Books - T

THIS IS A CALL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVE GROHL - Paul Brannigan (400 pages, Harper Collins)
An unauthorised biography of the ex-NIRVANA drummer released to coincide with the media frenzy surrounding the 20th anniversary release of ‘Nevermind’. A biography where Kurt’s name presides above that of Grohl’s on the cover and the name NIRVANA is emblazoned on the back cover. Given those details, and the fact that Brannigan is a former hack for metal rag, Kerrang!, and you don’t need to be even a fraction as cynical as myself to think of this as a nice little marketing cash-in.
In fact, this is an impressive piece of music journalism. The narrative takes the reader right back to Grohl’s great-grandparents coming to the USA and progresses through to his parents’ divorce during his adolescence. His early bands - FREAK BABY, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and DAIN BRAMAGE - are all featured surprisingly in-depth before the era of SCREAM is looked at. Obviously, succeeding chapters focus on NIRVANA and FOO FIGHTERS along with what’s happening in Grohl’s personal life at the time.
The strength of any biography is not in its litany of facts and details - even if they are accurate and correct. A biography’s strength is in how well the subject matter is represented, whether the reader feels a connection on a personal level and believes the subject’s personality is, even in a minor way, revealed. This is where Brannigan has an advantage over many writers because, as he states in his foreword and the opening chapter, Brannigan has had a personal relationship with Grohl on which he can draw from. He’s got drunk with Grohl, been considered a friend of Grohl’s by the man himself and has also interviewed him in a professional capacity on a number of times. All of this lends the book a distinctly ‘authorised’ feel.
Brannigan also gets his facts correct, be they about SCREAM or PROBOT or FOO FIGHTERS. He’s done his research and lifts quotes and cross-references from a number of music publications and zines and conducts many new interviews with the entire spectrum of characters who have come into contact with Grohl over the years - including many of those involved in the early DC HC scene. Some glossy photo pages and a comprehensive discography round out what was, surprisingly, a very satisfying and insightful read.
The negatives are quite minor. Brannigan could be tried as guilty for making parts read like an advert for Kerrang! such is his eulogising over the importance the rag has apparently had in influencing Grohl’s career (yeah, right - it always featured DC Hardcore amidst its Iron Maiden worship! And I don’t recall it fawning over the early days of Sub Pop with the same zeal as Sounds or NME). Visually also, the book’s cover looks cheap. It really does not exude any sense of the quality of what’s inside; ultimately, it looks like a cash-in.
Finally, there is the conundrum that, given Brannigan has created what could be the definitive over-view on Grohl’s career thus far and when his personal relationship with Grohl is also taken into account, I have to wonder just why Grohl did not want to get involved - even if only to give the book a seal-of-approval. I’d be surprised if another unauthorised piece about him could match this. (08.12.11)  

TRAPPED IN A SCENE: UK HARDCORE 1985-1989 - Ian Glasper {530 pages, Cherry Red}
The final (and largest) volume of Glasper’s meticulous analysis of 80s UK Punk looks at the late 80s Hardcore scene, or as those who read the mainstream weekly music rags of the time might call it, Britcore. Personally, it was an era of some great gigs and times in Ipswich, UK with many of the names in this book playing somewhere in the town.
The bands in this book emerged from and grasped the DIY ethics of those in The Day The Country Died, embraced some of the more excessive and aggressive aspects of the bands in Burning Britain and infused the whole thing with more pace and ever-increasing musical bombardment. The influence of US Hardcore was evident in many of the bands, as was a crossover into the realms of Metal. This created a myriad of bands, the sound of which ranged from SNUFF’s Oi!-tinged, hyper-speed melodic blast; SOFAHEAD and JOYCE MCKINNERY EXPERIENCE’s anarcho-flavoured bluster and HDQ’s sublime US styling to the warp-speed thrash Punk attack of RIPCORD and HERESY, the Metal-tainted tunes of CIVILISED SOCIETY?, SACRILEGE and CONCRETE SOX and onto the noise assault of NAPALM DEATH (a band I always thought sucked in a big way), EXTREME NOISE TERROR and ELECTRO HIPPIES. And of course, the whole scene was benefited by the support of one John Peel via sessions and regular playing of these bands on his Radio One show. Unfortunately, some of this diversity saw the scene splinter into varying factions as the whole UKHC scene increased in popularity.
Each book has thrown up a few stories that stand out due to the fact they seem so out of place; here we get told of how GENERIC vocalist Wizz ended up in prison for attempting to entrap a 14-yr-old girl. A lot of the stories here also emphasize debauchery excess and, while the ethics of the Anarcho scene were still highly relevant, a sense of chaos, exhilaration and, most evident, FUN (usually involving an array of intoxicants) replaced some of the dour tendencies of what went before, best exemplified by STUPIDS, ABS and SKUM DRIBBLURZZ.
The book is rounded off, as was Burning Britain, with some excellent interviews with the labels of the day - Earache, Peaceville, Manic Ears and Meantime - before we get label discographies.
As with the previous two volumes, the bands are collated via geographic location. Aesthetically, this is a much cleaner, leaner looking book. Where the previous books had photos placed within the text and shaded graphics under the select discographies, Trapped In A Scene opts to assemble the photos at the end of each chapter, remove the shaded graphics and include a dazzling array of flyers.
It’s probably fair to say that as the trilogy of books has progressed, each successive book has incorporated minor improvements on what went before, which dictates that this is the pick of the three. Not only does that serve as a disservice to the previous books (personally, The Day The Country Died is the stand out for me) but it fails to highlight that the strength of these excellent history lessons is when they are viewed as a complete over-view of what was Punk in the UK during the 80s.
For those who were there and involved in Punk in the 80s, or for those who look upon the era from this new century with nothing but wonder and curiosity, these books are essential reading. (23.11.10)