I remember sitting atop a dryer almost a decade ago riveted to a story in LA Weekly about the life and death of musician Elliott Smith, as some of the...moreI remember sitting atop a dryer almost a decade ago riveted to a story in LA Weekly about the life and death of musician Elliott Smith, as some of the description of his personality resonated with me in ways nothing has before or since. I remember feeling naked in the laundromat seeing these things in print, though the sensation may also have been due to the fact that most of my clothes were tumbling around underneath me. The unfortunate denouement is that Smith ends up rampantly addicted to drugs and alcohol and stabs himself to death in the heart*...needless to say I was shitting my pants** to feel intense communion with someone who went down such a path, and have had ambivalence towards learning more about him ever since.
So it’s with this context (and an I-tunes library that tends to dwell upon the ethereal “Angel in the Snow”) that I decided to pick up "Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing." This was as much to feed my obsession with rock lit as to figure out whether the connection I felt to this person was due to everything seeming deep and personal with the blush of being nineteen.
Comfortingly, one of the points author Benjamin Nugent makes is that Smith fans do tend to connect [with his songs] on an exceptionally personal level. This is because the songs are ambiguously autobiographical -- emotional honesty delivered in a narrative that can be read multiple ways, and “literal, simple interpretations were rarely the best ones.” For instance, the track I referenced earlier could be about romantic infatuation as easily as it could be about a cokehead serenading the drug: “all crushed out on the way you are / better stop before it goes too far / don’t you know that I love you?” A source of Nugent’s suggests that Smith was not using drugs as early as his songs began referencing them, which underscores a feature of this bio I’m still not sure whether I liked: most of the content consists of extended direct-quotes from exes and acquaintances, with varying degrees of explication from Nugent. It would probably be more effective if the sources had been closer to the deceased and the quotes were shorter and more important. In general, Nugent’s tone is one of admitted but somewhat restrained fanboy, and he inserts himself in the narrative repeatedly. He describes what it’s like to visit Smith’s old hang outs today, but to what end isn’t always clear -- at times it seems as if he is searching for something. It may be those elusive sources, as apparently most people closest to Smith don’t talk to the media, and some viewed this book as being opportunistic capitalization upon Smith’s death.
One argument in favor of the bio having been a rush job is that the writing is sometimes awkward -- the same line of a song is quoted in full multiple times within a short span of text, or a quote is set up too early and becomes confusing. For instance, here Nugent is setting up a conversation with the frontman of Soul Coughing that ultimately proves the point about the band's frontman being articulate, but the first blip is as follows:
“...Doughty is an unusually analytical conversationalist for a musician. ‘We were staying at the Magic Castle Hotel,’ he says, ‘which is like a completely weird place to be staying.’”
I thought the author was being sarcastic until a few paragraphs later, and it’s annoying to spend energy sorting out the author’s tone on a basic level instead of being able to pay attention to the narrative. I also abhor Pitchforkiness, or the use of cliched and often contradictory adjectives to capture sound in print:
“‘Passing Feeling’ is more contained than ‘Shooting Star’, but still grittier and more flamboyant than the music on Smith’s other albums.”
Using “gritty” and “flamboyant” together only conjures up Liberace fronting a street gang for me...I still have no idea how that description translates to piecing together how something sounds.
All in all, this wasn’t the worst bio I’ve ever read, but not particularly awe-inspiring one either. I think it’s strongest merit is that it paints some degree of complexity in several places where it could easily jump to conclusions.
*if you believe his girlfriend didn’t murder him. I don’t think she did. ** at least I was in the right locale to handle such a mess(less)
I had carefully avoided reading this for some time, not wanting anything to mar the fantasy relationship I have carried on with a fantasy version of M...moreI had carefully avoided reading this for some time, not wanting anything to mar the fantasy relationship I have carried on with a fantasy version of Mr. Weiland for many, many years.
