Monday, April 11, 2005

Letters Have No Arms Presents Special Guest, The Esteemed Dinosaur Mahaffey

Direct to you, the reader, from the pen of Dinosaur Mahaffey...

Suicide: No Compromise by David Nobahkt.

Put simply:  an exceedingly awful book about a great, some would say heroic band.

First, the band. If you are reading this blog, then chances are you know about Suicide, have formed an opinion and even if they ain't your thing you have to acknowledge their sheer bravado and their influence on a number of punk, post-punk and un-punk (in one of the books many failings Nobahkt focuses more on the relationship between Suicide and lightweight synth bands like Soft Cell than the band's relationship to their Max's, CBGB's contemporaries) combos from 1970 something to the present day. Me, I can't get enough of Frankie Teardrop, their new LP american supreme (which provides the soundtrack for the churn that you are reading) and all points, solo and combo, in between. So, you'll agree:  Love 'em or loathe 'em Suicide's legacy can not be denied. Rev, Vega and the whole scene they created, countervaled, ignored, were ignored by, propagated and perpetuated, in fact, seem to be worthy subjects for a multi-volume Proust like rendering.

Second, the writer. David Nobahkt is no Proust nor is he even Judith Kranz. Here is a man offering himself as a "writer" yet he can not string together two coherent sentences. I have no quotes to offer you. Just go to a bookstore or library and do a "No Compromise" dive, Take the book from its shelf, flip it open to a random page, strike with your finger and there's a 99% chance you will find an incomprehensible sentence, some inappropriate, ineffective word choice, so-called "oral history" that sounds like a soap opera actor reading from a teleprompter, questionable spellage, the salt and pepper approach to punctuation (sprinkle on the commas, some of them are bound to land in the correct spots) or a multi-faceted combination thereof.

Now since Nobahkt has taken the oral history approach--an effective rendition of this can be found via Legs McNeil's "Please Kill Me" or even his less effective follow-up about the porn industry "The Other Hollywood--No Compromise could have been enjoyable or at least something other than objectionable despite Nobahkt's--who, by the way, resembles one of Peter Bagge's grotesque humanoid caricatures from HATE--massive problems with written English's basic challenges. However, as it turns out, the author has no skills as an interviewer and/or transcriber.

Rev and Vega, two of this mortal coil's more fascinating humans, make up the bulk of the book's talk and, while they seemingly yammered plenty to the obsequious Nobahkt, they really don't say much. Minimal history, minimal bio, minimal social commentary, nuts & bolts factoids about one damn album--group and solo--after another, the fans hate 'em, the fans love 'em, blah blah blah.

It's fascinating reading about the show where for the first time fans spit on 'em, less so when it happens 50 or 60 more times and you get the same rote account of such now tiresome ennui. Other stuff I've read from and about these guys has piqued my interest as to how they feel about art, love, violence, rock and roll, race, gender (you can substitute my inflated categories w/ like minded ones:  dope, guns, fucking in the streets, etc.), but Rev's and Vega's endless droning is--unlike the endless drone of Suicide--ultimately of slight interest.

Also missing is any extensive commentary from their NYC contemporaries, especially that of the negative variety and I've read and heard enough to know that Rev and Vega had some difficult doings w/ many of their Big Apple counterparts over the years. WHERE'S THE DIRT?

Instead, the book's other yakkers range from producers (like the Cars Ric Ocasek, a long time champion of the band) to family and friends and--again I object--celebrity hangers on like the melon head Henry Rollins (any time this guy talks it's all about him and his empty vessel of a career or his not-on-purpose anti-art in a variety of media) and the far more loathsome Michael Stipe and his drunken spear carrier Peter Buck. I  tell ya if I hear one more fuckin' story about that fuckin' record store in Athens and how these two gave each other handjobs while listening to the Velvet Underground . . .but I digress.

For a description of the actual content of the book's other talkers skip back a few paragraphs and apply the Rev-Vega matrix to this bunch. Every once in a while someone, like the guy from Primal Scream or the guy from The Jesus and Mary Chain or Ocasek, says something remotely interesting, but a lot of  the so-called jabber does not "sound" like people talking and a lot more of it is repetitive and shallow to the extreme. I guess it's a perverse kind of "art" to be able make Rev and Vega seem boring, but here it is, in the blather-without-end of No Compromise.

For the book's organizational principle (seemingly developed w/ the goal of maximum reader tedium in mind) Nobahkt "links" the various talking points (of varying duration) together via the "brilliant" (""=saracasm) strategy of finding every review everyone has ever written about Suicide, live and on record, determining every pieces' most insipid passages  and slapping them onto the page with all the grace and positive effect of a prison cafeteria worker slathering mac & cheese on to a convict's tray. These largely content-free excerpts  are "links" only in that they continue the book's tiresome chronology and for some of Nobahkt's more outrageous butcherings of written English check the tortured way most of the quotes are offered.

I will now confess. I've read most of the book, but find myself physically unable to read any more of it. The few attempts I've made at re-opening it have resulted in its words rearranging themselves into some kind of heretofore unseen, unreadable language and then a soundtrack starts up in my head:  Soft Cell, REM, Rollins Band,  Flock of Seagulls, Kajagoogoo . . .

All in all you'll get more a feel for New York and Suicide by reading a Zagat's Guide to the Lower East Side (is there one?). Really, one of the worst rock and roll books ever and I've read a good bit of 'em, even the ones by Chuck Eddy.

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