So here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure Joe Daly is a nice guy. I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy hanging out with him. He’s a textbook example of the sort of person I write about in my new book, Rock & Roll Will Save Your Life. Which is to say, he’s deeply invested in music as a means of reaching the vital emotions inside himself.

For this reason, I looked forward to reading his recent piece, “Five Bands I Should Like, But I Don’t. At All.” The world of rock and roll is full of sacred cows, after all, and one of the perverse pleasures of being a Drooling Fanatic is watching a few of them get gored. I’m always up for good goring. Ask anyone.

Why, then, did I find his piece so deeply disappointing?

Because I didn’t learn anything from reading it, beyond Joe Daly’s musical habits and sensibilities. While I’m sure these are fascinating to Mr. Daly himself, they really only matter to the rest of us if he can articulate how and why they took shape. It can be diverting to listen to someone else bitch, in other words, but it’s not the same as feeling implicated.

Daly’s piece is punditry. It’s full of “controversial opinions” tossed off with an insouciant shrug. But these opinions aren’t nearly as controversial as Daly supposes – he seems almost poignantly unaware that hating on Dave Matthews was a cottage industry five years ago – and shrugging is a poor substitute for genuine reflection.

I realize Joe is going to react to all this by saying, in effect: Hey man, I was just having some fun. Chill out. (Actually, he’d probably say it like this: Chill. Out.) He wants to deflect criticism by assuming a posture of ironic distance. It’s the old, it-can’t-matter-to-you-the-reader-because-it-doesn’t-matter-to-me-the-writer. The catch is that music clearly does matter to Joe. Hell, he’s got an entire regimen. Which is precisely what makes the rest of the piece infuriating: his judgments are so shallow.

“I cannot explain fundamentally why these artists don’t spark my pilot light,” he writes. “For some reason, accomplished and beloved as they may be, I find that I don’t relate to their music on any meaningful level.”

For some reason? Really, Joe? Isn’t it kind of your job, as someone who has apparently puzzled over these matters for quite a while and taken it upon yourself to write an entire piece about them, to investigate the reasons? Isn’t that what basically redeems criticism, what makes it something more than subjective whining?

There is one part of Joe’s piece that I loved. Here it is:

I started working in a warehouse when I was 14, where we would basically unload huge eighteen wheelers full of Levi’s jeans, and spend hours mindlessly sorting them in cold, subterranean storage rooms.  It was only through classic rock that we did not all go mad.

 

Why did I find this so awesome? Because Joe isn’t just slagging bands here. He’s telling a story, a story about how much he needed music at a particularly bleak juncture in his life. This is what the best music writing does.

Songs, after all, are properly understood as emotional transport devices. They remind us that feelings are not a vaguely embarrassing aspect of the human enterprise, but its central purpose. They convert our lesser defenses (alienation, grievance, anxiety) into the larger emotions (loneliness, grief, fear) that make us feel genuinely alive. And they beam us back to the eras and relationships – the particular moments even – that have shaped us into the strange beasts we are.

Nick Hornby’s Songbook is brilliant precisely because it’s full of lovely and often painful stories about the songs that matter to him most deeply. To read Songbook is to recognize how ultimately forgettable High Fidelity is.

The world, after all, is full of people like the ones Hornby describes in High Fidelity, dudes who run around trying to construct an identity based on what they listen to. Their clever snobbery might make us laugh, but it doesn’t get us anywhere close to who they (or we) really are, and how much we need songs to survive that knowledge.

In that spirit, then, here’s my own list of five bands, which Joe Daly is welcome to hate and which I hope you will seek out immediately, even if you think, as you probably do, that I’m a judgmental dickhead.

 

1. Nil Lara

The Stephen Talkhouse was a small club two blocks from the glittering, neglected sea. It was where we came every week to watch Nil Lara and his band destroy pop music as we knew it. The place smelled of lemon rinds and Marlboro Lights. It was where we drank the sweet drinks of our twenties and huddled close to flirt, living as we were in South Beach circa 1995, a tropical slum set to explode into capitalist chic.

