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“Nevermind will forever be remembered as a vehicle for ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ and its subversive effect on mainstream culture. It’s periodically brilliant, but half of the material on Nevermind is filler.”

-Chuck Klosterman

Okay. So. Part III.

One rule I set out for myself on my quest to vindicate Cobain from the evil clutches of Klosterman: I will not use the “you had to be there” argument to justify any of my feelings for Nevermind. Yes, much of the greatness of Nevermind lies in its social context, and especially its relationship to music that came before it like The Youngbloods, Aerosmith, Husker Du and so many more. But there is enough musical greatness within its contents not to need to resort to arguments relating to Nevermind’s “subversive effect on mainstream culture.” This is not a post about culture. It’s a reassessment of a great album 20 years later to see–with all of that other stuff out of the way–how great it really is, especially in relation to Appetite for Destruction, which I examined at length in Part II.

Tommy Stinson, former bass player of the Replacements and also Axl Rose’s bass player-for-hire, once told reporters that Axl Rose is much easier to work with than Replacements’ lead singer Paul Westerberg, to which Westerberg’s responded, “Wouldn’t Van Gogh be more difficult than Norman Rockwell?”

I’m reminded of this dig whenever I see more evidence of what’s becoming a decade-long trend in rock lit to laud Axl Rose at the expense of Kurt Cobain.

Two of my favs, Steve Almond and Chuck Klosterman, are guilty of this charge.

Recently, in the fine media tradition of griping about how sick everybody is of talking about something—and thereby talking about it more—I read a tweet that quipped, “Can we stop talking about the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 already?”

The answer is no.

*”Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”- A quip about music journalism variously attributed to Frank Zappa, Laurie Anderson, Steve Martin, and Elvis Costello.

Think of the sections at your local bookstore: romance, history, science fiction, fantasy, western, chick lit, erotica. How big are these sections? Where are they located in the store?

And how does the section on rock literature compare?

Steve Almond’s latest book of non-fiction, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, is written for “Drooling Fanatics,” people, like Almond himself, whose fixations with music take on an almost religious fervor. Almond’s past works include story collections My Life in Heavy Metal and The Evil B.B. Chow, the novel Which Brings Me to You (with Julianna Baggott), and the non-fiction books Candyfreak and (Not That You 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 ruffled some feathers at TNB, and Steve accepted my offer to talk about the dust-up, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, and the larger concerns of his work.

What makes someone an asshole? Everyone knows one, and some of us are one, but it seems a purely subjective matter.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines asshole as “someone or something foolish or contemptible”. One of the more popular entries in the Urban Dictionary describes asshole as “someone being arrogant, rude, obnoxious, or just a total dickhead”. Denis Leary once sang that an asshole is someone who drives slow in the fast lane, enjoys Cuban cigars, and parks in handicapped spaces while “handicapped people make handicapped faces.”

Last week, I went to my first reading in a while. It was Steve Almond, at Powell’s, with the candlestick.

(Wait. Scratch the candlestick part. It was just Steve Almond at Powell’s.)

I enjoyed myself. Steve was charming and funny and irreverent. Particularly heartening was seeing probably 100 people show up for a reading by an author who was promoting something that could be described as rock lit. As a fellow tribesman of that woefully underpopulated genre, I can now fantasize that someday 100 people might show up to Powell’s to watch me goof off for an hour.

Joe Daly opened his “Five Bands I Should Like, but I Don’t. At All” piece by noting there is no accounting for taste.

Steve 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 there’s a more important corollary.

Notably: if there are, as Joe suggests, bands we should like a lot—by dint of reputation or acclaim—but don’t, there are probably, conversely, bands we shouldn’t like but do.

Taste seems to have a lot to do with it. The idea that taste and quality are subjective seems to be a popular argument.

I’m not saying that’s not true, but I will say this: like Joe, I don’t like the Beatles, but it has turned out I like their songs and music on the condition they be performed by other musicians. Between The Wonder Years and Across the Universe, I think Joe Cocker may be the best thing that ever happened to the Beatles.

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.

My girlfriend Sienna told me she was thinking about “restoring her virginity.” We’d just fucked, unreasonably. Now we were in a glazed after-trance, laying in the half light and trying to figure where we were again, whose apartment and all.

“If we did decide to get serious,” she said softly.

“Wait –- what?” I said.

