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.
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.
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?
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.