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You Know You're Right

I've been curious about Everett True's recent biography of Nirvana, Nirvana: The Biography, ever since it came out. It's 656 pages about one of the the most important bands in rock history, all written by a noteworthy journalist and longtime fan. After reading some reviews and portions, I'm not sure I want to read it simply for one large reason. And that reason is: the biographer makes it abundantly clear this is his story, loosely implying he's as important to the story as the the principals featured. This, in my opinion, takes a lot of power away from the overall story.

True has plenty of legitimate credentials and bragging rights to write a biography on Nirvana. He was the Melody Maker journalist that Sub Pop flew in to write the infamous spread about the Seattle music scene. He introduced Kurt Cobain to Courtney Love. He wheeled Cobain up on stage at the band's legendary set at the Reading festival in 1992. He was a friend of Cobain's and had written plenty about them over the years. So why do I not really care to read about his experiences with the band? Well, based on what I've seen, the book is more My Experiences With Kurt Cobain and Nirvana Masquerading As the Final Word than Nirvana: The Biography.

I have no problem with reading or writing about my personal experiences with bands. Hell, that's what I frequently do on this blog. The deal is, with Post, I wanted to steer clear of saying stuff like "I remember this" and "I remember that" in the main body of the story. I'm the author, so of course this is a personal reflection. But do I need to bring myself into the light and say it is even more than it already is? Not to me.

Once again, the route I took with Post was very similar to how Michael Azerrad approached Our Band Could Be Your Life and Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana. Meaning, Azerrad never came on out and said, "Me! Me! Me! I! I! I!" in the main story. As the reader, I picked up on Azerrad's connection right away because of how well he knew the material and wrote about it so well. Of course Azerrad's a fan of the band and got to know them well, but he doesn't throw in personal anecdotes like, "Well, when I interviewed the band for Rolling Stone, I thought they were . . ." and the like. Again, he's the author, so of course this is going to be a personal reflection to an extent.

A few years ago, I read Everything: A Book About Manic Street Preachers by Simon Price. As a fan of the Manics who always wanted to know more about them, that's what Price's book did. The deal was, I found it very distracting when he would throw himself into intergral parts of the story. When he gets all defensive about a Richie Edwards documentary he was interviewed for, why is this talked about so explicitly in a book that's supposed to be about the band?

Now I'm not meaning that authors shouldn't banish "I"s, "me"s and "I remember"s out of their books. Not so much. As a matter of fact, Pat Gilbert's Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash has plenty of personal anecdotes. But he never declares these as important as the band's story. If anything, be it his visit to where the band recorded the so-called "Vanilla Tapes" or his final interview with Joe Strummer, his anecdotes set the background a little better.

Make no mistake, authors can get a little carried away when writing a biography about a rock band. Part autobiography and part biography, the author (doubling as the historian) puts his or her's slant on things in the process. It's great to have a variety of differing opinions on a single band or genre, but for me, I don't think the definitive word comes from just one person.


An Urban Femme said…
In my opinion, some - if not most - of the I's an author works into a rock musician's biography are to establish credibility. Sometimes the overall feel of an anecdote may seem exploitative, but when you take into account the kind of stories that come out of rock & roll, you kind of need an "I was there" to believe it.
Have you seen the recently released Kurt Cobain documentary About a Son? It's nothing but audio of Azerrad's interviews with Cobain in late 1992 and early 1993 with the backdrops matching the stories being told and the information being exchanged. It has a ghostly, 3 AM kind of feel to it and it reveals quite a lot about Cobain's motivations and thoughts. I highly recommend it.

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