It was John F. Kennedy who once explained that the Chinese character for the word "crisis" also represents the word "opportunity." As The Stranger's books editor, I have decided to utilize this presidential wisdom, and turn a negative into a positive by filling this week's unattended music section with reviews of books about music. The reviews are written by our music critics (a contingent of the staff I was surprised could actually read), and so ultimately revolve around the problems of music journalism. Or, to put it another way, the music writers are writing about writers who write about music. --Charles Mudede
Live Through This: American Rock Music in the Nineties
English rock critic and former Stranger music editor Everett True recently released his first book, called Live Through This: American Rock Music in the Nineties, on Virgin Press. In places, it's an informed and brilliant debut, written by a passionate critic who not only toured with Nirvana, but got routinely trashed with the likes of the Breeders, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, the Jesus Lizard, and countless other legendary '90s bands. However, as the book's title suggests, Live Through This comes with a big, rotten noose around its neck: the unsavory and overarching presence of Courtney Love, who is in no small part responsible for both True's infamy (they were best friends in the '90s) and his book's shortcomings.
Why is your book so tied up in Courtney Love? It seems self-serving to so directly link yourself to this megastar when there are all these great bands that only get brief mentions in Live Through This.
EVERETT TRUE: I understand what you're saying. You know, when I first met Courtney she used to drop my name into conversation all the time, because it served her purposes to be linked to this famous journalist. And it would've been incredibly dishonest of me not to feature Courtney this heavily in the book.
I'm curious what you think about journalists' responsibilities to the musicians they write about.
The only sense of responsibility you get is your own--is what you might feel when you're writing about an artist. It has nothing to do with anything else. It's certainly got nothing to do with them. I mean, if I love a record, then my responsibility is to translate that love into my writing, so that other people go, "Fuck, I want to hear that." And their lives shall be empty and devoid of meaning until they actually hear that artist.
Or on the inverse, the contempt, so that people avoid buying it?
Pop music is part of the fabric of everyday society. You can't avoid music. Everywhere you go, it's in your face. My writing is not in your face. I wish it was, but it's not. You can ignore it. You can flip the page over. You can't do that with music. So if I can just get back one of these chumps who are making these really bad records, and upset them for all the millions of times that they've upset me with their piece-of-crap music, then I'll do it. If somebody's adding to the general gray of mediocrity that suffuses life, you should not be supportive of that. You should actively discourage them.
I think your book is beneath you. I think it's rushed.
Oh, it's totally rushed, 'cause I didn't want to write it.
There are beautiful moments, like where you're going off about Beat Happening or Huggy Bear. In those moments your soul genuinely comes through. And then there are these Courtney sections, where I feel like you're completely in it for yourself. I just wonder about--I mean, as a critic, what's my responsibility to your book if I think it's beneath you?
No, I totally know what you mean. That's down to you. All I can say in my defense is that all I was trying to be was honest. I could have just written about the Beat Happening and the Huggy Bear stuff, and that would've been a lot easier because, to be honest, adding Courtney and Kurt in won't particularly increase the sales. Not really. Because anybody who picks it up and reads more than a couple of words will realize it's a book about me. And I deliberately don't recommend any Hole record apart from their first album in the discography at the back. And I kind of go out of my way only to praise bands that I like. Do you see what I mean?
Yes, I do.
I also wanted to entertain. I guess I was too insecure to think that I could entertain via great writing, because although I'm a great believer in the common mass, and I think that if people were given the choice between the average and the brilliant they would always accept the brilliant, at the same time I'm insecure enough to think that if I don't tell stories and I don't put all that kind of superfluous stuff in, nobody will want to pick it up.
Do you consider your book mediocre?
No. Not even vaguely. It's not even vaguely mediocre. It's soulful and it's honest and it's sensationalist. Mediocre's the one thing it isn't. You might be right that it's below what I'm capable of, but I have no way of judging that. No, I think it's more vital and more fascinating and more infuriating and more entertaining than virtually any other book about rock ever written. Not least because it is infuriating. But, it's also really resonant.