Pages

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"If you could've found out what Rosebud meant, I bet that would've explained everything."

I accept the fact that writing a biography is bound to have some debate about portrayal. Even stating in Post's prologue that this is an in-depth peek at certain bands and an underground style of music going mainstream, I'm sure I'll hear about how I'm missing something or there's stuff I forgot.

It's not because I'm a lazy researcher; I argue it's because I cannot fully replicate a complete experience in book form. No one can. A book offers a window into life, and can show a very balanced view of it. But experiencing life only comes with living life.

That said, I can't think of anything worse than a significant period in rock music going undocumented. Debate all you want about who or what was more influential, but at least trying to put some sort of thoughtful perspective is better than doing nothing.

I've taken much time and concern for the past four years to make sure my findings are as accurate as possible. I didn't set out to be a "cold fish" investigative reporter, but I didn't want to be some cheerleading fanboy either. I think I achieved a healthy middle ground in the process. I could be wrong.

Being a biographer can be a thankless job. You want to present a balanced and accurate view based on your findings, yet they can still get people up in arms. I know certain people interviewed for Bob Woodward's Wired are still angry with him about his portrayal of John Belushi. (Just read Jim Belushi's quotes in Live from Saturday Night or the Belushi oral history for a sampling.)

Make no mistake, stories told in a compelling way are more, for lack of a better word, compelling to read. I don't think Woodward intentionally sensationalized Belushi's story, but it could have happened in the process. (In hindsight, Woodward's spin of "Why didn't anyone try to stop and save him?" does reek of tabloid-ish cash-grab.)

So far, I haven't heard this kind of controversy with David Michaelis's recent biography on Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz. Michaelis has received some criticism from Schulz's family over his depiction of Schulz in Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, but there's a reason why there's an "a" instead of a "the" before "biography" in the title.

Schulz's wives and children no doubt have a different perspective because they had a different experience. They were his spouses and kids for crying out loud. Yet I don't think Michaelis's perspective is less valid because he was a longtime Peanuts fan, interviewed a lot of people close to Schulz and did his homework. I look forward to reading his book so I can come to my own conclusions. If the Schulz children wanted to write their own book, I wouldn't argue their perspective was less valid than Michaelis's.

Again, a biography is no substitute for life or a final word on somebody's life. Yet I find insight to be crucial for those that want to know more about the people behind the art. This stuff didn't pop out of thin air you know.

1 comment:

Martini said...

Talk about "less valid" opinions - mine is about as less valid as you can get. Downright useless. Can't help it though, being one of the Useless Men.