Cobain and True in matching glasses and Sebadoh T-shirts.
by Matthew Fritch
Your book about all the crazy, mixed-up times you had with your drinking buddies isnt as good as Everett Trues. Nor is it as historically pertinent to a decade of music. Live Through This: American Rock Music In The Nineties (Virgin) is the memoir of NME and Melody Maker scribe True (real name: Jerry Thackray), who arrived in Seattle in 1989 to profile Sub Pop Records and cover the burgeoning Northwest scene, only to become the rock-crit godfather of grunge and confidant to Kurtneyhe introduced Kurt to Courtney at a Butthole Surfers gig in 91. As outlined in the book, True drank and danced his way across the U.S. during alt-rocks heyday, dishing the dirt on Mudhoney, Sebadoh, the Breeders, Sonic Youth and the Lemonheads.
But underneath the good-times tales of hanging with the Screaming Trees, Melvins and Babes In Toyland are the suicide of a close friend (Cobain) and the druggy, pathetic stories of many others (Evan Dando, Kim and Kelley Deal). True begins the book with a very personal chapter on Nirvana, Cobain, Love and the suicide; he ends it with a brutally honest look at Hole. Live Through This is personal business, as True injects himself into every scene, relating what he saw as a journalist, fan and performer (hed often open for acts as one-man-band The Legend!). For these and other acts of self-inclusion, True will no doubt be criticized (as he has throughout his career) for writing as if hes the axis of the Earth itself. But for those of us who cant dig deep enough into fandoms core, theres no other way a book should be written.
True answered some roundabout questions by e-mail from his home in Brighton, England.
The books subtitles are misleading: American Rock Music In The Nineties; The First And Last Word On Grunge. I was actually relieved to start reading and find out its not trying to be some grunge history etched in stoneits your subjective experience in the 90s. Do you think that, in some ways, this book says as much about you as the musicians and scenes profiled?
You write that rock is a club for all those who dont have the credentials to join anywhere else. I think that nicely capsulizes how a lot of us came to rock music as performers, journalists, fans, etc. Can you detail how/when the joining process started for you as a critic, performer or fan?
So I did. The magazine was called Communication Blur, and a couple of weeks after it appeared I got a call at my work (I was a screen printer) from the boss of one of the labels Id slagged off, swearing at me for 45 minutesme, a nobody punk kid. I was shocked at the time, but realised after that this was precisely the effect I was seeking to engender. Cool.
For the third issue, McGee had started concentrating on his record label Creation, and wanted to make me editor (with himself, Bobby Gillespie, Andrew Innes, etc. as main contributors). Fine, but he wanted to put a Smiths flexi on the front. A very trendy band, it would have increased our circulation no end: 10,000 sales easy. I refused because I hated the fucking Smiths (I didnt hate them, actually, but wasnt passionate about them, which amounted to the same thing back then). So I started my own fanzine instead: The Legend! (the name under which I recorded the first single for McGees label).
The NME took me on, after I showed up there one day and demanded they printed something Id written. I couldnt even form a sentence, but got by on my enthusiasm. When I first traveled out to Seattle at the start of 89 for Melody Maker to write the Sub Pop story, it was both my first trip to America and my first trip for the paper (Id joined a few short months before).
What was your first writing gig, and whyd you choose this maligned and financially unrewarding career of music journalism?
Im going to throw some more of your words back at you. For once I thought it would be nice if history was written by one of the losers. This line seems half genuine impetus for the book, half disingenuous sentiment (loser in the hip, Beck-ish sense of the word). Nirvana won (as much as it wanted to), you won (correspondent to the stars for nearly a decade), and heres a book published by Virgin to prove it. What do you think?
Whats your comeback line for people wholl read this and say: That Everett True, hes such a namedropper, a hanger-on?
British and American journalism play by different rules. Whereas most U.S. editors would frown on a writer getting drunk with the band or reviewing a perceived rival (Billy Corgan, for example), you had a bit more free reign. Thoughts on this?
You took charge of your own identity as the guy who could help the careers of many a band. How aware were you at the time of the thin line between being a friend and drinking buddy on one hand, and a person to be used for publicity on the other?
Do you still talk to Courtney? Has she had any reaction to this book yet?
You mourn Kurt in this book in several different ways. Is this the first time youve written so directly about him, his suicide and, well, the damage done? And pardon the inference, but was it somewhat therapeutic for you to do so?
This is a book with plenty of personal stories that end, well, not so well: Kurt, Evan Dando, even Kim Deal (jurys still out on Title TK and the new Breeders lineup). We (the media) called these people antiheroes in the 90s, but was their brush with fame and subsequent downward spiral really any different from, say, David Lee Roths? What was so remarkable about their brand of distress? What soul-crushing pressures are not depicted in the book?
Of course, you were along for the ride on all this. Whats been the personal toll, in terms of general health, sanity, your career, your feelings toward music and its business?
For a few years following Kurts death, I was almost completely disillusioned with music, a drunk. Whatever. I fucking love playing songs on the piano, singing Dolly Parton covers or Tom Waits or Elvis Costello or the Beatles. I fucking love playing new albums (because of my new magazine, I now receive upwards of 20 CDs every day through my front door). Sure, I cant handle a drink. If I have one I want to drink the complete bottle of Makers Mark and I have very strong whiskey cravings most days (which I dont give in to). I play badminton. I am visited at home by loads of friends (no, Im not a fucking invalid). I love going to see bands locally in Brighton (but definitely not in London, not after I used to suffer panic attacks at shows there in 95, 96).
Oh, and Im writing a book on the Ramones. Because I love them.
The music business? Let the babies have their bottles. I couldnt care one way or another. Im not particularly prepared to do anything thats not fun, but who knows? Maybe Im just waiting for the right offer.