The “oral history of grunge” subtitle to Mark Yarm‘s new book, Everybody Loves Our Town, is fairly inaccurate, but “an oral history of the Northwest music scene, 1980-present” isn’t going to sell books, nor intrigue anyone outside of music geeks and rock journalists.
There are various stories told in Yarm’s book, wherein there’s some confusion as to what song was playing at what time, or what show happened when – and that gets a little old. Does there need to be four people saying what song the U-Men were playing when they set the moat on fire at Bumbershoot? Not necessarily. What matters is the fact that they set the moat on fire, not what happened to be playing when they did it. It’s a forest for the trees kind of situation, and it one of the things that lend a dirty patina of complaint to the book. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that “grunge” is just a dirty, nasty-sounding branch of rock and roll, coming as it does from the worlds of both punk and metal, but Everybody Loves Our Town certainly has quite a few people manifesting themselves as cantankerous and negative.
It doesn’t help that the pacing of the book is a little off for the majority of the second quarter or so. Each section speeds along, jumping from person to person with abandon. It’s a breathless read, and the rise of each band comes along more quickly with each successive chapter. Whereas, in the opening chapters, the story of the U-Men is allowed to breathe, with a sense of storytelling, Alice in Chain’s formation is sort of a wham, bam, thank you ma’am affair. It’s almost as if once the basic storytelling elements have been laid out, the author is on a rush to get to the big guns.
While the stories told are usually entertaining – be they ones regarding cups of urine being tossed out of van windows, fistfights on the road, et al – the fatal flaw of the book is that frequently, they’re presented in a manner that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a larger narrative. A chapter on interpersonal issues (i.e., band members fighting amongst one another) is interesting, but they’re just a set of stories that has no perspective. There’s no connecting narrative with which to tie everything together, forcing the reader to guess as to where something fits in the grand scheme of things using context and conjecture.
Andrew Wood’s depiction suffers a lot in Everybody Loves Our Town. Whereas there are scads of people attesting to his angelic nature, and the humor in him, rarely are there concrete details. It’s more a matter of “he was so funny,” and while a “you have to have been there” allowance has to be made in the case of live performances or personages, at least one really solid story would have allowed Wood to have been more of a real person than the junkie / jester caricature presented here. Similar issues arise with Mia Zapata after her rape and murder, or anyone who died during the time covered – you’re relying on people who were there to fill in details, and they just don’t.
Sometime just before Nevermind, the book finally coalesces into a cogent narrative, and things get far more focused, and while it seems to be “Courtney Love versus every other member of the Seattle music scene” any time Nirvana or Kurt Cobain is mentioned, the story of what fame did to Seattle’s music community – as well as the attendant drug and alcohol abuse – is told from all perspectives. The multiple perspectives give the tale as much veracity as can be expected 20 years after the fact, from people who were (by their own admission) pretty well fucked up most of the time.
Despite a middle section that was rough enough to make me consider setting the book down and switching to something else in the stack, Everybody Loves Our Town is, overall, an engrossing read. Aside from those who’ve passed on, most of the players in the rise and fall of “grunge” are represented, and it’s the stories of those usually left as asterisks that round out Yarm’s history. In the end, you’re left with what seems to be the first fully truthful, very thorough history of a scene that’s been misrepresented hundreds of times over.
For more information, check out the book’s official Tumblr page.