Live Through This: American Rock Music In The Nineties
Everett True
Virgin Books, 2002

Reading Live Through This is like being at a party with an egotistical boor who happens to be talking about things that interest you: he's annoying as hell, but you're willing to let him have the floor for a while. Jerry Thackray, aka Everett True, was the writer for Melody Maker who gave the Seattle scene its first big hype in England. He's also known, as the reader is frequently reminded, as the man who introduced Kurt Cobain to Courtney Love. "This should be the first and last word on grunge," intones the cover blurb. Well, it's certainly not the first, and probably won't be the last. It is, however, the first and last word on Everett True.

True's pre-Seattle scene roots are with the tweepop music of K Records. He claims never to have been attracted to rock bands such as Led Zeppelin in his tender youth, being turned off by the machismo, the misogyny, or, in his opinion, the maleness in general. "Understand this," he writes, "I've long felt that the only way forward for rock was to give the whole rotting carcass over to women, to do with as they willed." Or, pushing the notion further, "Mostly only art created by women has any validity." True appears ignorant of the reverse sexism of his beliefs—giving an entire gender an automatic musical validity by dint of their genitalia is merely the flipside of Gene Simmons' comment that women aren't cut out to rock—and it's amusing to watch him get the appropriate response from bands like L7, Babes In Toyland, and the Breeders' Kim Deal when he pitches the "how do you feel as women in rock?" question at them. He notes that L7 "rapidly got tired of sensitive fanboys wanting to make a big deal out of their womanhood and having to justify their music as a gender statement," but nonetheless he carries on in his theoretical pursuits.

The British press is infamous for being a fickle hype machine: New Musical Express and their ilk will latch onto a particular band (current examples being the Strokes and the White Stripes) and, for a short period of time, proclaim them to be the Saviors Of Rock, the Best Band Ever, etc., only to move on to someone else with equal hyperbole when the previous acts' fifteen minutes are up. True is cheerfully part of this machine: "Reared on a constantly changing musical culture, where the music press rightly determined that bands grow old very quickly, we were always on the look out for the thrill of the new." Groups are either the best or the worst; True has little middle ground in his opinions, patience to watch a career develop, or tolerance for an artist who changes with time. It doesn't help that his views are presented with an insufferable air of self-importance ("Here's what makes me different from you: I understand the power of music") and stale cliche ("You fly too close to the sun, you're going to get burned"). Consistency isn't a strong point either; at one point, he dismisses Soul Asylum as a crap band, only later to include them in a list of great rock bands from Boston (uh, Everett? They're from Minneapolis). On one hand, he dismisses today's teens with Nirvana t-shirts as merely grasping for a tragic icon from a past they were too young to have experienced themselves; he sneeringly allows that they might actually like the music, but wishes that they were cooler (i.e., they're not also Half Japanese fans). On the other hand, he praises the sixties as a great era, of which he fostered an appreciation by reading old underground comix when he was a kid himself.

Live Through This is bookended by chapters on Kurt and Courtney. True spent a good deal of time with Nirvana on the road, and dishes out the anecdotes liberally in a long first section. No great revelations are to be found, but fans will be happy to read these random snapshots of the band, which are unfortunately filtered through True's self-centered perspective. It's annoying to wade through his endless boasts about his debaucheries ("So I was driven back to Nirvana's temporary living quarters, a plastic bag tied on over my face to catch the vomit....")—even more so when he seeks to impress us with them through namedropping ("[Kurt] was also full of admiration for my drinking exploits. 'I don't know how you do it, man,' he laughed. 'I would have been out for days'"). True inserts himself even more into the chapter on Courtney Love—not unjustifiably, as he played a crucial role in her rise to fame. Love is widely regarded as having exploited his crush on her, drawing him to her inner circle and then abandoning him after he'd served his purpose. True defends their relationship thusly: "She made me feel special, like I was the most special person in the world when I was with her. Fuck all you dull nine-to-fives who can't perform that simple trick." Uh, Everett? That's precisely what manipulators do. If his head hadn't been so far up Love's ass, he might have heard the clue phone ringing.

This is not to say that True is incapable of making any worthwhile insights (such as the pithy comment, "the Jesus Lizard were always a King Crimson for the GG Allin set"). And I'll admit that when he unleashes his vitriol on bands that I also could do without—Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam receive lengthy screeds—I found myself smiling in agreement with his dead-on observations. But putting up with True's over-inflated ego for 294 pages is a lot to ask. If I want to read a rock critic who had love/hate relationships with his favorite musicians, lived their lifestyle, attempted to play music himself, was known to miss a show but review it anyway, and frequently made himself as much a part of his writing as his ostensible subject, I'd take the far more talented Lester Bangs any day. Too bad he didn't stick around to Live Through This.

James Lindbloom