Three cold hard facts I was specifically hoping to avoid:
1.) cruel or whiny junkie antics generously romanticized in sonic form (e.g. "Interstate Love Song", "I Got You") that make you realize he is kind of a jerk when spelled out in book format.
2.) the inescapable conclusion that Weiland thinks STP lyrics are super deep/irreverent/sensory/ironic instead of realizing they're a little dumb ("Creep") and tripped out ("Wet My Bed") and being okay with the simplicity of that.
3.) the book's eye-roll inducing subtitle "The Earthling Papers".
The book brought it in each of these categories (which is to say, sigh, my heart is slightly broken), but the precise reason I'm giving this memoir a low rating is because the content was often sketchy and disjointed. To me, vagaries defeat some of the purpose of publishing a memoir for a curious public to understand and enjoy, though they say something in form (accurately capturing the flow of an artsy brain that has abused drugs for a long, long time?). For instance, this is an entire paragraph beginning and ending an anecdote:
"Down in New Orleans, we found ourselves in the wrong neighborhood in the wrong hotel but were too dumb to know. We kept partying."
Why wasn't the ghost writer prodding for more -- how was it "wrong"? In what manner were you "partying"? Why is he no longer naive about the experience? The excerpt says little in a horribly boring way, and the gaps aren't limited to the micro -- there is an astounding amount left unsaid about bigger topics upon which it is reasonable to expect elaboration, such as: 1/4th of his band, drummer Eric Kretz / how becoming a parent has affected him / what it is like to front a major band / etc.
The tale leaves off with Weiland and his long-time paramour Mary Forsberg on the outs, followed by 20 creepy collage pages, mostly of their personal snapshots, in what is hard not to read as a reconciliation attempt. And, though I've surely made 20 creepy Scott Weiland collage pages in some kind of an initial-concile attempt, I was probably sixteen when I did it. That's the bummery feeling this book leaves me with: he seems stuck at somewhere around age 16 within.(less)
I've never read fiction quite so bleak, textured, and inverted, and I didn't feel it came off as arbitrary or pretentious, just arresting. This book o...moreI've never read fiction quite so bleak, textured, and inverted, and I didn't feel it came off as arbitrary or pretentious, just arresting. This book opened up my ideas of what tools (and how many simultaneous tools) a writer can use to communicate.(less)
**spoiler alert** I read mainly pop culture auto/biographies these days, and this is one of the few I've encountered that I would describe as thoughtf...more**spoiler alert** I read mainly pop culture auto/biographies these days, and this is one of the few I've encountered that I would describe as thoughtful.
The reader first meets Alicia Armendariz, a chubby misfit trying to escape a childhood encompassing financial poverty, domestic abuse, bullying, gangs, and racial discrimination. Black and white photos in the margins, in which she's always smiling, underscore that the truth is grey -- few people or circumstances are entirely good or bad, but usually a combination of the two.
Staccato chapters the length of a Germs song chronicle her transformation into Alice Bag, frontwoman of a first wave West Coast punk band. Some of the names casually dropped are grand (Belinda Carlisle moves in down the hall!) yet tragic (you know what ultimately happens to Sid Vicious), though most of these musicians elude mainstream recognition. I found that Alice was modest about the quality of these bands -- especially for young'uns who "didn't know how to play their instruments," the songs are catchy, tight, and stand up well thirty years later. To judge for yourself, here's my favorite song by her band and by her first boyfriend's band.
Anyways, much of the text revolves around this period of her life, and compellingly captures why she was drawn to this culture. Punk is depicted a space where anything goes, where broke kids from broken homes could figure out how to be their own heroes, though this same freedom incubates the rampant drug abuse that destroys many of her peers.