There was one night in particular when he was playing “Mama’s Chant,” howling an Afro-Cuban incantation while we twirled beneath him, and he reached the bridge and passed the valley of solos and led his band into that bright clearing where the song itself exploded into something larger, a mood of cheerful chaos, the tiny dance floor being ectoplasm at this point, Nil thumping his bare feet between the amp cables and at some invisible cue directing his keyboardist to play a bubbling run of notes, at which point Nil burst out, “There is superstition, written on the wall!” so that for the next three minutes we were all Stevie Wonder, we were all blind black singers, exalted, swollen and nodding, even if Nil was the only one whose high sweet baritone could grant the notes their proper due, the only one who could gently bend the room back toward his song, which we figured would end the jam, would leave us all in a happy ruined heap of vodka fumes except that Nil began a high-kneed march and the bassist came in with a low drubbing and the guitarist (a towering shredder) nodded and came down hard on the chords instantly recognizable to anyone alive during the long slow death of prog rock…

We don’t need no education!

We don’t need no thought control!

 

And this was the holy shit of all holy shits, the moment when every single person in the Talkhouse (right down to the sullen bartender) felt the delicious howl of high school – the endless fascism of parents and teachers and The Man – come roaring out of our throats, like we were bricks, man, like we were the ones marching into the meat grinder and getting our soft hearts cranked into ground chuck; we didn’t even look around, we didn’t do anything but scream and scream and dance and scream and Nil got a frank look of pleasure on his face and shook his head because without meaning to he’d led us all back to the garage where fifteen years earlier he had played these exact notes and sung these exact words and dreamed of this exact moment, of a hundred souls ready to join his crusade and carry his banner into the world. These were the times when we knew Nil couldn’t miss, that it was only a matter of time until the world snatched him up and away from us, which made us a little sad but also chosen, which made us want to kneel before him, touch the hem of his garment, which sent us staggering out onto the damp sidewalks trembling with religious needs.

 

2. Ike Reilly

The day after the 2004 election, I decided to drive 700 miles across the South with my pal, The Close, whom I loved like a brother and also hated like a brother. This was, like most everything we did together, a fool’s errand. We were both furious and terrified at the re-election of Bush, at the indecent projections of evil that had become the central animating force of his administration, and at our own helplessness. Then came the storms. We stopped at a McDonald’s outside Roanoke and the Close watched a clutch of virginal Mennonites in white bonnets and murmured, “Mmmm-mmmm virgins. Virgins taste good.”

Back inside our car, the mood was pure homicide. About all we could agree on as the black rain beat down was Ike Reilly. Here was a man whose rage and eloquence measured up to the historical moment. Ike’s music sounded like the Clash fucking the Pogues then fucking Dylan. We had the stereo cranked so loud the crickets in the dark fields were swayed back in terrified silence. It was loud and gorgeous and relentless, and the song we settled on as our anthem was “Commie Drives a Nova,” which we howled out as the sopping rest stops of the Confederacy ripped past. It didn’t make the awful truth go away, but we could at least start feel what we needed to feel.

 

3. Boris McCutcheon & the Salt Licks

Boris and me were sitting on the green couch in my sunroom, waiting for the dawn. His band mates were scattered around the place, passed out amid the homemade bongs and stinking dogs and puddles of chocolate. I was practically managing the band at this point, which was a testament not to their brilliance, but to my own despotic and dwindling fantasies of rock stardom. My future wife, a figure of possibly masochistic patience, lay curled in the bedroom.

Our throats were raw and our souls were wired; they always were in those days. Boris began plucking at the strings absently. I figured he was coaxing himself toward sleep, but the notes resolved into something more solid, a chugging minor-key progression. Then Boris began to sing in that burred voice of his and I felt the holy shiver. The green wish is here, he sang. Such a phrase! I figured he’d nicked it from Isaiah. The song ended and Boris grinned shyly. The mandolin lay in his lap like a polished stone.

“‘The green wish,’” I said. “What’s that?”

“Spring,” he said softly.

 

4. Gil Scott Heron

My uncle Pete gave me The Best of Gil Scott-Heron as a graduation gift, back in 1984. I had no idea what to make of the record. It did not sound like “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama. Nor did it sound like “Shark Attack” by Split Enz. The arrangements baffled me. Was this Latin music? Funk? Soul? Gil sang beautifully – when he chose to sing. But more often he delivered the words in a sly chant that confused and enthralled me. It’s the reason we become enamored of certain singers, I think, because they project the voice we wish to summon within ourselves. His was a masterpiece: deep, resonant, slightly muddied by the South, learned but playful. “The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia,” he explained on the track B-Movie. “They want to go back as far as they can even if it’s only as far as last week. Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards.” I’d never heard anyone explain, in language so simple and persuasive, the phony messianism of the Reagan Revolution.

