Book Reviews

THE STORY OF BOBBY CHOUINARD
DRUMMER EXTRAORDINAIRE
by Roger Chouinard
Forward by Billy Squire
Signature Book Printings; 2012
Review by A.J. Wachtel

People usually associate Bobby Chouinard with Led Zep’s Jon Bonham’s playing behind the beat. But in many ways his life was more like Keith Moon’s in its intensity and shortness. Chain-smoking and clutching a can of coke or a bottle of beer with his trademark huge grin is a typical offstage memory of this Brockton legend, and no one will ever forget his power, finesse, and drumstick twirling behind the kit. This book is a collection of great memories from giants in the music industry about the ball of fire we all knew as “Blue Sky.” It covers his Brockton suburban origins (he went to High School with Marvin Hagler and was proud of that), his rise to international stardom touring with Billy Squire, Duke & the Drivers, James Montgomery, and Peter Wolf, aa well as his associations with stars like Alice Cooper, Carmine Appice, and Ted Nugent. Check out his discography, simply amazing. Reading the included Nov. ’85  Modern Drummer interview reminds me of just how important and under-rated his influence is to this day. I loved reading other local musicians remembrances of Chouinard, including: Hirsh Gardner, Stet Howland (Run 21, Wasp), and Johnny Barnes; the former and the latter still important members of the local scene. Their stories remind me of my own memories and experiences with him. I was a young journalist who enjoyed drinking and partying with BC and I always spelled his name wrong in print. “Don’t worry about it, A.J.” he’d always grin back at me as I apologized. We also screwed the same woman; she was a huge Chouinard fan who had to settle  for me one night. We laughed about that, too. Whether you knew Bobby or not, this is a book of great stories that should be in everyone’s library.

 

NIRVANA: THE RECORDING SESSIONS
by Rob Jovanovic
Soundcheck Books; 2012
Review by Francis DiMenno

By all accounts, Kurt Cobain had it rough. Born in 1967, his life trajectory reads like a classic fairy tale, replete with a Broken Home, a wicked stepmother, a magical instrument, and a wandering quest—sleeping in apartment building hallways, hospital waiting rooms, and jails.  Had he been born 50 years sooner, he might have been a hobo; 20 years sooner, a hippie. Instead, coming of age in the 1980s, he latched onto punk rock and became “a lost child in a black forest of bad chemicals,” or —let us not mince words—a junkie.

A book like this is part of a modern day phenomenon of a consumer culture in which we are cursed to know more and more about less and less. Time was that when that strange gypsy lady with the scarf and earrings who lived in a horse-drawn wagon down by the Mill Stream knew eighteen uses for Pennyroyal Tea. Now we have the Goth chick with the black lipstick and tribal tattoos who (thanks to this book) knows all eighteen of the variant recordings of “Pennyroyal Tea,” and can also describe (based on personal experience) just what it was that Kurt and Courtney were doing during the wee hours of September 23, 1991 (having a loud argument in the apartment of Billy Ruane, situated over Keezer’s Classic Clothing, followed by an energetic bout of make-up sex).

That previous story is not in the book, and, in fact, may have never happened. However, Nirvana: The Recording Sessions is not stingy with similar, and well-documented, details. Fans are offered up some interesting trivia: “’Smells Like Teen Spirit’” was allegedly “an attempt to write a song in the style of the Pixies…[with a] borrowed…riff from Boston’s “’More Than a Feeling’” (86). Good old “recordist” Steve Albini initially had some harsh words to say about Nevermind: “standard hack recording…hack production technique,” though, on “In Utero,” Albini claims the band “were as prepared as any I have worked with” (132-3). “All Apologies” was, apparently, somewhat influenced by REM (140). A December 6, 1991 London television appearance on “Tonight with Jonathan Ross” saw the band perform “Territorial Pissings” instead of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (which the producers wanted)  or “Lithium” (which the band had offered to perform instead). Ross’s comments are priceless. After Cobain wrecked the stage, he quipped that the band “asked me to tell you that they’re available for children’s parties” (181). And “US retail giants” Wal-Mart and K-Mart somewhat infamously insisted on a title change of the song “Rape Me”. Geffen’s compromise? “Waif Me” (134).

Was Kurt Cobain such a musical genius that he might have lived to accomplish even greater things? We’ll never know. But if Jovanovic’s chronicle accomplishes nothing else, it tips the critical scales in favor of Cobain’s transcendent songwriting abilities. Perhaps this is the book’s secondary function—to reassure the already converted. But there’s no denying that Cobain was immeasurably talented. And though his lyrics were often cryptic and even elliptical, he had something to say, even if his attitudes toward authority in general, and the star making machinery in particular, were nothing new. From the clues gathered here, Cobain essentially defined himself by what he was not—the sort of homophobic “Mr. Mustache” steak head he had gotten his fill of while growing up in his ineffably sad home town of Aberdeen, a lumber and fishing village rainy for half the year and foggy for the remainder; a mildewed ghetto town; scenic, but grey, used-up, and gloom-inducing. A look at the words to Cobain’s late songs reveal a person who was severely depressed. Many of his lyrics seem apt precursors to his infamous suicide note:

You can’t fire me because I quit/
Throw me in the fire and I won’t throw a fit
I’m not like them/ But I can pretend
Look on the bright side is suicide
Everything is my fault/ I’ll take all the blame

This book would fit well in the “Grunge Studies” subsection of some fashionable University library. You certainly can’t fault British critic Rob Jovanovic for his lack of enterprise. Judging from the sheer mass of detailed information he marshals, he probably interviewed dozens of people. But aside from a couple dozen capsule biographies, and a note listing and acknowledging 22 people, he doesn’t tell us exactly who it was he interviewed—a curious, and possibly telling omission. Even a book which is “exhaustive and impeccably researched,” as the cover blurb assures us, has to be selective with the facts, and so we get a good explanation of “Croat-born,” Novoselic’s name change from Chris to Krist, but, unfortunately,  relatively little information regarding Cobain’s contributions to Hole’s major label debut album, Live Through This. Kurt and Courtney were, of course, far more than merely the Sid and Nancy of the 1990s. But we don’t get very much context regarding their relationship here. The author apparently interviewed Courtney Love for this volume, and I suspect that, fearing litigation, he didn’t want to say too much about her. Unfortunately, this reticence leaves a curious gap in this seemingly comprehensive recording session account.

Some minor typos and errors also mar the text. Information regarding the Incesticide compliation properly belongs earlier in the text. The self-titled compilation was released in 2002, not 1992.  “Man Ray’s” is referenced (rather than Man Ray), and “Swartmore College” (rather than Swarthmore.) But overall, this is a labor of love by a Nirvana obsessive and will prove an invaluable resource for like-minded fellow travelers.

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