Alice's gender, race, and relative obscurity helps make her vantage point more complex but relatable than a history from yet another dude with huge name recognition. She is an outsider amongst outsiders, with keen attention to detail: "...the Deaf Club...had been built as an actual club for the deaf in the 1930s. By the late 1970s, it functioned as a rental hall for special events until punk rock entrepreneur Robert Hanrahan decided to rent the place to book punk shows. He had to complete the rental transaction by passing a notepad back and forth to the club owners. It seemed like a perfect arrangement, because no one would complain about the loud music. I don't think anyone expected it, but what happened is that punk in San Francisco began to gain a large audience of deaf people who frequented the shows at that venue, bringing a wonderful new perspective to what we were doing. I started to notice the unique way in which the deaf reacted to our playing and energy onstage. I remember watching a young woman as we were performing one night. She clung to the PA speakers, absorbing the vibrations with her whole body. Her face never looked away from me as she reacted to the energy onstage with a full-bodied bear hug of the speaker cabinet, and her head swaying to the rhythm of the music; she was at one with the music in a way most people would never experience."
Ultimately, the book closes with the protagonist finding a different kind of peace as Mrs. Velasquez, an inner city teacher with a philosophy degree, trying to help her students avoid the bullshit she went through growing up. And still making music, of course. (less)
I am pretty sure this is the first celebrity auto/biography I've read in which the author has no crippling chemical addictions to overcome, appears to...moreI am pretty sure this is the first celebrity auto/biography I've read in which the author has no crippling chemical addictions to overcome, appears to be genuinely gracious in his serious moments, and exudes no whininess about childhood adversity, yet it's still fairly entertaining.
Pegg tends to depict any of his traumas briefly in a matter-of-fact, they-built-character kind of way, and focuses instead on how seemingly incidental events, moments, or people shaped and guided him as an artist. For instance, there are 1-2 sentences indicating he initially felt rivalry towards his stepfather but they grew to be great friends, and an entire chapter detailing the personal and cultural significance of Star Wars: A New Hope.
At its best, the avoidance of personal topics feels like tact and a desire to keep personal details personal, though at times it comes off as sly deflection from real pathos or introspection. In fairness, the title never promises more than a nerd talking about his escapist obsessions.
The autobiographical detail is interspersed with a fictional, self-aggrandizing story equating Simon Pegg to James Bond, cavorting with a French girl who is given the same first name as one of his first unrequited loves. In this way and in his biographical fanboy detail about now getting to work with so many of the horror/sci-fi power players who inspired him as a kid, we see how fantasy writing allows Pegg to literally or temporarily take control of his destiny and experience a certain pride or satisfaction.
Overall, there is simply the sense that Pegg is an affable, humble jokester, able to craft an entertaining read despite his inherent lack of melodrama. (less)
A good chunk of this book seems to have practical advice along the lines of "examine your attitudes about money to see if they are what is holding you...moreA good chunk of this book seems to have practical advice along the lines of "examine your attitudes about money to see if they are what is holding you back from feeling like you can make or enjoy wealth." At it's best, it's telling you to free your mind to make or embrace opportunities, and giving you different exercises and pep talks to help get you there.
There are some points in which my eyebrow raised, however -- mostly due to random sexist examples that date the book (sometimes it also goes on a tear with a 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps' mentality that seems too simplistic). Here were my favorite lady-examples: "Hostility can then be built up when the man wants to buy a camera, and the woman wants to buy a clothes dryer" and "...many a woman who considers herself otherwise liberated expects the man to pay for dinner when they are dating--even if she earns as much or more than he does!" Though he tempers these statements, it had not occurred to me he may innately process someone of my gender is an appliance-fantasizing, dinner-mongering obstacle to the intended audience -- not a part of it -- and it shifted my connection to the information being presented. The book touts the need to examine money attitudes at conscious and unconscious levels, but fails to recognize its own latent attitudes.(less)
This book is probably useful if you are living on your own for the first time in New York City, having to scale back from a place of relative wealth b...moreThis book is probably useful if you are living on your own for the first time in New York City, having to scale back from a place of relative wealth but still wanting to decorate your home and body in a tasteful manner -- think "Girls".
However, you're better off surfing the internet if you've been schlepping away for years in a smaller urban center and are looking to figure out some new short cuts.
