Tuesday, March 13, 2007

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

There is no discrimination between books on a shelf in a bookstore. In the music section especially, there are completely unauthorized ones and completely authorized ones filed side-by-side. Whether or not any of them are good is in the eye of the beholder, but nothing aggravates me more than speculative, unauthorized books getting published.

I've written a lot about my disdain for Andy Greenwald's Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo and my feelings haven't changed. His views have merits and he did conduct interviews with some legitimate sources, but his book as a whole is still an insult to those that bought a Christie Front Drive 7" at a warehouse show, booked At the Drive-In for a house show or let Braid sleep on their floors.

When I started writing my book, I didn't think I would interview all the people I interviewed. Every day was just a few baby steps here and there. After three years, I lost count after the fifty or so people I talked with and/or interviewed specifically for this project. Believe me, there are still a few people I'd like to interview, but it looks like it's not happening. Some people have a much different view of their time in their respective bands now compared to when they were in the bands. Some are impossible to get a hold of for various reasons. I can't wait forever for an interview, so I had to resort to using various legitimate interviews from magazines and webzines for quotes/background. As much as I would have preferred all of my sources to be from interviews I conducted, I didn't want everything to be in hindsight. Hence what my book is.

Why I'm talking about this is when I see a book like Alan Goldsher's "biography" on Modest Mouse, A Pretty Good Read. The book has been rightfully trashed by critics and members of the band in the press. Completely unauthorized with no direct involvement by the band and based mostly on previously-published interviews, the book is more like Dave Thompson's quickie bio on Nirvana, Never Fade Away. Starting off a chapter talking about how he played bass in Shootyz Groove and compared their touring regimen to Modest Mouse's is not a good sign. This kind of approach is an insult to longtime fans who know a lot about a band and new fans who don't know much more than what's on the records. I wonder how a book like this even gets published, let alone stays in print.

I remember buying Never Fade Away as an impulse buy in 1994. It came out only a few weeks after Kurt's death, was short and inexpensive. I didn't find anything offensive about it, but I would learn way more authorized stuff once I read Michael Azerrad's Come As You Are. I've never heard Michael's opinion on Never Fade Away, but I wouldn't be surprised he doesn't think favorably of it. How would you like it if you spent a few years getting to know a band or musician really closely and wrote about it with painstaking research while some writer is handed the task of writing a quick bio on the same matter in only a few weeks? It's no surprise that I keep going back to Come As You Are for reference while my copy of Never Fade Away collects dust in my parents' house.

One of my favorite jokes in Student Bodies begins with a question about a rack of costumes. Toby asks Hardy what they're for and he responds they were for a non-musical version of Grease since they couldn't get the rights to the music. In a lot of ways, this is how I see these largely unauthorized books. I stay away from books like A Pretty Good Read and Benjamin Nugent's Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing because they're not a full portrait. Their credibility as legitimate sources is greatly debatable. I wonder if there are books that never reach the publishing stage because of a lack of proper sources. I hope there are and books that do get published go the way of Lester Bangs' bio of Blondie.


Matthew Francis said...

Completely agree with you on that Modest Mouse book. It's god awful.

japanesegodjesusrobot said...

I've never read the Greenwald punk on emo, but I'm curious about why you dislike it so much. I have a feeling I'd probably agree with you since I still buy 7"s at church shows on occasion and spent much of my teenage years doing the same. :-)

Oh and great blog, BTW.

Eric Grubbs said...

Thanks Matthew. Here's a lengthy post about my grief about Nothing Feels Good: