Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact and Fiction

Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact and Fiction

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Rock music doesn’t like to be contained, so compiling a collection of short tales regarding the subject could end poorly.  Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact and Fiction pulls off the formula quite well, though, handling a handful of unyielding rock subjects with sly coolness.

Despite what editor John Ottey claims in his introduction of Experienced, “some [tales] are fiction and some non-fiction, but they’re all true,” not all of the tales are true.  It’s not difficult to split the fiction from the non-fiction despite all of the stories reveling in the same subjects and a few of the non-fiction tales veering eerily close to unbelievability.  I understand what Ottey is suggesting; rock and roll is such a topsy-turvy world of stranger than fiction events it’s hard to grasp that it exists within our known reality.  For supporting evidence on that notion, the short blip of a story “Dee Dee’s Challenge” by Ed Hamilton, provides a personal recollection of Dee Dee Ramone’s time spent in the Chelsea Hotel.  Dee Dee Ramone is a rock character of the highest sorts and viewing Hamilton’s recollection of him through the lens of fiction (though it the tales isn’t) doesn’t make it–or him–seem any less…insane.

Likewise, James Greer’s addendum to his Guided By Voices profile, “Hunting Accidents: Being the Further Adventures of Guided By Voices,” adds an extra chapter of insanity to the already relentlessly crazy life of Guided By Voices (for whom Greer played drums for a spell). “Hunting Accidents” is a worthy epilogue to Greer’s already well-known book and it showcases Experienced‘s ability to take its subject matter seriously.  One of the standout tales–perhaps, the standout tale–in Experienced is Sean Ennis’ “Tour Diary (Excerpts),” a simple collection of Ennis’ days touring with his garage rock band The Clocks.  If you’ve never heard of The Clocks, you’re probably not alone.  Judging by Ennis’ diary excerpts, their anonymity was a constant companion on the road of touring, even when opening up for Rocket From the Crypt.  “Tour Diary (Excerpts)” is everything you could want a rock music tale to be: funny, poignant, heartbreaking, and uplifting, all at once.  Ennis, in a few short pages from his tour diary, outdoes what most of his fiction-writing company don’t do; prove that life in rock and roll doesn’t have to be crazy to believed, just honest.

A similar honestly is found in the final tale of the book, Carl Peel’s “If A Tree Falls,” a engaging story about a once-popular, now-aging musician coming to understand that life ultimately stops waiting for you. Based on that last sentence alone, you might think of the story as trite or overwrought, but Peel hits all the right notes, never demanding sympathy for his character and instead letting honesty play the biggest part in both story and his prose.  Experienced might have succeeded as a solid collection throughout if more of the fiction were cut from the same cloth as Peel’s story.  But, like I said, rock music doesn’t like to be caged, so the subjects vary widely–as does the quality, at times.  Harold Jaffe gives us a postmodern headtrip cocnering Madonna, Corey Mesler provides a detailed bio of fictional musician Buddy Gardner (that, again, veers eerily close to non-fiction), and Tim Weed shows turns a Grateful Dead concert into an even more drugged out experience than usual.

There are plenty of nuggets to be found in Experienced, although you will find yourself skimming through some of the stories to get to the meatier ones. (You’ll know which ones they are by the first few pages; most of them deal with jam bands.) And, try as I might, I just could not rationalize the need for artwork being placed alongside these stories.  Instead of adding an extra dimension to the stories, the artwork distracted giving off a menacing, juvenile, feel when the stories clearly called for something else.  The art is easy enough to ignore, but some of the weaker stories aren’t, making Experienced a less-than-perfect, but still very cool bag of rock music tales.


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