Friday, July 10, 2020

Jon Fine's "Your Band Sucks": Book Review

Your Band Sucks : Jon Fine : 9781494511494 I heard of but never heard Bitch Magnet, the indie band that made Fine a bit famous, but reading his narrative of a quarter-century trying to make a living out of or alongside the van-driving, $10 a day meal allowing, and sweaty ambiance of the clubs and dives where bands played, you come out feeling as if you've finished a long journey by his side.

For an Oberlin grad, he thankfully does not come across as doctrinaire in his outlook, although I wanted to find out how he resisted that campus' lefty spiel, given that most in his fraternity of scrappy and smart musicians and fans embrace its rhetoric. Anyhow, how he and two college friends started the band, its rapid (it seems to happen in very few pages) entry into college-rock late-1980s acclaim, and the almost as quick booting out of the band by his mates as he showed too much Jersey attitude, passes genially. He acknowledges his flaws, his youth, and he and his colleagues get fair treatment.

He segues into his string of subsequent line-ups, listing them all and all the members, attesting to their brief or nearly non-existent presence. His mood darkens. Of the first and most prominent, Vineland, he ruefully notes how they appeared on an Australian and a Spanish compilation. That's it. Such a low level of notice means that he must work and try to do tours on weekends, or on time off.

He shows how this feels, when one comes back from the van and sleeping on floors to have to get to the job right away. Later this separates him from his corporate media peers when he lands a good job in NYC, and he seethes (as often here, righteously, entertainingly, and appropriately given his nature) about the mockery and dismissal he gets when he confesses to the band name. But the friendships he recounts, the funny stories he and a selection of similar veterans from the scene share help the story move on, albeit with considerable detours and snafus common to he and his ilk. An unexpected feature which makes this less a memoir as it unfolds and more a tribute to a pre-Net social network that united lonely and introspective musical minority and those who put to stage and vinyl its legacy.

I was part of the scene of supporters of this movement, by my peers. So, this tale felt very familiar. Still, Fine and his quoted confreres do not give enough of a sense of what this music actually resembled, what it came across as beyond titles of tunes or paeans to guitars and drums, for an audience not as immersed or obsessed with what used to pass as indie-rock in a word-of-mouth era.

As it trundles on over the decades, the book does wander, and feels as if it should have concluded well before it does not--Fine makes room for garrulous if to me overly detailed (for those like me who may not have ever listened to his music) descriptions of the reunion of BM and like-minded ensembles who now return to middle-aged crowds looking just like him and his friends in the spotlight. Still, this conveys better the sensibility of those who tried to fight the major-label system then and now with loud, punchy, and intelligent tunes which offered, once, truly "alternative" sound.
(Amazon US 12/6/17)

No comments: