Books - C

CHELSEA HORROR HOTEL - Dee Dee Ramone {256 pages, Da Capo Press}
Reprint of Dee Dee’s only novel (originally printed in 2001) to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the release of the RAMONES debut album. I think it’s fair to say that anyone with a interest in the band that goes beyond the first three albums and ‘It’s Alive’ is well aware of Dee Dee’s propensity to stretch the truth, lie and fantasize - especially if that meant scoring a hit or transferring attention onto someone else. Given that, the contents of this book blur autobiography with the paranormal fantastical.
Obviously, the book is based in New York’s Chelsea Hotel where Dee Dee did reside. Of his acquaintances, we meet Mike, a 68-yr-old homeless bum; Leonardo is a hotel resident with an appetite for deviant behaviour who is dating Bambie, a fantastical looking transsexual who has a Dee Dee fetish; Fernando, the coke-addicted trashman; Stanley Bard, the hotel’s owner; Beverly, the drunk hotel receptionist and of course, Barbara - Dee Dee’s volatile partner.
Into this mix, throw Dee Dee’s dog, Banfield, with whom Dee Dee can communicate, assorted freakish neighbours and the ghosts of Sid Vicious (Dee Dee is convinced that he is living in the same apartment as the one in which Vicious killed Nancy Spungen), Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators and Jerry Nolan. Oh - there’s the Devil himself too.
The story revolves primarily around random incidents in Dee Dee’s life, many of which are brutal and drug-induced. Vicious appears often, with a rusty syringe ready to shoot up the next fix. In the basement of the hotel is a Satanic cult that routinely sacrifices a homeless person in a rancid bathtub of piranha fish. It all leads to Dee Dee joining his dead NYC Punk associates for a final, raucous blast.
Throughout the story, there seems to be a preoccupation with what could only be seen as some of Dee Dee’s biggest fears - AIDS, Tiger Leprosy, Mealie-Mealie bugs and Sewer Worms. He writes with almost gleeful wit of some brutal deaths, particularly of those who Dee Dee hates.
I don’t think anyone could consider the narrative, or Dee Dee’s writing, skills to be literary genius. It is intriguing though and there is certainly an energy about it - much like a Punk Rock version of some of New York’s beat writers.
The book is filled out with some of Dee Dee’s drawings, a Foreword by Joe Dante (director of Gremlins, The Howling and Twilight Zone: The Movie among others) and features new cover artwork.
Ultimately, this book is going to be read by RAMONES fans and parallels with songs will be unavoidable (most notably ‘I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement’). However, step back a bit from the band and you will read a book that is darkly witty, macabre, mildly disturbing, imaginative and easy to read.
Not something I’ll go back too often, but when I want something more accessible than Burroughs yet more street level than Stephen King, I’ll be reaching for some horror from the mind of Dee Dee, set at the Chelsea Hotel. (18.06.16)

COMPLICATED FUN: The Birth Of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock 1974-1984 - Cyn Collins {396 pages, Minnesota Historical Society Press}
Minneapolis has long been a city that has held a musical fascination with me. Admittedly, this is primarily through my love of REPLACEMENTS and HUSKER DU. Most readers will be aware of those bands along with the likes of SOUL ASYLUM, Profane Existence zine and, of more recent times, DILLINGER FOUR. It was also the home of Prince with Minnesota being the home state of Bob Dylan. What is less known about the city, is what proceeded all of this; the musical foundations which acted as a springboard and influence on those aforementioned bands. Author Cyn Collins has, with this book, accounted for this time - and accounted for it in style.
Taking the style of the oral biography, Collins has amassed some stunning interviews with those main players from the mid-70s through to early 80s. She sets the scene with her own introductory pieces to each chapter before letting the main players take over. Of the bands featured, both REPLACEMENTS and HUSKER DU do get chapters, but these are later on and relatively small when compared with the painstakingly researched and info laden pieces on the likes of SUICIDE COMMANDOS (a band all readers should endeavour to discover and already a long-term favourite here at the House Of Scanner), FLAMINGO/ FLAMIN’ OH’S, NNB, HYPSTRZ, CURTISS A, SUBURBS (another fave!), SKOGIE and more. As all good city biographies, this ventures beyond the musicians and bands to focus on pivotal venues, labels, record shops (the infamous Oar Folkjokeopus and others), parties and assorted scenesters.
Whether the reader is aware of these bands or not, Collins has uncovered a treasure trove of information, and presented it in a format that is easy to read and urges the reader to keep turning the pages. Rather than having a series of glossy photo pages, this presents images placed in conjunction with the text, enhancing it and giving the photos great resonance.
The real strength of the book however, is via Collins’ narrative. The reader is placed in a specific time and place within the book. When SUICIDE COMMANDOS filmed the promo video for the track ‘Burn It Down’ in front of their condemned Utopia House dwelling as the local authority burnt it down, you get a sense of being there. Likewise, gigs at the Longhorn, the party in the freezing warehouse, seeing the Minneapolis Rockestra (put together by SUICIDE COMMANDO Chris Osgood) play their only gig at the M-80 festival etc - she has a unique way of placing the reader there.
What’s more, from the very first few pages, it’s apparent that Collins cares greatly about Minneapolis and what occurred in the city at this catalytic stage; a time when Minneapolis was developing at its own rate, without any major press or label interest hovering around for the next big story or diamond dollar. It was quite insular - which was a positive in the sense of what the city created. Collins embraces this, revels in it even - and does it in a way that any other ‘music journalist’ who has had no involvement and no history with its subject matter can but dream of.
The book is filled out with an essential cast of characters, preface and introduction sections.
This is easily the most enjoyable locale-based biography I have read since Gimme Something Better about San Francisco. It has great continuity, it’s witty without being silly and somber when required. The amount of information goes beyond well researched into almost obsessive territory but is reproduced with perfect aplomb. It’s impassioned to the point where the reader finds themselves wanting to hear NNB or FLAMIN’ OH’S because the narrative is so enthusiastic.
Put simply, this is an exemplary book perfectly telling the story of an era in one of the most over-looked yet influential and radical cities in US music history. Recommended? You betcha!!! (11.11.17)

