BOOK REVIEW | "DON"T TRY THIS AT HOME: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF DAVE NAVARRO" BY DAVE NAVARRO & NEIL STRAUSS
there was an interesting period in the late 90s when guitarist DAVE NAVARRO was without a regular gig as it had been years since he left the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and JANE'S ADDICTION had recently broken up for the second time. he was also recently divorced (pre-CARMEN ELECTRA). it was during this time that he bunkered himself into his HOLLYWOOD HILLS home and chose to document a year in his life ANDY WARHOL-style, by buying and installing a vintage photo-booth and requiring every person that entered his house (celebrities, models, comedians, hangers-on, musicians, groupies, maids, plumbers, drug dealers, etc) to take a photo when entering. WARHOL famously setup a 16mm film camera at his FACTORY studio and had everyone sit for several minutes, the idea being that after a while you stop posing and act like your authentic self.
DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF DAVE NAVARRO (HARPERCOLLINS, 2004) is the culmination of NAVARRO and co-writer NEIL STRAUSS contextualizing these photographs into NAVARRO's relapse into heroin addiction. you would think that this premise would be easy fodder for glamorizing drug addiction, especially with the seeming young HOLLYWOOD in-crowd partaking in his late night activities on a semi-regular basis. but the book really just sets up how lost he was at the time. it would be years before he would properly go about getting professional help regarding the trauma of dealing with his mother's murder by the hand of a jealous ex-boyfriend in his formative years as a teenager.
all that being said, i can't imagine the seductive power of being so young and admired. i don't know how anyone in that situation would not become a full blown addict with the HOLLYWOOD set. but he got out of it. he recovered.
and i think that is the reason he chose to write and have this book published, to show others (maybe within the music community) that there is a way out, no matter how deep and dependent you are on the drug community. in the years since more members of the community have passed on from drugs or drug-related activities, most notably CHRIS CORNELL, MICHAEL JACKSON, AMY WINEHOUSE, TOM PETTY, MAC MILLER, PRINCE, SCOTT WEILAND (STONE TEMPLE PILOTS), JANI LANE (WARRENT), LIL PEEP, WHITNEY HOUSTON, RICK JAMES, WAYNE STATIC (STATIC-X), IKE TURNER and THE REV (AVENGED SEVENFOLD).
i really feel this book was meant for his peers and not the general public. to the public parts of this book come off salacious and voyeuristic, but to a musician of any importance my guess is this unending expanding cadre of enablers is more than familiar. to them by showing his reality, hopefully it'll make them seek help.
as for NAVARRO, i wish he'd stop with his addiction to hosting shitty REALITY TV shows. i'm just saying.
i am the biggest sucker for a good pop hook.
it is basically my achilles' heel when it comes to being a fan of music. as much as i love to bask in dissonance and aural chaos, there is an equal part of me that could easily listen to CHEAP TRICK all day.
2000s band SHINY TOY GUNS and especially their debut WE ARE PILOTS (UNIVERSAL 2006) is just one of those records in my opinion that still hits that sweet spot in spite of the band's corny overdone image. i don't believe in guilty pleasures, but i would definitely put both the debut albums by LINKIN PARK and 30 SECONDS TO MARS in similar standing with SHINY TOY GUNS. again, call me what you will but great melodies are great melodies.
with respect to SHINY TOY GUNS, i listened to their debut years after its release during my PEACE CORPS years in ALBANIA. to me listening to this record represented the ultimate distraction from what i was living through at the time, namely having limited water and losing 40 pounds in 3 months (seriously) due to lack of food. having been abroad so long i always find it interesting what remnants of home you hold onto, and for some reason this album along with LADY GAGA's BORN THIS WAY (INTERSCOPE 2011), MASTODON's THE HUNTER (REPRISE, 2011) and LADYTRON's GRAVITY THE SEDUCER (NETTWERK, 2011) were basically my soundtrack to being in a desperately poor yet expansively gorgeous eastern european nation with limited means of outside contact. i believe now that all four records were escapist in nature and listening to any of them brings me immediately back to cold winters, sightings of wolf packs and post-communist paranoia/curiosity about my being in a community of strangers.
maybe the music worked because i felt like i was on another planet. if you've ever spent any time in eastern europe, that may not exactly be the worst comparison in the world.