 

5. Dayna Kurtz

And I can remember standing alone in my apartment in Somerville, in the wake of an especially hopeless blind date, listening to the crushingly sad strains of “Paterson” and in particular the spot, four minutes in, when the song seems to be drawing to an end, and instead, the time signature slows and we hear the trill of an accordion and violins and plucked guitar and Dayna Kurtz begins singing in Italian of all things – Oh mio core! – over and over, and how listening to this voice echo about my bedroom, its unending dejection, made me realize that keeping my ex, Erin, at bay was no longer an option, that my loneliness was not some precious artistic prerogative or exalted state but simply an ongoing regret. I needed her in close now, once and for all, where we could hear the music together.

 

 

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STEVE ALMOND (www.stevenalmond.com.) is the author of three short story collections, most recently God Bless America.

38 responses to “Five More Bands for Joe Daly to Hate”

  1. Joe Daly says:

    Now that’s some great slagging! I appreciate your comments and I enjoyed the read. And while I don’t feel compelled to defend anything I wrote, I will clarify the following:

    >>Isn’t it kind of your job, as someone who has apparently puzzled over these matters for quite a while and taken it upon yourself to write an entire piece about them, to investigate the reasons?<> Isn’t that what basically redeems criticism, what makes it something more than subjective whining?<>Dudes who run around trying to construct an identity based on what they listen to. Their clever snobbery might make us laugh, but it doesn’t get us anywhere close to who they (or we) really are, and how much we need songs to survive that knowledge.<<

    This was a piece about five popular bands that I don’t relate to. I certainly don’t view my piece as clever snobbery, nor was it intended as a way to create or reinforce an identity by telling everyone what I do listen to. But yeah, I like good snobbery too- especially when it’s clever.

    Btw- I love the Ike Reilly Assassination.

    • Joe Daly says:

      Crap- sorry for the formatting errors. Clicked Reply too soon.

      Anyway, in your line “Dudes who run around trying to construct an identity based on what they listen to,” I’m not sure if you’re referring to me here, or people in general. But then you graciously pay me the following compliment, “he’s deeply invested in music as a means of reaching the vital emotions inside himself.”

      Either way, thanks for the read. Ironically it sounds like we’re probably on the same page, musically at least.

  2. Slade Ham says:

    God, this post was self-serving and unnecessary. Not that I know anything at all, but Joe, yours was way more fun to read.

  3. Matt says:

    I’m always up for good goring. Ask anyone.

    So much so, evidently, that you’re willing to perform the goring yourself in lieu of just idly watching? Entirely in an effort to plug the new book?

    Don’t get me wrong, I like your work.

    But dude.

    Not cool.

  4. Zara Potts says:

    I am a little speechless. What is this?
    I’m not getting it.

  5. JB says:

    This is ballsy. I like it. Nice to see some balls on TNB.

    Gil Scott Heron is the shit.

    • Jim Simpson says:

      JB, Your “balls” comment brings to mind Accept’s “Balls to the Wall.” The lead singer always reminded me of someone’s creepy and slightly retarded uncle (not a knock against creepy or retarded folks) up there with his straining histrionics and camouflage t-shirt and pants. The song rocked like a cartoon version of a Deep Purple song.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_3TlrZLpQ0

      • JB says:

        Jim, this is not the place for making fun of metal. This is a literary website focused on self-discovery and self-expression. Only perfunctory kindness and soft praise is allowed. Please, think about what you are saying. Shame on you.

        • Jim says:

          Indeed. What was I thinking? Your comment was amazing! I really enjoyed your use of ‘perfunctory.’

  6. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    I suppose it was only a matter of time before something went ad hominem. It’s like having our very own Don Rickles, except less funny.

  7. Becky says:

    Hahahahaha. What?

    I read Joe’s piece as an invitation for others to chime in. An interactive thing. Not an item of self-indulgence. So it’s not surprising, then, that he didn’t overwhelm with details about himself.

    Really, when it comes to talking about music, any time one delves too deeply into the personal aspects of meaningfulness, it’s sort of an invitation to wander off and come back when he or she is finished emoting/reminiscing/pontificating, so that you can say what you were going to say anyway the minute the band was named and long before the nostalgia began:

    “I [love/never cared much for] them. Have you ever heard ______? Let me tell you who I [don’t like/like].”

