Books - D

DAVE GROHL: TIMES LIKE HIS - Martin James {356 pages, John Blake}
Whether you are the most underground Punk elitist or a mainstream dumbass who thinks Coldplay is some kind of alternative, you will know the name Dave Grohl. Like or loathe him I can guarantee everyone reading this website will know he’s in the FOO FIGHTERS and was the drummer in NIRVANA. You might even know he played in DC Punks, SCREAM, did a metal project called PROBOT and is often seen in QUEENS OF THE STONEAGE. You may have seen his Sonic Highways programmes. And chances are, you are probably asking yourself - just as I did - does the world really need another Grohl biography - especially in light of the This Is A Call biography written by Grohl’s long-term buddy Paul Brannigan. Well, I kinda think, in the case of this book, it does.
Like all good biographies (especially those without official backing from its subject matter), this starts with an introduction that sees the author telling us of one of the many times he appears to have met Grohl. From there, we’re into familiar territory as we read of Grohl’s parents, roots and birth and all the usual details of his life - you know - the life changing musical discoveries, joining SCREAM and then NIRVANA and onto FOO FIGHTERS. However, unlike This Is A Call that seemed to wallow in pre-FOO FIGHTERS years, this focuses very much on FOO FIGHTERS - and is better for it.
James dispenses with everything up to Cobain’s suicide within the first hundred pages or so and he does it with a narrative that is clear, concise and remarkably easy to read. There’s no over-educated, pretentious muso-journalist warbling - just facts and quotes all linked with good aplomb. I’m not sure he actually revealed anything that isn’t already out there but as an overview of Grohl’s formative years, it was pretty spot on.
Enter FOO FIGHTERS and things get much more in-depth. Each album is analysed, as is his work with a myriad of others (PRODIGY, KILLING JOKE, NINE INCH NAILS etc). James doesn’t shy away from a few critical observations but generally, he is positive about Grohl, his music and his persona. He’s done his research too, culling reviews and interviews from a cornucopia of publications (all credited), but also conducting his own interviews where possible.
The book is filled out with a few pages of photographs (again, a minimal amount from NIRVANA; the main being FOO FIGHTERS and associated projects) and a comprehensive discography. Each chapter also starts with a drummer joke, which is a continuation of what was discussed in the introduction.
I might be on the outside of the cool Punk cognoscenti (not that I was ever in that!), but I like Dave Grohl. I like FOO FIGHTERS. He might get his face all over the place a bit too often but so does a dick like Justin Beiber; I know who I would rather see and hear of constantly and it ain’t the baby Beiber.
I also like this biography. As said above, James’ narrative is very easy to read, his facts are 99% accurate (there is the odd error - VOI VOD at one stage of the book is referred to as VOIVOID) and a mark of any good biography should be that it succeeds in two areas: the first that you know the subject matter more intimately than before you read it, and the second that you actually learnt something. James succeeds on both counts. (23.02.16)

In many ways, it should come as absolutely no surprise that this is the first book to be published about what is arguably the definitive US Punk band. Given the band featured someone as meticulous as Jello Biafra would probably be enough to scare off many so-called ‘music journalists’. When you take into consideration the acrimonious legal battles that have blighted the band since, it’s clear that any attempt to portray a truthful account from any stage of the band’s tenure could be a task of insurmountable contradictions, myth, backstabbing and quite likely legal action. Thankfully, the man that has written this is Alex Ogg who has been responsible for many highly-regarded books about Punk, including The Art Of Punk and No More Heroes.
The book dates back to the very genesis of the band when, in 1978, guitarist East Bay Ray placed an advert for other musicians. The likes of CRIME, NUNS, AVENGERS and NEGATIVE TREND already flew the Punk flag in San Francisco at the time, but the arrival of the DEAD KENNEDYS announced a new twist to a familiar sound. No band before had been as jarring, as acerbic or as sarcastic - and that could be true on not just a local level but a national and international level also.
What follows is an incredibly well researched account of the band’s formative years, through the recording and release of the album in the book’s title and onto December 1980 with the departure of original drummer, Ted, and the June 1981 release of the single, ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’.
Thankfully, Ogg has conducted fresh interviews with all of the band, specifically Biafra and Ray, and just about every other significant party involved. He has represented both parties equally and fairly, but does not refrain from suggesting doubt at various dubious statements (like Ray’s insistence that he wrote, or rewrote, a number of the band’s greatest songs) or emphasising any contradictions. If any doubt is cast over the amount of effort on Ogg’s part to get this as accurate as possible, you only need to read the book’s prequel in which Ogg states the book took ten drafts running to 64,000 words when there were space for but 5,000; he even calculated quote allocations to prove all parties were equally represented.
The resulting narrative makes compulsive and essential reading. It’s laden with facts previously undisclosed and has a continuity that most other biographies (and biographers) can’t even aspire to.
The book is rounded out with a veritable cornucopia of visual material, be it some excellent photography from San Fran’s legendary Mabuhay Garden taken by Ruby Ray, or many images of flyers and promo material created by Winston Smith. The narrative is completed by some extensive notes from Ogg, some soundbite snippets from a bounty of notable names and an essential five-page piece about Winston Smith who was responsible for so many of the band’s infamous graphics; the book would have missed an integral part of the story without kudos being given to Smith.
It’s these new, exclusive interviews, Ogg’s directness and his attention to detail that makes this among the best biographies you will ever read. It should certainly be a lesson to all those who write error-laden biographies based only on information already available. Ultimately, the book recounts a vital chapter in US Punk history and delivers its narrative with style, focus and sincerity. Ogg is quick to state in the book’s final chapter that he has no intention of documenting the remainder of the band’s career; should anyone decide to take up that challenge, Ogg has set a stunningly high standard to follow. (06.03.15)

