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NICENESS IN THE '90s: AN INDIE MUSIC MEMOIR - Jim Miller (258 pages, Pleasant Peasant)
It's a familiar story: an aspiring musician of the Rock 'n' Roll persuasion reaches a plateau in his/her hometown. In a bid to take their drive for stardom (or even to earn a basic livelihood from their art) one stage further, they leave town for the fabled 'bright lights' of an entertainment mecca. In the case of Jim Miller, this drive saw him leave his native Chicago for Los Angeles; it's that trip and Miller's successive years in the City of Angels that provides the grounding for this book.
Miller arrived in LA with his friend, Dave Matke, at the dawn of the Grunge years in 1985. After stints in a few bands and a spell as a solo performer, he found himself at the centre of two bands: TRASH CAN SCHOOL (a triple guitar Grunge attack) and BLACK ANGEL'S DEATH SONG (a more R.E.M.-esque alt-rock/pop deal). The short chapters Miller provides offer a glimpse at the following years culminating with him leaving TCS and the split of BADS in the late 90s. Within the story are the bands of the day: L7 (with which Miller was particularly close to and that get frequent mentions), NIRVANA, HOLE, JANE'S ADDICTION, TAD, THE GITS, SONIC YOUTH and THE COWS being the most mentioned with a number of others on the periphery.
Miller's writing is most definitely unsensationalist. He doesn't drop band names in a "Shit, I'm just so cool," sense nor does he denigrate people for no reason other than personal 'scene points'. His writing is very much a simple matter of fact. Itís this rather listless style of writing that could be the book's main negative. While it is free of self-eulogising bullshit, too often we read of a situation which is begging to be expanded on but is, instead, passed over in a solitary paragraph. I personally would have loved to have read more about Miller's experiences with JANE'S ADDICTION or the Stahl brothers outta SCREAM who drove Miller on various tours. When Miller does expand on subjects - like the LA riots in the wake of the Rodney King inquest, the best BADS tour or the passing of his brother - it certainly makes more engrossing reading.
Another odd factor is the double line spacing of the text. Obviously that takes up twice the room of single spacing which would've reduced production costs and, also, suggests Miller did indeed have space (and financial backing) to write a more in-depth narrative.
The text is filled out with several pages of photos and a bunch of song lyrics.
While this is never going to sit in the Pantheon of music autobiographies (and I am sure Miller is under no illusion that it will), this is a very enjoyable read. Miller's love of music and ego-free text makes refreshing reading and, if there is one thing I always gauge an autobiography on is whether the guy is being honest. Would I wanna sit down and have a beer or six with him? The answer on both counts is a resounding yes. (21.05.11)