BOOK REVIEW | "TRANNY: CONFESSIONS OF PUNK ROCK'S MOST INFAMOUS ANARCHIST SELLOUT" BY LAURA JANE GRACE WITH DAN OZZI
its painful to imagine what it must be like to feel born into the wrong body. it must be truly awful to have GENDER DYSPHORIA.
growing up is hard enough without the burden of the shame, guilt, isolation and fear of being outed for something that is so basic to your self-identity. i can't imagine how disillusioning and just exhausting that experience must be.
sadly american culture has a difficult time accepting reality.
reality in all its beautiful, complicated permutations and expressions. the reality that gender is expressed biologically along a spectrum. the reality that our culturally defined, normative-based dualistic concepts of male/female gender identity are just that, artificial human-engineered constructions.
AGAINST ME! front-woman LAURA JANE GRACE in her memoir TRANNY: CONFESSIONS OF PUNK ROCK's MOST INFAMOUS ANARCHIST SELLOUT (HACHETTE BOOKS, 2016) navigates the murky waters of fame, drug abuse, failed marriages and parenthood while coming to terms with her GENDER DYSPHORIA. throughout the book she doesn't mince words about her struggles and ultimately the consequences her transition has had on those around her. it is quite a story.
one structural aspect of this book that was particularly effective was the inclusion of numerous diary entries (apparently selected by co-writer DAN OZZI) that further illustrated and reinforced the level of anguish GRACE went through while struggling with her decision on how to best proceed with her life.
i was really blown away with the courage it took to write this book. GRACE does not shy away from her past selfish experiences as a rock musician or her scattered early upbringing as a military brat and later a homeless punk in FLORIDA during her teenage years. it would seem displacement is a common theme throughout her life.
i can only imagine willing your band from obscurity to being a viable cultural entity must have been confusing enough on its own. i can't imagine the intestinal fortitude it takes to battle managers, PR reps, label execs, bandmates and even former fans while being in a state of becoming. her experience regarding gender identity is beyond anything i've encountered and one is left feeling inspired by her example. its quite an act of courage for anyone to work towards transitioning to their gender identity.
again, i am inspire and just in awe from this book. a very worthwhile read, especially if like me you are sheltered and not familiar with the lived experience of GENDER DYSPHORIA. ultimately the GRACE encourages her fans to seek their truth and become who they were meant to become.
t seems incredible that this book exists, given the mercurial and closely-guarded nature of TOOL / A PERFECT CIRCLE / PUSCIFER frontman MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN, whose legendary live performances notoriously find him donning an eclectic assortment of stage personas/characters/costumes meant to provoke and obfuscate, allowing him to separate his art from himself. in this manner he has continued to maintain a balance with his family and more importantly his own sense of self.
so it is a little more than intriguing that his collaborative memoir A PERFECT UNION OF CONTRARY THINGS (BACKBEAT BOOKS 2016) written by long-time friend SARAH JENSEN even exists.
this is most definitely the first memoir i have read that has the subject written about in third person, which structurally and stylistically has numerous advantages. structurally it gives the book some distance from its subject, not having to worry itself all the time with the personal feelings and perspective of KEENAN, instead allowing for an unbound narrator to integrate multiple points of view into the narrative. stylistically it makes this memoir read more like a novel, which intriguingly makes KEENAN as a "character" another entity for his audience to interpret and project unto, much like his music.
the main takeaway i got from reading his memoir is that KEENAN is the type of artist that is constantly seeking to challenge his audience, peers and most importantly, himself, to see things from an altered perspective. this need to tinker with formulas and audience expectations while maintaining integrity puts him, in my perspective, as one of the most dynamic frontman of his era (the other being renaissance man MIKE PATTON of FAITH NO MORE / MR. BUNGLE / FANTÔMAS / PEEPING TOM / DEAD CROSS).
given his enigmatic nature and numerous outside focuses (wine-making, brazilian jiu-jitsu, comedy, etc.), this memoir was his way of elucidating to his audience the common thread throughout binds them all: MATHEMATICS. you really get the sense from this book his sensitivity and delight in discovering the patterns, routines and rhythms of nature that bind us all and the myriad of ways mankind has devised uses for them, whether militarily, artistically or even agriculturally.