DETROIT ROCK CITY: The Uncensored History Of Rock ‘n’ Roll in America’s Loudest City - Steve Miller {324 pages, Da Capo Press}
Of all the US cities that have illustrious Rock ‘n’ Roll histories, Detroit is one that often falls off the radar a bit. When compared with the likes of NYC, LA, San Fran, DC, Chicago or even Minneapolis and Austin, it seems a bit like a younger, wannabe sibling. However, I bet everyone reading has a few records from the famed Motor City and some of those would be among your favourites. Even just taking Punk into consideration, we can talk MC5, IGGY AND THE STOOGES, NECROS, NEGATIVE APPROACH. Beyond that there is Alice Cooper, White Stripes, Suzi Quatro, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Grand Funk Railroad and it’s the home of both Creem and the legendary Punk zine, Touch and Go.
Steve Miller (who co-edited the JOHNNY RAMONE autobiography and edited the Touch And Go compendium) has collected over 200 interviews to make this oral-history on the city and, just like the city itself, it is gritty, brutally honest, compelling, hilarious, drug-laden and, in equal parts, uplifting and depressing.
The book dates back to 1965 and the first band to get a mention is MC5 along with Mitch Ryder. Russ Gibb, of the infamous Grande Ballroom, is quoted early on as is The Rationals, a band that had a local hit with a little song called ‘Respect’. As if preempting fate’s misfortune that has become virtually synonymous with the city, the band requested too much cash from Atlantic Records and got ditched. The song was then picked up by Aretha Franklin and became one of the biggest in history.
From there, all of those artists mentioned above are discussed in detail with the Alice Cooper chapter about their house in the city being a particular highlight, along with the chapters on Bookies Club and, oddly as I am not a fan, the White Stripes. Jack White actually comes over as a very sincere guy and, from various quotes, certainly appears to be well respected.
What is particularly enjoyable about a lot of the quotes is that they mention the locale of Detroit too; so we get to read about Elizabeth (where Larissa Strickland of L-7 and LAUGHING HYENAS had a gun stuck in her face at a squat), the Cass Corridor and a myriad of other areas, along with clubs like Blondie’s, Gold Dollar, Magic Stick and, of course, Bookies. These quotes invoke Detroit as an actual character of the book; not as a romanticised, rose-tinted paradise but as a genuine, dangerous yet frivolous place to be. There is also pride about being from Detroit; people who are not born-and-breed locals frequently get berated, especially around the time the city appeared that it could mirror Seattle’s success and take off in the wake of White Stripes .
I did lose a bit of interest toward the end, where the likes of Kid Rock and Insane Clown Posse appeared and reduced the narrative to a vague, lowest-common-denominator banality.
The book is filled out with a small selection of photos, the ubiquitous introduction telling of the inspiration behind the book and a list of those quoted in the book.
Negatives? None in terms of content, but a ‘select’ discography of the greatest and most influential records to come out of the city would have made a nice short-cut to Detroit’s motor city madness.
A superbly enjoyable read for anyone who has an interest in Rock ‘n’ Roll. You don’t have to be obsessed with the bands or the city, just obsessed with Rock ‘n’ Roll (which if you are, kinda by default you will have some kinda obsession with the city!) and the life surrounding it. If tales of drug usage, alcohol abuse, wild parties, raging music, enlightened narratives, high hopes, anti-climatic lows and general insanity through music appeals, then you should already be on your way to the book store to pick this up.
Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!!! (30.04.15)