This is because the author is deeply rooted in her own location and reality. There are almost no references to transportation costs because it is assumed the reader is living somewhere with an awesome bus or train system, but there are six chapters exploring sample sales and $200 monthly clothing budgets. I don't recall any substantial content about credit cards, negotiating the lease on the apartment you're told how to decorate, job hunting, or pets, though I think it's reasonable to expect some of that content might be in there from the sweeping promises on the dust jacket.
In short, if your context is more of a meat and potatoes survival mode, you'll probably find yourself distracted by the gaps in advice, or facing tips that don't apply to your situation. (less)
I picked this up based on title and was hugely disappointed. This would have been more tolerable if it was a straight up autobiography rather than aut...moreI picked this up based on title and was hugely disappointed. This would have been more tolerable if it was a straight up autobiography rather than autobiographical detail peppering a guide to life, as even she says early on that you don't need other people telling you how to think.
The author is in her forties, but to me the book's half-fleshed out idealism sounds like the rantings of a nineteen year old college student bitching at a Denny's at 2 am.
In fact, everything about the book screams "I am so young and hip!" -- from language/tone (constant f-bombs, name dropping young celebrities) to the overexposed cover photo obscuring the author's age.
While I laud Kelly's fearlessness at putting herself out there, she oscillates between "let's be hyper-compassionate" rants and a lack of empathy at dizzying speed. For instance, these are three excerpts within a short amount of text (p. 94-95 in the hardcover):
1.) "We need to make 'love' and 'compassion' into active verbs." 2.) "I flew back to New York the next morning and went straight to the office, where I was unfortunately forced to fire an employee who was taking a shower in a back bathroom instead of sitting at her desk. Actually, I fired five people that day: It's still referred to as the 'Bloodbath at People's Revolution.'" 3.) "When I'm short on compassion, I like to literally imagine myself as the mother of all beings..."
While I believe to each their own, I found the emphasis on the "Universal Mother" and the absolute authority of a modern religious figure named Amma (recently painted as an opportunist by a Rolling Stone expose) fervent enough to detract from her credibility. It's hard for me to take any advice seriously from someone who writes: "...everywhere we went I saw fragments of Amma's name in street signs and advertisements. AMMA...Suddenly I was seized by a feeling that translated in my head into a clear female voice. I knew immediately that it was Her, the Divine Mother, and that She was speaking to me as Amma."
In short, I get the impression Kelly Cutrone is well intentioned, just not self-aware. Most likely, she wrote something hastily to capitalize on the success of her first book, and doesn't realize she doesn't examine herself -- only the rest of the world -- from an outsider's perspective. (less)
I found the tone of this novel prohibitively dry the first 230423 times I tried to pick up this book.
This time I was successful.
The first thing that s...moreI found the tone of this novel prohibitively dry the first 230423 times I tried to pick up this book.
This time I was successful.
The first thing that surprised me was the eloquence of Shelley's monster. In the 1931 Universal horror flick, Frankenstein's creation communicates only through cries and grunts. In the source material, there are multiple chapters in his own astoundingly articulate words:
"'...at length I wandered towards these mountains, and have ranged through their immense recesses, consumed by a burning passion which you [Frankenstein] alone can gratify. We may not part until you have promised to comply with my requisition. I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species and have the same defects. This being you must create.'"
Though the monster is miserable and laments being born, he seems to find no hypocrisy in commissioning the assemblage of another like him. Purists whine about pop culture conflating the names of Frankenstein the scientist and his never-named monster, but here the monster positions himself as a creator too. This monstrous gesture is also gendered -- male characters are taking an active role in giving birth, and the monster assumes the female would be acquiescent and unfeeling where he is passionately aroused. Was Shelley, the daughter of a renowned feminist, subtly placing an Adam and Eve-type dynamic in a context where it might be easier for a reader to realize "wait a minute, there's a double standard here..."
