19 November, 2011
Review: Everybody Loves Our Town by Mark Yarm
Once, quite a few years ago, I was sitting in a bar attached to a small nightclub waiting for a show to start. I can't remember who was playing. After a while, it blurs together like a merry-go-round with a few bright moments standing out. So we're waiting for this band and a big screen is playing music videos. (It's what they did, once upon a time.) I'm in Connecticut with a girl from Indiana. I don't know why she's there. She hates concerts, music and those who play instruments. (I know she arrived suddenly and in some emotional distress so I assume I already had the tickets and just took her along instead of leaving her in my apartment with my razor blades. Go with it.) There we are, two friends. A Blind Melon video comes on and we both sigh. I say (truthfully) that I saw Hoon play shortly before he died and it's a damn shame. She says she didn't know I was a fan of Shannon Hoon. She wishes she'd known. We could have gotten together.
At this point I have known this girl close to a decade but we don't discuss music. She tells me she and Shannon grew up together. The Very Bad Things that happened in her life happened while she was in that scene. (None of it involved him.) Her brother worked for Axl Rose's parents. She was in the center of a number of music circles and I had known her for years without knowing a thing about it. The rest of the evening was a fascinating conversation we never repeated. None of it mattered to her. These were the people she knew and the things they did. It was exactly the same as the people I know and the things they've done. Why would I mention any of it? Who cares?
This is the brilliance of an oral history, when well done. Everybody Loves Our Town is exceptionally well done. If you've read this far and wondered why I told you about one night in a bar in the 90's, then it won't be the book for you. If you're wondering what she said to me, what I said to her, you will adore Everybody Loves Our Town as much as I did. This is the definitive history of a time and a place that affected a generation of young adults. (Stuck in a small town after growing up in a big city, it was Andrew Wood's voice that reminded me escape was possible. He was already dead.) Hearing the participants tell their story in all it's overlapping contradictory nature is like that bar conversation in the 90's. Free from music theory, free from obvious editorial direction, Mark Yarm lets the reader sit back and enjoy the conversation.
Starting when everyone is young and stupid (as we were all once) and moving through the Very Bad Things that always happen (when you go from young and stupid to slightly older and not much brighter) and then to the bright morning of After (where you realize you grew up somehow), Yarm tells the story of a specific scene with universal meaning. As close as you can come to a bar conversation with each of the participants, Yarm's oral history has all the power of Patti Smith's Just Kids. I hope it does just as well in the market. I recommend pairing this book with a basic knowledge of the Seattle sound and a viewing of Pearl Jam: Twenty. It will remind you your youth was never misspent, it was squandered on things you still love. (And if we're ever in a bar I might tell you my Kurt Cobain story, but I'm afraid the Shannon & Axl stuff isn't mine to reveal.)