories of our show was going solo during winter break when you had to go home and I would have to put on a really long song so I could run downstairs to use the bathroom (the pregnancy thing). I still have nightmares about dead airtime, too.

    • I wish you had seen Steve Almond (but I understand you have an excellent reason for not being there). You would have LOVED him. He was so damn funny. He used a lot of music to supplement his talk. I knew it was going to be a great night when, shortly after he started, he asked us to raise our hands if we had ever wanted to be rock stars. My hand shot up in the air, naturally, but not many others did. His response: “The rest of you are [effin’] liars!”

  4. I do have to add, that at the time all those names were just fine with us, or we wouldn’t have used them, right? Plus it was all just fun!

    • Of course they were fine with us then. They were MORE than fine! I think “This Is Not the 80s” is still an awesome name. I do cringe about “On the Air,” though. I knew it was referring to a Peter Gabriel song about doing a radio show (so self-referential!), but I think everyone else probably thought it was the Lamest Name Ever because we were all, duh, ON THE AIR.

  5. […] had recently mentioned Candy Freak to me, by Steve Almond, written before Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, so I was happy to find a used copy of this in paperback and check it out. I knew I had to own it […]

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