Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#86: Everybody Loves our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarm

Crown, New York: 2011. 567 pages

At first I thought this was by Mark Arm, lead signer of Green River and Mudhoney. Either way, this was an excellent piece of oral history; it is up there with Legs McNeil's book on punk. The book focuses on more of the little known yet important bands to the grunge movement: The U-Men, Green River, The Melvins, Skinyard, Malfunkshun, 7 Year Bitch, The Fastbacks. In a word, excellent. I am planning on using this in the future in my rock history class.

The main source of tension in this book is, of course, Courtney Love. I actually am kind of afraid that she will Google "Courtney Love", see my blog complaining about her, and then attack me. I mean, she is batshit insane. Her comments for this book sound about as coherent as a 5 year old who broke into the parents liquor cabinet and drank that Peach Schnapps that has been sitting in the back since that party in 1994. Most people in the book have nice comments for her, with the most common being "gold digger". There is a of hate here for her. Frankly, it is absolutely deserved. Second to her is Candlebox, which is described "not as the nail in the coffin of grunge, but the actual fucking coffin". (344)

If anything, one of the few voices of reason in this text is fucking Bret Michaels. He says this "My career didn't end with grunge. My career with the media ended with grunge." (303). That is the real thing to take away from this text, that after Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Candlebox, most folks in the corporate rock world did not care about anyone else. Eddie Vedder and Mark Arm both describe a sort of "scorched earth" Seattle, where ex-members of pioneering bands wander around in confusion after the trend muffins have left town. A land in which the punk roots of grunge were overlooked in the race to sign "the next Nirvana" and where shitty derivative bands got fat record deals. Exhibit A: Stone Temple Pilots, who weren't even from Seattle. Far be it from me to wish for a return to the spandex and Aqua Net days of the 1980s, but this book, as the Michaels quote points out, is about the bloodsucking creeps that are most record executives.

Cobain is quoted as labeling Mark Arm and Jeff Ament as "careerists", honing in on the one thing that I could never stand about Kurt Cobain. As Arm put it, "For me, playing music is the difference between me having a career and working in a restaurant for my entire life. If that makes me a careerist, fine." I agree with that assessment; Cobain never wanted to be popular and was never happy when he was. He is the archetype of the tortured artist. Without "Teen Spirit", Cobain is the 90s version of Alex Chilton. With Teen Spirit, he becomes a self-righteous prick. That's not to say I don't like his music. Perhaps in this way he was the Bob Dylan of his generation, someone you could absolutely dislike and mock as a person who continued to record music that ranged from awful to transcendent regardless.

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