Saturday, June 02, 2012

Overblown

These days it takes me a long time to read books, just because I have so many distractions that it's rare I have the time to just sit down and read. But every once in a while, I start a book that forces me to crank through it, if not in one or two sittings then over a short period of time.

Such was the case with Mark Yarm's Everybody Loves Our Town, which came out in paperback a few months ago. The book is an oral history of the Seattle grunge scene of the early '90s and delves far beyond the superficial, well-trod territory of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Sure, plenty of space is given to those bands because how could you not, but Yarm also spends as much if not more time looking at other elements of the scene such as the founding of Sub Pop Records and more obscure bands like Tad, Cat Butt, the U-Men and Green River, as well as the trials and tribulations of the copycat wave that came later in the form of bands like Candlebox.

Yarm did hundreds of interviews for the book, and some of the best parts come when stories are retold and different individuals disagree on the details. This tends to happen with Courtney Love several times, for example. Not surprisingly, drugs play a huge role in the scene, as there were several high-profile deaths resulting from heroin or other drug ODs: Layne Staley, Andrew Wood, Stefanie Sargent, Mike Starr--and of course, the suicide of Kurt Cobain and the murder of Mia Zapata of the Gits. Drugs also took their toll on many other musicians in the scene who were able to get through their problems and thrive (see Mark Lanegan, Mike McCready, Mark Arm).

Oral histories are more than just a bunch of disparate quotes strung together. The best ones use others' words to tell a story, and Yarm does it as well as the best I've read (Live From New York by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, Those Guys Have All the Fun also by Miller and Shales, Fool the World: An Oral History of the Pixies by Josh Frank). Yarm's books a truly compelling read, and even if you think you know everything about the Seattle scene, you don't.

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