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Three weeks ago you came into our lives from the local Fred Meyer, your label redolent of simpler times, your frosted plastic bottle hinting at the orange bounty therein. Since then you’ve selflessly contributed cleanliness and good smell to me every day, but I’m afraid one more douse of shower water–even with your cap off–yielded none of your essence this morning. This was not a surprise as during the past week you’ve seemed less and less your vibrant, sudsy self. After much debate, we decided to put you down in the recycle bin this afternoon, retiring you with the cardboard, tin cans and random paper-y trash, where you’ll rest until the garbage man comes on Wednesday.

 

TNB Presents:

The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience – Portland

Boxing With Elephants (Like AA, but with Alcohol)

Two Hours of Laughs, Lounging and Litertainment brought to you by Portland-Area TNB Contributors:

Gloria Harrison
Meg Worden
Art Edwards
G. Xavier Robillard
Quenby Moone
James Bernard Frost
and more

“That’s not what it says.”

I stop singing. A moment of confusion. I’ve never questioned the lyrics to this song. They’re as burned into my head as my name across the back of my childhood belt.

“It says this,” and she gives me her take on the lyrics.

And guess what? Her lyrics actually make sense. And it isn’t until then I realize that my lyrics make no sense at all. It’s a little embarrassing; as a writer and songwriter, I’m supposed to pay attention to these things. I’m supposed to care.

But I don’t.

As I’ve harped about before, my biggest gripe with contemporary novels is that they sometimes don’t finish what they start. They can begin with a certain level of craft, story-telling, writerly attention–whatever you want to call it–and end up in 10 or 25 or 50 pages something less than that. I notice this more in novels from big commercial publishers, but it’s hardly an exclusive club. This sudden slip down the chasm of mediocrity seemingly can happen in any new book, by any publisher, at any time.

“Nevermind will forever be remembered as a vehicle for ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ and its subversive effect on mainstream culture. It’s periodically brilliant, but half of the material on Nevermind is filler.”

-Chuck Klosterman

Okay. So. Part III.

One rule I set out for myself on my quest to vindicate Cobain from the evil clutches of Klosterman: I will not use the “you had to be there” argument to justify any of my feelings for Nevermind. Yes, much of the greatness of Nevermind lies in its social context, and especially its relationship to music that came before it like The Youngbloods, Aerosmith, Husker Du and so many more. But there is enough musical greatness within its contents not to need to resort to arguments relating to Nevermind’s “subversive effect on mainstream culture.” This is not a post about culture. It’s a reassessment of a great album 20 years later to see–with all of that other stuff out of the way–how great it really is, especially in relation to Appetite for Destruction, which I examined at length in Part II.

I was excited when I heard about the novel A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I’m kind of a sucker for any fiction that employs a rock and roll setting, and I stopped everything to read it.

From the blurbs I’d found online, I hadn’t expected Goon Squad to have such a complex rock and roll backdrop–I thought only one of its characters worked in the music business–but most of its characters are at least tenuously attached to life in the biz. The novel is filled with producers, record company folks, washed-up musicians, publicity people, fans. I love it when a novelist takes on this much of the rock and roll world.

“[Appetite for Destruction] always comes across as tour de force and a classic rock masterpiece, while Nevermind will forever be remembered as a vehicle for ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ and its subversive effect on mainstream culture. It’s periodically brilliant, but half of the material on Nevermind is filler.”

-Chuck Klosterman, Fargo Rock City

Okay. So. Part II.

(For those of you not up to speed, this post is Part II of a series debunking the current trend in rock lit to laud Axl Rose at the expense of Kurt Cobain, and reassessing Appetite for Destruction and Nevermind about 20 years after their debuts. If you want to start at the beginning, Part I, which deals directly with the criticisms of Steve Almond and Chuck Klosterman, is here.)

Tommy Stinson, former bass player of the Replacements and also Axl Rose’s bass player-for-hire, once told reporters that Axl Rose is much easier to work with than Replacements’ lead singer Paul Westerberg, to which Westerberg’s responded, “Wouldn’t Van Gogh be more difficult than Norman Rockwell?”

I’m reminded of this dig whenever I see more evidence of what’s becoming a decade-long trend in rock lit to laud Axl Rose at the expense of Kurt Cobain.

Two of my favs, Steve Almond and Chuck Klosterman, are guilty of this charge.

*”Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”- A quip about music journalism variously attributed to Frank Zappa, Laurie Anderson, Steve Martin, and Elvis Costello.

Think of the sections at your local bookstore: romance, history, science fiction, fantasy, western, chick lit, erotica. How big are these sections? Where are they located in the store?

And how does the section on rock literature compare?

Steve Almond’s latest book of non-fiction, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, is written for “Drooling Fanatics,” people, like Almond himself, whose fixations with music take on an almost religious fervor. Almond’s past works include story collections My Life in Heavy Metal and The Evil B.B. Chow, the novel Which Brings Me to You (with Julianna Baggott), and the non-fiction books Candyfreak and (Not That You Asked). He is also a TNB contributor, and his submissions have ranged from a self-interview to a criticism of fellow contributor Joe Daley’s “Five Bands I Should Like, but I Don’t. At All.” The latter ruffled some feathers at TNB, and Steve accepted my offer to talk about the dust-up, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, and the larger concerns of his work.

Last week, I went to my first reading in a while. It was Steve Almond, at Powell’s, with the candlestick.

(Wait. Scratch the candlestick part. It was just Steve Almond at Powell’s.)

I enjoyed myself. Steve was charming and funny and irreverent. Particularly heartening was seeing probably 100 people show up for a reading by an author who was promoting something that could be described as rock lit. As a fellow tribesman of that woefully underpopulated genre, I can now fantasize that someday 100 people might show up to Powell’s to watch me goof off for an hour.

1) Show up to your first rehearsal with the cheapest, ugliest, most elaborately decorated guitar you can find. When asked about it say, “Ten bucks at a pawn shop!”

2) Stop rehearsal every time your cell phone vibrates.

3) At the announcement of a new gig, no matter the city or venue, make an exasperated noise, kick the ground and say, “Not that fucking place again.”

4) During a concert, yell “I got it” when the band slides into its first solo break. Do the same for every subsequent song.