This was originally featured in Negative Guest List:
WE NEVER LEARN - BOOK REVIEW
I dunno what dopers edited this heap and what yahoos decided to publish it, but when Eric Davidson takes his selectric for a spin its like he has personal vendetta against clarity. The prose in 'We Never Learn' ping pongs from a tangled pileup of half-baked ideas to ponderous sentences stating the obvious, through ugly meanderings, misleading strands that go nowhere, with enough time to inject the entire spectrum of inductive fallacies with horrible attempts at hepcat patter that makes reading it a frustrating, grim slog. Think I'm pulling your leg? Take a look at this 'paragraph' about the Supersuckers:
"The Supersuckers were a quintessential example of the 90’s major-label-machine practice of casually juggling band fortunes before all the pieces end up getting fumbled to the curve. Mind you, I would have never called the ‘Suckers “victims.(a)” By the mid-90’s, the stories of working-class(b) rock dudes getting starry-eyed and ripped off mercilessly at the hands of evil corporate giants© was a tale as old as that of Icarus.(d) So in my opinion, (e) if you were a young band who signed a bad contract or let some manager rip you off, you either hadn’t studied your rock history (which encompasses the PhD-level workload of reading the occasional issue of Rolling Stone and watching a few VH!1 Behind The Music episodes(f)); or you just plain wanted lots more money and/or wanted to be a big star-which is fine, but this is the music biz in America, (g) and even your grandmammy knows the percentages are stacked against that bet." (h)
a.) Why not? Seriously, its like someone saying "oh man, I got a great story - oh nevermind" then walking away.
b.) ED has a pro-midwest, pro 'working class' (and c'mon guys aren't coal miners, they are touring musicians or people with part time jobs at record stores) bias throughout the book that comes off as condescending, intellectually muddled, and silly.
c.) This 'evil corporations' is simplistic childish skunkshit, its a media companies that were selling compact discs then and are on their asses now, not a company trying to privatize rainfall in Bolivia.
d.) Not to nitpick, but the phonograph was invented in the summer of 1887 and Icarus dates to, I dunno, at least 500 years before the birth of Christ.
e.) Well put, its not going to be a 'fact' or something. Why would someone read a non-fiction book for that shit?
f.) Sarcasm or sincerity, not both.
g.) Because record companies in other countries are nothing but fair.
i.) So an editor read that and thought, "yes, that is a fince, lucid sentence that is perfectly clear in what it is trying to convey"?
The book has a huge problem at its very foundation: the, (sigh) 'gunk punk undergut' as ED puts it, is underground for a reason - its just not going to appeal to most of the people who haven't already heard it (not to mention that the majority has aged like a plum left in a toilet), and for those that haven't, the writing is neither evocative nor descriptive enough to turn anyone on to it - ED's hipster patois reads like Jimmy McDonough, age 11, or James Ellroy after a head injury.
Much like ED's band, the new Bomb Turks, the 'We Never Learn' is repetitive, unoriginal, and not especially smart. He introduces a band. There is an interview. There is either a story of the band doing something amusing, or a heap of superlative-laced prose that doesn't actually inform the confused reader what the band sounds like. Then the band breaks up and goes back to their dayjobs.
ED still finds time to shoehorn in tangents like the superiority of socialism (to put it kindly, ED is not a political theorist, his myopic, dimwit interpretation of politics is based on how well competing political systems treat touring bands - "Hey we just played for Ghengis Khan, he gave us some stew, all the wine we can drink, and concubines! Obviously rape, pillage, and genocide are superior political systems - look how how great they treat touring Americans!"), and plenty of ink on the New Bomb Turks, who I find dull both sonically and story-wise.
You want to hear about The New Bomb Turks' banal experience with Epitaph and Gearhead? Two bad labels barely related to the subject at hand? If you're going to read this, you'd better hope you do.
All of this formulaic jibber jabber done poorly is a shame, because the interviews are entertaining, even when the subject is a reactionary, childish crybaby that believes their own bullshit (Billy Childish) or a figure I distinctly remember nobody - including many of the participants in the book - regarding with anything but disdain (something never mentioned in the book, but take a bow, Johan Kugelburg) or if it's a band I couldn't care less about, there tends to be something amusing. Oh, and I forgot how many people died. Lot's.
