I’m a fan of high-minded analysis of low culture. Chuck Klosterman’s early work comes to mind. Or maybe Overthinking It. So for me, it’s a lot of fun to read an English professor’s defense of contemporary heavy metal. And Michael Robbins knows his metal. He name-checks Voivod, Immortal, Ghost, Wolves in the Throne Room, and many other luminaries of the scene while pointing out that, while metal “can’t take itself too seriously,” the rest of us should give it its due. His comedy chops are on display here too. To wit:
“Doom metal is low and slow … and mainly concerns the relationship between despair and marijuana.”
Robbins’ acerbic sense of humor is on display throughout Equipment for Living. The book is relentlessly funny. What’s funny about the book, though, is that Dylan Thomas gets the same treatment, and this unity of perspective persists regardless of the “seriousness” of the subject at hand. And what’s not to love about a book that references Boethius, Nietzsche, Whitman, Almost Famous, Springsteen, and Miley Cyrus all on the same page, or nearly so?
Alas, there is a ponderous theme threading together what otherwise might come off as a collection of disconnected essays. It’s something along the lines of whether art is only meaningful in the face of pain and bewilderment and whether we have the courage to face the fact that all of it might just be “are a meager response to a scurvy and disastrous world.” I think Robbins means to say that the human condition is an uphill battle but, ya know, let’s keep fighting! And for all his sarcasm and snide dismissiveness, this is, indeed, a noble sentiment.