The more I read up on Shelley, I find her work is never far from reference to her venerable circle of intimates, even by myself. She is always the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, son of William Godwin, and/or the wife of Percy Shelley. My current read suggests the novel's germ comes from the legend of a local alchemist, positing Shelley was not imaginative enough to come up with the idea on her own. For me, I find more impetus for a story hinging upon creating life and abandoning/being abandoned by the progeny in Shelley killing her mother in childbirth and losing her own child before the story was written. (The locket the monster uses to condemn someone to execution contains a picture of Frankenstein's mother.)
There is some irony in Shelley facing great scrutiny as a creator of a tale scrutinizing what it means to create.
All in all, my inclination is to read the text as a sympathetic portrayal of Frankenstein the scientist, haunted/punished for bifurcating normative gender roles and sexuality. Foremost, Frankenstein goes out of his way to eke out an active, closer to feminine role in the creation of life. But also, Frankenstein doesn't marry until after his best bud Clerval is killed, Clerval consistently described with more ardor and admiration than his betrothed. Frankenstein's singleminded absorption in the creation of the monster reminds me of the monomaniacal/hysteric diseases diagnosed in women at the time. And, like Jekyll's Hyde, Frankenstein's closely guarded secret (literally the monster shunned by all / symbolically queerness) follows him everywhere he goes:
"I have wandered through...immense recesses...consumed by a passion which you alone can gratify...man will not associate with me...my companion must be of the same species..."(less)
A solid primer on derby basics -- can still learn plenty (especially about history of the sport) though the intended audience seems to be someone who...moreA solid primer on derby basics -- can still learn plenty (especially about history of the sport) though the intended audience seems to be someone who is contemplating joining a league rather than someone who already plays. Seems to devote more print to the kitschy side of modern derby than the more athletic camp. Would have liked to see a chapter explicitly about strategy, with diagrams.(less)
My strongest impression is that the author was obsessed with swift and clever language and tone in a manner I found cloying. It felt like an attempt t...moreMy strongest impression is that the author was obsessed with swift and clever language and tone in a manner I found cloying. It felt like an attempt to distract me from realizing that the broad approach to analyzing "why people buy" evaded clear conclusions. Like Costco shoppers on a Sunday morning, it sampled and dabbled everywhere, meandering without purpose (exactly the type of annoying sentence you'd see in this book). Or: it felt like shopping at Urban Outfitters in book form -- sometimes one stumbles upon an interesting flash of something, but it is mostly full of references for the sake of using references, self-obsessed, and not particularly deep or satisfying.(less)
The first half of the book is consistently laugh out loud hilarious, with Wilde-style one-liner observations -- describing being born, Horsley notes "...moreThe first half of the book is consistently laugh out loud hilarious, with Wilde-style one-liner observations -- describing being born, Horsley notes "I was so appalled I couldn't talk for two years" -- and I found myself not just amused but impressed by Horsley's wit, candor, and perceptiveness. There is also an interesting element of narrator unreliability for the reader to monitor, as Horsley relishes contradicting himself or common wisdom for amusement and diffusion.
However, there is a point -- probably when he becomes a rampant drug addict -- where Horsley's inability to let his guard down and get his shit together grows uncomfortable and a bit tiresome. I mostly liked Horsley, so the left part of my brain found it increasingly difficult to accept his lightheartedness as an appropriate response to his decline. No amount of humor detracts me from the suspicion he squandered fortunes and vast intellectual potential to indulge in ephemeral posturing that never soothed his demons, and if he could have just dropped the act, he would have been fine.
Horsley closes with the notion he sacrificed his life to exemplify the world's beauty and triviality: "To be a dandy is to live as a martyr. ... But it has been worth it. To *become* a work of art was the object of my life. ...I answer no social need whatsoever. I am a futile blast of color in a futile colorless world. I regret everything, but so what? At least I have cause." However, the grisly details of Horsley's memoirs read more like a cautionary tale than a call-to-arms, and if it is a benchmark of martyrdom and great art to inspire imitation...the book failed to provide a convincing argument to embrace this lifestyle. (less)