Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Of Fans and Vans

Sometimes I come across a book that I believe I should have written. Two that come to mind are The Day I Turned Uncool by Dan Zevin and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield. Zevin's book was right on the money and it made me feel cheated that he beat me to it and desperately lazy because not only did I not think of it first, I probably wouldn't have had the wherewithal to actually write it. Sheffield's book missed the mark entirely by my account and so I felt justified and appropriately pompous. With John Sellers' Perfect From Now On, I'm somewhere in the middle. 

Perfect From Now On is Sellers' examination of his own musical obsessions, which are plentiful. Remember that kid in junior high that couldn't stop talking about The Ramones while wearing his Ramones t-shirt and jeans with holes in the knees a la The Ramones with music by the Ramones leaking from the headphones of his Sony Walkman? That was me. That was Sellers, too, only his bands were U2, Joy Division/New Order, The Smiths, Pavement and, ultimately, Guided By Voices.

I remember well the need to know only the "cool" bands before they became so as well as the need to disavow them as sell-outs once they enjoyed mainstream success. I remember the long, stoned discussions with like-minded pals about the "importance" of the music and musicianship. I recall almost going broke buying all the obscure bootlegs of my favorite artist, most of them imports and therefore even pricier than normal. I strove to be a completist and flaunt my musical superiority. Sellers goes even further, seeking to touch the hem of GBV lead singer, Robert Pollard, in which he succeeds and fails brilliantly. 

Sellers writes with honesty and considerable self-deprecation however his "righteous" anger overwhelms any sympathy you might have for him. He also uses copious footnotes, many of them lengthy asides on even more trivial matters, that slow down the book. It's only in the last third of the book that he reveals that his copious footnotes are, in fact, in tribute to Nicholson Baker. Aren't we clever? 

Ultimately, I did enjoy the book mostly because I could see where my path diverged from the authors': I grew up. 

Speaking of the boys from Forest Hills, I thoroughly enjoyed On the Road With The Ramones by the band's long-time, long-suffering road manager, Monte Melnick. This is about as insider as it gets and gives a clear portrait of the band that influenced so many musicians and inspired so many listeners.

With the exception of Marky and C. J., Monte is the last man standing and he was there for the entire ride. Having read most of the Ramones bios out there, I think Monte's version comes across as an honest and loving account of the band especially because he wasn't a performer. The band, even in good times, was difficult and it only became more fractious as their career continued. Here, Monte comes off as the glue that held them together. 

And what a big job that! Dee Dee was crazy, Marky was drunk (then not), Johnny was the all-powerful overlord, and Joey was plagued by insecurity, OCD, and other health problems. Only Tommy comes off as a normal adult human being and he left because he thought he'd have a breakdown because of the others. We're a happy family? Not by a longshot.

Told in the oral history style of Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil, Monte shares the pages with band members, road crew, producers, fellow musicians, and management but Monte is again the glue that makes On the Road... a worthy addition to the story that was The Ramones. 


Wyn said...

Brilliant, bro...

Reed Next said...

Awww, thanks Wyn.