    I can’t come down on you for expressing your disapproval of another writer. That’s a god-given right, and one writers do and should be expected to take advantage of regularly.

    But I do think you missed the point.

  8. Mounds says:

    Almond Joyless!

  9. Lorna says:

    For some reason? Really, Joe? Isn’t it kind of your job, as someone who has apparently puzzled over these matters for quite a while and taken it upon yourself to write an entire piece about them, to investigate the reasons? Isn’t that what basically redeems criticism, what makes it something more than subjective whining?

    That is as far into this post as I read. I’ll read Joe Daly all day long given the opportunity. This just made me yawn.

  10. Dana says:

    Wow. Dicey. Did you even comment on his piece before you called him out? While I was moved by some of the pasages in this, I was so turned off by your confrontational tone that I can’t be bothered to quote them, or check out your selections.
    I guess i’m a bit dissapointed in this site at the moment. I’ve read some absolutely brilliant things here the past few years, and so much of it has been in the comments.
    I love the rapport between the writers and general support of ALL the talent here.
    I know Joe Daly and I know he’s a fine, no, a great man. He doesn’t know shite about some of my favorite music, but he was just being honest about his feelings.
    That you probably do like the same kinds of music only makes it more unpalatable.

  11. “Why, then, did I find his piece so deeply disappointing?

    Because I didn’t learn anything from reading it.”

    Well, exactly, really.

    I’m not sure about this post as music criticism. Like, the Nil Lara bullet point? I’ve listened to Nil Lara. I have no idea what that paragraph is about.

    However, as a Steve Almond piece? Well, yeah. It’s like that “feud” with that writer from salon.com or that other thing about the NCAA-bracket anthology that wasn’t paying its contributors.

    Isn’t all criticism subjective whining? I’ve never heard criticism that manages to be better than that which it criticizes, this post included.

    Still, good fighting the good fight re: that bracket anthology, Mr. Almond, and nice to see you’ll still do writing for free if the venue is worthwhile. Hope your book does well.

  12. Jim Simpson says:

    Steve, if we post videos of ourselves reading one of your books, will you send us free stuff?

    http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/sscanlon/2010/05/tnb-gets-incestuous/

    Please advise.

  13. Ray S says:

    Steve, how did your farts smell as you wrote this mean, superfluous piece? Better than they did when you were in that chosen cohort of “blind black singers, exalted, swollen and nodding?” As good as they did that time you and your compadres cruised past “the sopping rest stops of the Confederacy?”

    As Anton Ego so gracefully put it in Ratatouille, “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so…”

    Use your talents for good, man. Ugh. What a waste of data.

  14. Jordan Ancel says:

    I defend anyone who has an opinion, and their freedom to express it. However, from what I’ve seen on TNB, being new here, this is not the appropriate platform to put down another writer.

    To me, TNB is a place where writers can express themselves. This is a literary site, no? Not an eZine or soapbox.

    You are entitled to your opinions, and certainly free to express them, but as for just calling another writer out, save it for a forum, a bulletin board, or even your own personal blog.

  15. Man, Steve Almond. What a load of Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King. Or was it a courageous post-modernist joke, like Crispin Glover trying to kick Letterman in the head? In that case it was excellent. I’ve always wished Crispin had actually connected, and I guess I wish you did too. A little inter-author bloodletting is a good thing. You valiantly kept (buy my new book) swinging, but there really wasn’t (buy my new book) anything there. You rope-a-doped yourself. What the hell, though. TNB could use more controversy. Less back-slapping. A willingness to be unpopular. Even though it feels like a pretty threadbare disdain that inspired it, I applaud you for calling Joe out and being willing to eat the negative comments. Seriously. Someone’s got to be the guy with the pointy stick, so it might as well be the one everyone’s heard of. A refreshing lack of laurel sitting.

    By the way, I was at a party once where Joe Daly got drunk and spent the whole night telling everyone who would listen that your book about candy bars was the most turgid piece of shit he’d ever read. No, it really happened. It got so bad the cops finally came and the first cop was all “Yeah, man, I understand, I mean who wants to read 200 pages of self-indulgent bullshit about chocolate?” and then the second cop was like “hey, man, I liked it. It wasn’t trying to be a literary breakthrough or anything, it was just a genial discussion about what this guy likes to eat.” So, they argued about for a while before finally agreeing it was a pointless critique. Then the first cop tased Joe and they clubbed him behind the sofa for a bit before dragging him off to jail.