well worth seeking out and reading. don't worry his mysterious, enigmatic persona is still very much intact, if only slightly more defined at the edges.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA in the mid-90s means i was very much aware of local legendary LOS ANGELES rock station KROQ 106.7FM. it is almost absurd to consider the amount of bands that have broke big internationally due to exposure at this single radio station. i still think its incredible that such a corporate entity still had room for the esoteric pursuits of legendary resident taste-makers like RODNEY BINGENHEIMER.
my problem was that in this pre-internet age (yep i am that old) i oftentimes didn't know who the bands were since the rotation of songs weren't often tagged by the DJs, which makes sense given how ubiquitous these songs must have been to their regular audience. as a child and later a preteen, i was definitely not that clued in unfortunately.
it wasn't until years later in middle school abroad in NIGERIA that i realized songs i was familiar with were by bands like ALICE IN CHAINS ("MAN IN THE BOX"), NIRVANA (obscure b-side "SAPPY"), SPACEHOG ("IN THE MEANTIME") and THE BREEDERS ("CANNONBALL").
one of these bands was ELASTICA and the song was "CONNECTION." i distinctly remember hearing that song while waiting in line for SPACE MOUNTAIN at DISNEYLAND in elementary school. sadly, i didn't rediscover this band until high school in the early 2000s after relocating to SACRAMENTO from KUWAIT during my senior year. to me their debut album ELASTICA (GEFFEN, 1992) is a perfect album, easily the best thing to come out of the whole 90s BRITPOP movement (check out this BOOK REVIEW i did if you are unfamiliar with that scene). what i loved about it aside from JUSTINE FRISCHMANN's snarky, seductive crooning was angular guitar work which after further investigation introduced met to POST-PUNK bands that influenced them like WIRE and GANG OF FOUR. the inter-textual nature of art where different scenes, eras and modes are referenced and re-appropriated is something i've always appreciated. ELASTICA to me is an example of a stellar band that encourages me to stay curious, dig further and expand my ears to different sounds. i don't tend to fixate, if anything each new great band i learn about only serves as a new nexus point for other new discoveries.
if you aren't familiar with ELASTICA, check out either of their two releases. along with THE SMITHS, they are on my bucket-list of bands i hope and pray to see play live on day. nobody is cooler than JUSTINE FRISCHMANN. no one.
WES BORLAND is one of the most criminally underrated musicians of his era.
its unfortunate that the otherwise talented rhythm section of LIMP BIZKIT were dragged down by quite possibly the worst frontman of all-time in FRED DURST. but i don't want to talk about that guy anymore because he sucks and he is famous for being a talentless hack.
BORLAND on the other hand seemed seemed to be a unique creative force within that band as well as his other projects BIG DUMB FACE and BLACK LIGHT BURNS where he painted sonically rich landscapes that seemed more indebted to INDIE/ALTERNATIVE ROCK acts like WEEN, PRIMUS and BUTTHOLE SURFERS and 60s experimental rockers FRANK ZAPPA and CAPTAIN BEEFHEART than NU-METAL contemporaries KORN. his riffs are often angular with odd time signatures which puts him squarely in the POST-PUNK tradition of bands like BAUHAUS or GANG OF FOUR rather than PANTERA.
basically i am saying he is all over the map in terms of the techniques and textures he likes to play around with, which for me makes his work intriguing. often times using double-handed plucking, behind the nut bends and artificial harmonics to further complicate his heavily processed sounds that also often incorporates e-bows and whammy bar heroics.
yes LIMP BIZKIT sucks, but BORLAND most definitely does not. for my taste, he is probably one of my favorite 90s guitar players and i'd put him right up there with TOM MORELLO, DAVE NAVARRO, KIM THAYIL and JERRY CANTRELL. unfortunately for BORLAND, those other guitarists were fortunate enough to pair up with an equally legendary and talented frontman. we all can't be so fortunate.
check out his work in BLACK LIGHT BURNS, a self-fronted project he did with essentially half of the touring members of NINE INCH NAILS. big fan of these 2000s records.