ED's term gunk-punk is vague, and he doesn't go out of his way to define it. I get the feeling that if he did, it would be such an inarticulate jumble that it wouldn't help. There are some real puzzlers of bands that he chooses to cover, and some of the bands are sitting on a street corner, wondering when the relevance bus is going to arrive (sorry, it left a long time ago, and it ain't comin' back) but, to ED's um "credit" (a strong word) compiling the bands out of the incestual pit of low record sales and difficult-to-prove levels of lasting influence into some kind of consensus would be next to impossible. ED set up a no-win situation, further hampered by his inability to write a fucking sentence.
Here's a few clunkers I marked down in a typical chapter, with a notepad next to me, before it got too frustrating to finish to stop every few sentences to mark something down.
"Extremely irascible and musically regimented bands like Tar, God Bullies, Hammerhead, and Janitor Joe were major daddy-issue destructors who took the heaviest of SST's post-core pound and further jackhammered it into a pulp. In other words, powerful, sometimes scary, often laborious, but not very sexy or fun." (pg. 59) Did Justin Timberlake jump in and finish the last sentence for him?
"[A]nother connection to the garage trash scene that would soon be pumping out singles with the veracity of a Beijing sperm clinic." (pg. 60) A sub-catskills funnyman airball of a metaphor that would make the lowest common denominator hang its head in shame, and I don't know if he meant 'velocity' instead of veracity (which would make marginally more sense) but both are wrong. This ought to give you an idea of the intellectual playing field this book is on (hint: all the participants have to wear football helmets and oven mitts).
"[Rick Sim's] lyrics [are] like spun-out Marc Bolan gulping down boiling Jolt!" (pg. 63) 1. No they aren't. 2. That's impossible. 3. Even if it was possible, they wouldn't sound like that.
"The Didjits hit the stage with mosquito ass-tight rhythms and ruffs that buzzed and squealed around like the guitars were jacked right into said mosquito's sphincter..." (pg. 63) This is the kind of sentence that causes an editor to wince then smack a writer in the back of the head. Is anyone going to read that and think "well, the guitars apparently sound like they were plugged 'right into said mosquito's sphincter' - I better get MY sphincter to the store. Guitars that sound like they were plugged right into said mosquito's rectum is exactly the type of music I find intriguing." ..?
On pg. 65, and at least once after, ED uses the word "asininely" which, while possibly a real word, is such an ungainly example of the English language that it is only suitable for a verbal exercise in a speech impediment therapy class.
Twice in this same shitass chapter, Davidson tries to define punk rock - a fruitless and adolescent enterprise if there ever was one, on pg. 45 "the point of punk rock is anything but reflection," which um, is a totally intangible, unprovable, unqualified sentence that doesn't have anything to do with the paragraph its placed in. Or on pg. 66, "punk rock-given its platelet-shifting thesis that "anyone can do it"-should never be about instrumental proficiency, unless its in the service of confounding expectations or just because you can." So, in other words, it shouldn't be, unless it does. Thanks for clearing that up, numbnuts. Also, you used 'instrumental' wrong.
ED defines his rough end of the era as the 2000 Las Vegas Shakedown at the Gold Coast Hotel, an event I attended. Reading 'We Never Learn' brought it all it all back... The broken glass in the hallways... A drunk sliding down the escalator railing, and his momentum sends him sailing and tumbling across the floor, nearly knocking over the pensioners at the tables... The semi-panicked hush that came over the hotel room party when a too-loud-to-be-anything-but-the-cops authoritative knock hit and everyone wondered what to do with the drugs (turned out to be hotel security, overtaxed that weekend)... Andre Williams telling me how he just "sucked on" chicken fingers, holding up a chicken finger, half of it dissolved of all nutrients, for evidence... Sitting at the bar, the guy next to me ordering the boot special - a glass cowboy boot that could fit three beers, with a three shots of whiskey poured in - I turned to my friend, turned back, and the guy was long gone, replaced by pile of vomit on the bar... Tim Warren in front of the hotel on the blacktop in the morning sun, playing with his dog (Rest In Peace, Bando)... Before I knew it, I felt kinda almost sorta misty, despite not wanting to, getting dragged down a somewhat embarrassing-in-retrospect memory lane by this extended love letter to Tim Warren & the Crypt catalog. It was like looking back at a yearbook you thought you threw away and getting a bit choked up anyway. Too bad the book didn't have a better shepherd.