My favorite type of non-fiction books are of the ‘Why do us crazy humans do the things we do?’ variety. Any time I go on tour there’s usually a stack of them in my bunk. Some of the best in this genre are Driven: How Nature Shapes Our Choices, by Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria, The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan, and Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor E. Frankl, among countless others. Greg Graffin, Bad Religion frontman and college professor has been asking and answering that question on stage and in classrooms for better than 30 years.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s book “How Democracies Die” couldn’t have come at a better time. The patient in question has been run over by a truck that was paid for and manufactured by the Koch Brothers and the Kremlin and is being driven by a tax evading robber baron of bankruptcy laws and sometime reality TV show host who conned his way behind the steering wheel. He’s being cheered on by an audience of Kid Rock and Sarah Palin fans like it’s Evel Knievel at Snake River. Let us warn you folks, it doesn’t end well. There’s a lot of bragging and boasting and bellowing and then you end up beaten and bruised at the bottom of a dry river bed.
The first time I heard Bad Brains was when I bought the Let Them Eat Jellybeans compilation. The comp had great bands like FLIPPER, D.O.A., Black Flag and Dead Kennedy’s, but when the Bad Brains song Pay to Cum came on it sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. First of all, the song was played ridiculously fast. I still don’t think there’s a song that’s been released anywhere that even comes close in sheer velocity. And then there’s H.R.’s vocals, a blistering stream of consonants and syllables so ferociously jammed together it sounded like auctioneer at cattle sale hopped up on enough speed to power an 18 wheeler cross country. Twice.
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.
Everyone loves a good comeback, or a story about the kid who got pushed around when he was younger but eventually gets his revenge, or the cautionary tale about the guy who lost it all to drugs and drink and somehow turned it around. Lucky for us, with My Damage, the autobiography of Keith Morris, we get all three.