It’s hard not to imagine Tom Wolfe or Phillip Roth rolling their eyes in disgust when they learn that 90s skate punk bands are getting book deals, presumably to recount enthralling tales of the one time on tour when they duct taped the drummers butt cheeks together, or the bass player downed a bottle of Jamo and woke up spooning a tranny. Fine literature is for educated intellectuals, not bros with guitars and wallet chains. So what to make of NOFX’s book, The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories landing near the top of the New York Times bestsellers list?
Anyone who knows the history of Black Flag knows about Spot. The legendary South Bay lensman had a brief tenure as bass player in the band but went on to produce most of their earlier E.P.s and helped build the legendary Media Arts studio where most of their seminal tracks were put to tape. He then began taking photos professionally of the local surf, skate and music scene in the late 70s and early 80s for beach newspaper the Easy Reader. His photo collection, Sounds of Two Eyes Opening – Southern California Life: Skate/Beach/Punk 1969-1982 displays his considerable talents with convincing proof.
I’ll admit Wolf in White Van is a book I bought solely because I was intrigued by the title and cover art. I picked it up at a bookstore somewhere and read that the author was the singer songwriter of a band called The Mountain Goats. I’d never heard of them but the title, artwork and the fact that he was a musician tipped the scales enough that I added another thick book to the growing stack in my bunk on the tour bus.
There are a lot of ways to find out about books. Sometimes you get one recommended to you by a friend or read a good review in the newspaper. I spend a ridiculous, unhealthy amount of time in book stores so sometimes I’ll just see one I think I’d like based solely on the cover art, the title or reviews on the back cover, (My wife loves this and the stack of half read books on my nightstand) and this was the case for me with David Eggers. Years ago I saw his first book, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” on a display table and instantly thought, whoever had the balls to name his book something like that must have some interesting things to say.
X is a sacred band for me. The first concert I ever went to was when they opened for Devo at the Long Beach Arena and I probably saw them more than any other band during my impressionable adolescent years. I bought their debut album Los Angeles when it came out and have purchased everything they’ve put out ever since. Some of my favorite show memories are watching them play at the Country Club in Reseda on Sherman Way pressed up against the stage hanging on their every word. More poetic and accomplished musically than many of their peers, an X show made you convinced that you were witnessing a true original American band. They were punk rock angst mixed with country western pathos and rockabilly roots. They couldn’t have happened anywhere else.
Apparently Kurt Cobain was such a fan of Patrick Suskind’s vile, dark psychological thriller, Perfume, The story of a murderer, that he carried a copy with him wherever he went and re-read it hundreds of times. He even wrote a song about the main character, called “Scentless Apprentice” for Nirvana’s second album In Utero, a work that was at first almost rejected by his record label as being unlistenable. Some thought Cobain was deliberately trying to sabotage his career after the pressures and indignities of alt-rock super stardom left him feeling more alienated than even before he was famous. In Utero is in fact a stunningly good album with moments of beautiful discordant music and angst ridden yet resigned lyrics, but if there is one song on the album that you can almost see the point of the people who wanted to write the album off at first, “Scentless Apprentice” would have to be the song they’re looking at. There is very little of the haunting melody we get from songs like “Serve The Servants” and “Heart Shaped Box.” Instead it’s Kurt wailing “Go Awaaaay” in a caterwaul scream filled with venom and spite and very little harmony.