THE COATHANGERS are a fiercely political garage/punk trio out of ATLANTA that have released a prolific six albums since 2007, all on SEATTLE-based indie label SUICIDE SQUEEZE. like many other metal knuckleheads, my introduction to them was their inventive video for "Follow Me" which had members of MASTODON (and fellow atlanta-ites) performing their song in drag.
what sets this band apart for me is their stellar songwriting and dual vocalists. both guitarist julia (a.k.a. CROOK KID COATHANGER) and drummer stephanie (a.k.a. RUSTY COATHANGER) have very distinct vocals that ultimately change the feel and aggression in their music, CROOK KID having a very pitchy, almost child-like voice that denotes innocence while RUSTY has a gnarly voice that sounds like she gargled razor-blades pre-performance. it really makes for a viscerally jarring listen, which coupled with their strident politics and fun sing-song melodies equates to a very unique sound.
whats also cool about them is that they often switch instruments mid-set, which just further illustrates their range and dexterity as musicians. could not recommend this band any more strongly. definitely check them out.
BOOK REVIEW | "MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM: REBIRTH AND ROCK AND ROLL IN NEW YORK CITY 2001-2011" BY LIZZY GOODMAN
i want to start this off by saying that i love NYC. ever since i visited my grandmother in BAY RIDGE from my home southern california back in the early 90s i've been under it's spell.
so i get where the participants of the early 2000s indie rock/electroclash/party scene, who were interviewed for this oral history MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM (Dey Street Books, 2017) compiled by LIZZY GOODMAN, are coming from. some are transplants, some where native, some had money, some didn't. but what they shared was the belief that NYC should be the premier hub of creativity.
my problem is that too many times in this book, people are looking to the past. looking to their record collections. looking to each other. full disclosure: i was an undergraduate during this period at nearby RUTGERS UNIVERSIRTY in nearby new brunswick, new jersey, a mere 20-minute NJ TRANSIT ride from manhattan. i knew people that were into these bands, groups like the THE WALKMEN, THE MOUNTAIN GOATS and THE MAGNETIC FIELDS. personally i thought their fans were pompous, self-important assholes back in the day. and this book has only further confirmed that deep bias.
i'm certain when IGGY POP or JOEY RAMONE started bands back in the day, they did so out of a need to A) get the hell out of michigan/queens and B) express their displeasure with the current state of american culture/politics/society. this 00s scene as showcased through this book showcase a self-involved base of musicians from the likes of LCD SOUNDSYSTEM and others who were more concerned with projecting their tastes over the pulse of popular culture in an almost manic HIGH FIDELITY record-store-dick like manner. why do i care if JAMES MURPHY is "losing his edge" to the next generation of musicicians and music fans? i never got that. you're old, get over it.
and thats what gets me. frontman MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN (and nonmember of this scene or book participant) of metal-band TOOL once opined "fuck retro anything" in a song and in a way i totally understand that mentality. why recreate the past? during this period i felt like rock took a step back and started attempting to try to bring back "real" rock music a la THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, 13TH FLOOR EVELATORS, THE ROLLING STONES, etc. at least that is what it sounded like to me. what was the point of that? if i wanted to listen to garage rock i could always go back and listen to NUGGETS or any STOOGES albums, which i loved. why attempt to recreate that now in a different cultural moment? just seemed there wasn't much risk taking during this period.
then and now that instinct to recreate the past as a way of projecting your great taste just seems counterproductive and masturbatory at best. hey, at least nu-metal tried (and failed) to do something new. for my taste this millennial NYC-based indie-rock to me is as revolutionary as a NORMAN ROCKWELL painting. literally paint-by-numbers art and enjoyed by new generation of like-minded, corporate tastemakers of a predominantly upperclass white demographic.
don't get me wrong, this book is conceived and expertly compiled, as you really get a sense of the scene developing over time in BROOKLYN in now-gentrified sections of WILLIAMSBURG and GREENPOINT. so i do not fault the author at all. if anything by letting the participants speak it showcased their vacuity and self-involvement in a manner now author could adequately expose. to me this book is the embodiment of the gentrification ethos of that period. in the post-truth world we live in today, maybe this scene, often obsessed over notions of "authenticity" spearheaded us towards our current cultural moment where nothing matters, anything can be bought just as they did 20 years ago.