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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Goodbye 20th Century

I recently finished David Browne's superb biography of Sonic Youth, Goodbye 20th Century, and was quite amazed by how many people Browne interviewed for it. To me, it's a matter of the people he didn't get to interview for it (which, I gathered, was a really short list). In other words, he interviewed pretty much everybody who's still alive first-hand, including ex-members, friends, record label people, and roadies, as well as the band members themselves. As a result, I found the book to be a really well-rounded view of a band I've always wanted to know more about.

Throughout reading it, I was reminded of how hard it can be to interview that many people. I'm not talking just about the interviews themselves. Getting somebody on the phone or e-mail was quite a chore in quite a few cases while I was researching Post. I made every effort to interview everybody I wanted to, but I didn't get everybody, unfortunately.

I'm proud to say I did interview at least one band member from every band I featured in a chapter. In some cases, with Jawbox, Braid, and Hot Water Music, I interviewed all of the members. It felt good to have access to all of these guys' thoughts and opinions, allowing me to draw from my own interviews and less from other people's interviews.

I was only turned down by a couple of people. One of the many ex-members of At the Drive-In politely turned down an interview with me. Guy Picciotto politely declined as well. Then there were the unreturned messages, where I put two and two together after a while that I should stop trying to reach them. My attempts to reach Cedric and Omar from At the Drive-In resulted in unreturned e-mails from their publicist and manager. Numerous attempts to get James Dewees on the phone did not follow through. And lastly, my e-mails to Blake Schwarzenbach were not responded to.

In the case of Blake, when I read this lengthy interview with him in 2005, he seemed to spell everything out:
NR- You have obviously dropped off the scene for a while, are the militant fans trying to get to the bottom of things via correspondence?
BS- Periodically someone will write to ask me something.

NR- And can they count on you to respond?
BS- No. Where I feel like I can help I do, where I can’t, often I don’t because I’ve kind of parted myself from the indie scene.

NR- Oh wow, why did you do that?
BS- I’ve found we have divergent ideologies.

Maybe I mis-read this, but I thought I had received my answer to why he wouldn't respond to me. So, I did the best I could tying together my interviews with Chris and Adam for the Jawbreaker chapter, coupled with the many, many interviews with Blake I found online. Part of the whole thing about the book was restoring the context of the day, and part of that had to include quotes from interviews.

I'm happy to see Blake is in a new band, the Thorns of Life, and am quite impressed by what I've seen from their show last week. Plus, I'm glad that Blake was interviewed for this long in-development documentary on Jawbreaker. So hopefully those will fill in gaps that wasn't able to cover in my book.

All I'm saying, not every book can cover everything about a band, even the ones with multiple years of research into them. While I was quite satisfied with Goodbye 20th Century, there's probably somebody out there complaining that there isn't enough of this or that. Whatever, I say. No book can really be the end-all, be-all, final word. That's why it's great there are books out there, and people want to write them, and others want to read them.

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