American Rock Music in the NinetiesVirgin £14.99stg
Everett True, you ruined my life. Well, not quite, but you certainly made me buy a lot of records I couldn't really afford. As Assistant Editor of the now defunct music weekly Melody Maker, True worked up a fair amount of air and life miles in the 1990s, criss-crossing America and reporting on the mainstream explosion of the US underground.
It was True who first arrived in Seattle in the late 1980s and reported on a slew of bands including Mudhoney, Tad and, crucially, Nirvana. He helped (the records had something to do with it too) turn kids with dead end jobs into weekly celebrities with his lengthy but amusing tracts on their bands, lives and love of primal heavy rock.
Then came the heady days when major labels snapped up these outfits, most of whom never had a hope of meeting sales targets, and again, True was with them for the ride. Supporting someone at the Detroit Enormodome? Everett was side stage. Getting to hear the new album before the band's label? Everett had the headphones on. Hanging out at the home of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love? That was Everett at the breakfast bar.
He interviewed and travelled at length with them all, and when the circus left town, the bands split up or were dropped, Everett was there too, trying to pick up the pieces. 'Live Through This...' is his attempt to make sense of the life he led back then and gain some perspective on the people and music he encountered along the way.
Given his friendships with both Cobain and Love it's safe to say that True could have written a far more juicy tome than 'Live...', but the book is no less interesting because of his restraint. The early chapters on Nirvana turn out to be the finest with True charting their rise from nobodies in the Pacific Northwest to posters on bedroom walls and his transition from journalist to buddy. He captures the fun of the early days but the closer he gets, the sadder the story becomes as he see the spirit of the band sucked out by the machinations of the industry.
Despite not coming to terms with Cobain's death (and later that of Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff), True goes out on the promotional treadmill once again. There are more people to champion and more records to live for but the thrill is gone. He drinks heavily and decides not to visit the US again. The consolation however, is slight because his self-punishment continues on the other side of the Atlantic.
But rather than descend into a "my heroes let me down and I drank it all away" scenario True then changes tack. He discusses his experiences with other bands like Sonic Youth and covers tongue-in-cheek categories like 'Riot Grunge' (the Riot Grrrl Movement), Grunge Lite (Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, etc) and Pop Grunge (The Beastie Boys and The Afghan Whigs). He praises and pillories bands you've heard of and quite a few that you haven't before the book comes full circle with the final chapters on Courtney Love's band Hole. True offers a candid look at his relationship with the singer, which adds another dimension to the early chapters on Nirvana.
By the close he feels that they have both moved on, she to a world of celebrities, True to a world of garden centres and impending marriage. But ultimately he realises he's made friends with the one person he should've got on with all along: himself.
As a guide to good bands, great records and a life in music, True's book deserves your time. His ego may be big (countless references to his musical incarnation The Legend! and lines like "My life as an insurrectionary and catalytic agent isn't over yet") but his heart isn't exactly microscopic either. And while he often loses the run of himself with lengthy treaties on music and its role in his life, you feel that 'Live...' is something he had to get out of his system and that if it sold one copy but put the ghosts to rest, he'd come away happy.
He can consider this a job well done.