Steve Almond’s My Life In Heavy Metal [Grove Press] is an occasionally raunchy, oftentimes funny, emotionally hardcore collection of short stories that doubles as a guide to maneuvering through relationships engined on a broken soul.
The book’s title comes from the first story, which is one of the strongest and certainly the most memorable. As a music writer myself, I’ve read the story three times already and still can’t get enough. He’s got all the clichés of rock and music review dead on:
I operated on a template involving an initial bad pun, a lengthy playlist—adjective, adjective, song title—and a description of the lead singer’s hair. The rest was your standard catalog of puking yayas, flung undies, poignant duets with the rhythm guitarist back from rehab. I loved the velocity of the process: an event witnessed and recorded overnight. I loved the pressure, the glib improvisation; I loved seeing my byline the next day, all my pretty words, smelling of ink and newsprint.
And the truth is, I loved the shows. I remember standing in the front row as Sebastian Bach, the lead singer of Skid Row, screeched “Youth Gone Wild.” Bach was the quintessential metal front man, a blond mane and a pair of cheekbones. He strutted the stage like a drag queen, while the lead guitarist yanked out an interminable solo and the drummer became a shirtless piston. It was formulaic and mercenary and a little pathetic. But when I stared down the row, I saw twenty heads banging in unison, like angry mops. These were kids lousy with the bad hormones of adolescence, humiliated by the poverty of their prospects, and this was their dance, their chance to be part of some larger phallic brotherhood; the notes lashed their rib cages, called out to their beautiful, furious wishes.
But it’s not all rock and roll. Almond’s writing is full of sex, and he’s got this in-your-face way of celebrating the little biological details most writers gloss over, in favor of the safety of tried-and-true lust or romance. In fact, I’d go as far to say that Steve Almond is a brave writer. He turns away from nothing: whether it’s shame, insecurity, finger-painting semen or menstrual blood, this guy somehow turns it into something beautiful.
Almond is a lover in the truest sense of the word. He’s a lover of women, of language, of the subtle gestures and nuances that speak volumes beyond words. And sure, he’s kind of a whore, too. But with the mastery of character, alliteration and imagery that's within this collection of stories, it’s easy to forgive—as long as you’re not going out with him. Now in paperback.