Is this gonna be the kind of interview where you get all emotionally confrontational and messianic about the Mission of Literary Art in Our Great Days of Ruination, or the kind where you’re all fake-down-to-earth and fake-witty and fake modest about your achievements, or the kind where you get pissed at the interviewer for calling you out on your more or less relentless line of bullshit?

Yes.

He was on his way to the Galilee when he spotted a Samaritan woman in the next valley. She was bent over the lip of a well. Jesus was traveling alone. He had left the disciples down south. They were such loves. Thinking about them gave him a little shiver.

A big hello from the Fiction Editorial Team–Stacy Bierlein, Alex Chee, Shya Scanlon and yours truly.  We’re all so excited to unveil this section of the new-and-improved TNB that if we told you how thrilled we really are, you might be a little alarmed.  You might even suspect that we have too much time on our hands . . . which is so far from the truth it would be comical.  So suffice it to say that we’re really, really glad you’re here, and both proud and humbled to be on this journey through the terrain of contemporary fiction with you.

First, a little story:

This September my son Giovanni, who is three-and-a-half, started preschool.  The plan was that once he was in school, I would finally have enough hours “to myself” to get all my work done.  On that list: running Other Voices Books‘ flagship Chicago office (well, flagship may be a rather grand term for a desk in my basement), teaching at two universities, raising three small children–and then, in my nonexistent spare time blogging for both TNB and HuffPo, in addition, of course, to writing my own fiction and prepping to market my second book coming out in 2010.  Oh, I think I recall that I was also going to kick up my yoga practice this year in all my “free time,” and start reading some books that weren’t: a) fiction, b) submissions to OV Books or c) by writers I know.

Um, yeah.  Sometimes the best laid plans go awry.  Or maybe it’s just that sometimes the best laid plans are not really all they’re cracked up to be.

Giovanni had been at his first day of preschool for exactly four hours when my phone rang.  It was Brad Listi, who at that time (this now seems like a distant memory) didn’t frequently call me.  He proceeded to explain his idea for a TNB Fiction Section.  Then, to my surprise, he asked if I would consider editing it.

Absolutely anyone who knows anything about what my life looks like would tell you that I should have run for the hills.

Instead I was ecstatic.  I think within a minute and a half, I had basically signed away not only my own name in blood, but that of my longtime business partner Stacy Bierlein, Exec. Ed. of OV’s Los Angeles office, who is now my co-Editor in this venture too.  I recall buzzing around my house for the rest of the workday making lists of all the writers I couldn’t wait to let know about TNB.  When Shya and Alex joined the fray soon after, the conference calls and barrage of emails that commenced were dizzying.

If you care anything about contemporary fiction (and you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t), you know that review venues are shrinking by the day.  Books sections in papers and magazines are closing or radically reducing space; longtime literary magazines are losing funding and folding.  Corporate publishers are spending less on book tours and indie presses often can’t afford to spring for them to begin with.  It is harder and harder for writers to market their work in traditional ways.

This is where TNB’s Fiction Section comes in.  Our aim here is not only akin to that of all good literary magazines–to showcase some of the most vibrant writers working today–but also to help provide these writers with a vehicle to market their books.  This is why we provide links to authors’ websites and sales pages: to help directly connect the writers we love with their audience–TNB’s large, loyal and growing readership.  We also aim to provide you insights into these authors and their work that you can’t get just anywhere, which is what’s behind the “self-interview” concept.  Here, authors answer all the questions they were always afraid to answer in other interviews, or that they wished all those other guys would’ve asked instead of asking what time of the day they write and whether their desk faces west or east.  TNB’s Fiction Section is a tantalizing triple-threat on that week’s Featured Author, so that by the time you’re done, you should be as smitten as we are.

Some writers we’ll be showcasing this year include Stuart Dybek, Steve Almond, Stephen Elliott, Antonya Nelson, Jonathan Evison, Joshua Mohr, Aimee Liu and Terese Svoboda . . . among many, many more!  Please stay tuned.  New work goes up every Sunday night.

Finally, on behalf of Stacy and myself, I’d also like to say how truly fun it’s been to work with such a wide variety of writers again.  When we closed Other Voices magazine in 2007 to focus on book publishing, we gained many exciting opportunities to champion indie books out in the world, but we considerably narrowed the pool of writers we were able to champion, since Other Voices Books publishes only two titles annually.  So it has truly been a joy to be able to reach out to more writers again, to consider so much new work, and to merge our passion for book and magazine publishing here at TNB.

We hope to hear from you soon and often.  Onward, and go TNB!