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Monday, February 19, 2007

Parallel lines on a slow decline

My fandom of Guided By Voices began slowly over twelve years ago. A short write-up in People praised Alien Lanes stating something along the lines of "Guided By Voices songs are starting to get longer, which is great because you don't want them to end." Coupled with a black and white picture of Bob Pollard singing into a mike, I was interested. But I didn't hear one of their songs until 120 Minutes aired the video for "Bulldog Skin." College radio, Tom from the Good Show and Goose introduced me to Do the Collapse, Isolation Drills and Bee Thousand a few years after that.

I'm still a fan, so I was anticipating reading James Greer's '05 bio, Guided By Voices: A Brief History, Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll. Finally getting around to reading it recently, I would liken my experience to listening to a dodgy, inconsistent GBV album.

Greer sheds a lot of revealing information about the band, but I was constantly frustrated by its lack of direction. Sure, it's important to discuss Bob Pollard's upbringing and motivations, but how important is it to spend multiple pages on his time playing sports and the members of his drinking club? While it's abundantly clear early on that Greer knows these guys very well, sometimes knowing too much can hinder storytelling.

Often interjecting sidenotes and self-conscious rock bio anecdotes, I found these to be really distracting. Plus, a number of pages are spent purely to quotes from his sources, namely Bob and Jimmy Pollard. As someone who spent the last few months editing down long quotes for my own book, I was frustrated to see such long-winded and never-ending quotes make the final cut.

Probably the biggest gripe I have is how the band's final few years are merely skimped on. Greer praises Universal Truths and Cycles, Earthquake Glue and Half Smiles of the Decomposed, but doesn't go much in depth behind them or the band. As someone who wrote about Fugazi's Red Medicine, End Hits and The Argument in just a couple of pages, I can understand why certain records get more page space than others. But I found ditching GBV's final years and having a pointless chapter about the band's hardcore fans a misuse of space.

All this said, Greer does provide me, a GBV fan that doesn't own everything or know everything about the band, a decent glimpse at one of rock's strangest late-blooming bands. As a matter of fact, any decent rock bio makes me want to hear a band's stuff again or for the first time. After completing Hunting Accidents, I pulled out my copy of the Hardcore UFOs box set and burned a full 80-minute compilation of my favorite tracks. So that's why a song like "Tractor Rape Chain" is stuck in my head as I type this.

2 comments:

Zine-O-Phonic said...

dude, I've got the DVD of their last performance. It's only four hours long. We should watch that sometime. We should get a bunch of people together, and see if anyone can out drink Bob. (They put a bar onstage for the final performance)

Thanks again for dragging me out of the house on Friday.

Eric Grubbs said...

You're welcome. I need to be dragged out myself from time to time.

I actually have The Electrifying Conclusion on DVD as well. Netflix had it on "Long Wait" for months, so when Good Records had it for 15% off, I just said 'what the hell.' Great performance, especially with "If We Wait."