CURED: The Tale Of Two Imaginary Boys - Lol Tolhurst {304 pages, Da Capo}
Whether you like THE CURE or not, what cannot be disputed is that the band’s run of albums from the 1979 debut, ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ through to 1989’s ‘Disintegration’ represents an incredible body of work. Throw in a slew of classic singles, not least ‘In Between Days’ (which is, I think, among the best Pop songs ever written) and that consistency of quality is almost without compare for any other band of its generation. This memoir is by the band’s founder, Lol Tolhurst, who was the original drummer and school-boy pal of the band’s other founder and iconic frontman, Robert Smith.
From the outset, Tolhurst is keen to point out that this is a memoir rather than an autobiography. The difference maybe fine, but after reading the book, his insistence makes sense.
We get taken back to 1959, the year Lol was born in Horley, England. The date of note is 1964 when, waiting for the school bus with his mum, he meets Robert Smith. From there, Tolhurst presents an intelligent, vivid and highly readable account of his life.
What’s immediately apparent is the difference between Tolhurst’s and Smith’s backgrounds. Tolhurst had an alcoholic father who was a WWII vet and a Catholic mother. Smith on the other hand came from a loving and caring family who did the very best they could for their son. The pre-band days Tolhurst writes of would be similar to most growing up in a grey suburban town - especially when they were the first Punks in town. There are stories of run-ins with skinheads, Smith’s defiance and seeing THE STRANGLERS and WIRE.
Once the band forms, it is a familiar account of one success at a time; first a single, then a tour followed by an album. From there, it’s overseas tours, hit singles, acclaimed albums, more money and success - and the demons that come with it.
Early in the book, Tolhurst is open about his discovery and love of alcohol. As his narrative continues, it’s clear that his dependency and desire for the adult beverage starts to override the band. Not only that, he suffers blackouts and is prone to not just playing the odd prank, but some spiteful behaviour also. It’s this behaviour that leads to him being kicked out of the band he loves - kicked out of the only life he knows.
His road to sobriety is written about without any sense of glamour; just the facts that he has a disease that needs attending. When he reaches the stage where he takes the band, and Smith in particular to Court, he writes with the benefit of hindsight and is quick to point out the error, and stupidity, of his actions. There’s even a sense of self-loathing in his words that is refreshing in its honesty. This is matched, in the opposite, with his joy of reuniting with the band and his renewed relationship with Smith.
Tolhurst writes with subtle, poetic tones but never detracts from the incident being told. It is clear his friendship and admiration of Smith, along with fellow CURE members Simon Gallup, Porl Thompson and Michael Dempsey is unwavering. He writes about these people with honesty and respect.
The book is filled out with eight pages of monochrome photographs; personally a few more pages would’ve been welcome.
This is more than just a book about THE CURE, this is very much a coming-of-age story. I could relate incredibly well to the camaraderie with Smith and Dempsey of his youth, but beyond that he writes with a fascination about each new aspect he experiences as he grows with THE CURE, and after he leaves. His narrative is instilled with drama when necessary and mute reflection when required. Because of the coming-of-age feel of the book, and the lack of pretension from someone who has actually played massive gigs, sold a phenomenal amount of records and could quite reasonably write with pretension, this book is one that should appeal beyond just CURE fans and onto those who have an abiding love for music, and that of Britain and post-Punk in particular. (18.12.16)