    I’ve been sort of on the fence about my next post, trying to decide between immigration reform and a little insouciant musical punditry, but now I can’t resist.

    • I think I just burst a blood vessel in my eye laughing at your reply Sean.

      If anyone wants to bring their metaphorical pointy stick and negative comments to another post on TNB, I just posted a new one (–> plug). Seriously, feel free to tell me to go fuck myself and to stick with my day job because I’m a talentless hack and a blabbering piece of horseshit.

    • Andrew Panebianco says:

      I know this is ancient news by this point… but I just had to say that this is one of the most brilliant comments I’ve ever read in my life.

      Well done, sir.

  16. angela says:

    yeah, um, wow.

    i can only hope that someday a famous writer will beat down on unknown me to promote his book.

  17. Lenore says:

    all i know is that Joe Daly is pretty hot.

    • Slade Ham says:

      The consensus is that Steve should stick with fiction, no?

      You really should have thought this through, Steve. I don’t expect that we’ll see you commenting back. I wouldn’t. Really. B-grade porn stories are much more your forte. You’re time is better spent tweeting about your book. It probably needs the help anyway.

      I’m so very glad nobody rushed to defend this chunk of horse shit.

      PS – I’m way hotter than Joe.

    • I’ve never met Joe but I’ve heard rumors. Livestock were involved and the music of Abba.

  18. Simone says:

    SO. NOT. COOL.

    By the way, you are a ‘judgmental dickhead.’

  19. simone says:

    SO. NOT. COOL.

    BTW you are a ‘judgmental dickhead.’

  20. jmblaine says:

    I used to really
    like “Slow Ride”
    by Foghat
    when I was a kid & I
    thought Foghat was the coolest band name
    ever, ever.
    If I were unloading 18 wheelers full of
    Levi’s brand
    5 pocket jeans
    & “Slow Ride” came on the classic rock
    station I would be like
    “Hell yeah.”
    Unless, that is
    the station played “Slow Ride”
    by Foghat, every day at
    the same time.
    & then follow that by playing
    the same other song they always play,
    something
    like “Comfortably Numb”
    which should only be played after
    10pm at night, ever.
    If I were unloading a semi-truck full
    of denim I wouldn’t want to hear
    no hello hello hello is there anybody in there?
    But I would want to hear
    Saxon & Bon Jovi & AC/DC
    & Accept & Motorhead &
    maybe Unchained by Van Halen
    or Peace Sells by Megadeth.

    Bands that remind me of Denim.

    Heck, I like Olivia Newton John
    but I don’t wanna hear
    Please Mr Please
    while I’m shucking jeans off a truck.

    This is all a metaphor, right?

  21. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    This is a joint response for Joe Daly and Steve Almond:

    (I’m drinking red wine so watch out.)

    This discussion calls to mind the yin/yang ideology embraced by Eastern Philosophers. It reminds me of an artist’s chiaroscuro. It reminds me of how I felt living on the East Coast: North/South. The Mind/Heart Dichotomy. Lovers and Fighters.

    Lou Reed: North. Cerebral.
    Greg Allman: South. Soulful.

    So when I read these two articles, I hear a mind and a soul. Steve Almond: You win the argument. Joe Daly: You’re getting laid.

  22. […] Almond responded by recommending five uber-obscure bands for listening pleasure, which might have worked without the additional discussion of Daly and his piece, but I think […]

  23. […] momentarily become sort of an asshole for expressing my enjoyment of “Five More Bands for Joe Daly to Hate” by Steve Almond—who may or may not be an asshole. I enjoyed how Almond analyzed the argumentative […]

  24. Todd says:

    Hey Steve, Dunno if you’ll read this; my apologies for reading the piece and responding long after dust has settled. Your commentary and the vitriol it elicited make me nostalgic for New Times staff meetings.

  25. […] Asked). He is also a TNB contributor, and his submissions have ranged from a self-interview to a criticism of fellow contributor Joe Daley’s “Five Bands I Should Like, but I Don’t. At All.” The latter […]

  26. […] the stronger entries in that particular archive), and c) I was, not two minutes before clicking on “Five More Bands For Joe Daly to Hate,” in the middle of reading an article on self-publishing he wrote for Poets & […]

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