As some of the other Brews + Books crew can attest, I am a slight fan of 90s alternative music. To get really specific, my iPod is a murderer’s row of Seattle’s best from 1991 to present: Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, and yes, the prerequisite Nirvana.
It seems, then, that Greg Prato’s Grunge is Dead would be right in my wheel house. The synopsis, from the back cover:
Weaving together the definitive story of the Seattle music scene in the words of the people who were there, Grunge is Dead is an oral history in the tradition of Please Kill Me, the seminal history of punk. With the insight of more than 130 of grunge’s biggest names, Greg Prato presents the ultimate insider’s guide to a sound that changed music forever.
The book details the progress of Seattle’s music, beginning with the emergence of Jimi Hendrix and wrapping up with today. It is filled with great information, including exclusive interviews with many band members. One great anecdote includes the writing process of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam for the respective records, Superunknown, Down on the Upside, Ten, and Vs.
However, it is a chore to delve into so much information. Prato is more editor than he is a writer, and with that I find fault. There is very little addition of context to flesh out ideas, and he presents many situations without any other back story, including and not limited to: Kurt Cobain meeting Courtney Love, Cobain’s overdose in Italy, the end of Nirvana, the start of the Foo Fighters, the release of Ten, Pearl Jam’s name change from Mookie Blaylock, and the end of Soundgarden. Prato only follows through to present day with Pearl Jam, probably because they were the only band that “made it” commercially and still remains viable today. However, because of the number of mentions to, for example, Chris Cornell today, and Dave Grohl today, it would have been interesting to have continued the story there.
The other major flaw with the book is in the overall presentation. Prato opted for a chronological approach, which does provide for an easy sense of organization. However, it leads to a lot of jumping around between concepts, bands, and ideas, making it much more difficult to follow. I would have preferred a more topical organizational pattern, sticking with one band and idea, and following it through. One could argue that the chronological approach helps tell the story of the explosion, and inherent disjointed nature, of Seattle; ultimately, I think this disjointed nature hinders a true history and doesn’t give many points the opportunity to shine they deserve.
In all, I think that Prato succeeded with an oral history, but had much more on his hands that would have made for a fantastic book. It’s more disappointing in a “what could have been” sense, rather than a “what a letdown” sense.
Oh, and bonus points to who can tell me the artist of “Fatal” without looking it up, and what album/B-side it is from.
Grunge is Dead by Greg Prato – 19.95 – Paperback – ISBN 978-1-55022-877-9 – ECW Press