Rock autobiographies are big news these days with bookshelves groaning under the weight of confessional (and often redemptive) tomes from almost everyone who’s ever committed music to plastic. We get the up and downs, the trials and tribulations, the dirt is dashed ( after the lawyers are asked) and the reading public have their vicarious thrill. OK, for every dozen ghosted epics there’s a genuine nugget and it’s fair to say that Dylan (as usual) tops the list for critically acclaimed memoires with Chronicles offering a very slight insight into his head. For the most part however it’s the lesser known artists, the cult favourites, who have delivered musings that have opened up the often grimy and dreary life of rock’n’roll with the likes of Luke Haine and Mark E Everett stamping their personalities on their respective tales.
Dan Stuart, Ex Green On Red front man, who has only recently resurfaced after a decade or so of personal turmoil has now put pen to paper with his “false memoir,” The Deliverance Of Marlowe Billings.” Billings is the alter ego adopted by Stuart for his 2011 comeback album of the same name as the book. The album followed a marital and mental breakdown that eventually found Stuart moving to Mexico with the avowed intention to top himself. Instead he found a second wind, recording the album, touring Europe and writing this book.
As Billings, Stuart introduces us to a sun blasted weed smoking minor delinquent who starts a band in the emotional wasteland of Tucson. Snot nosed and foul mouthed, glam rock then punk and Patti Smith fire him up in a milieu reminiscent of the kids in Alex Cox’s Repo Man. Overdoses, petty crime and rude sex only threaten to divert this weird messiah’s collection of disciples until he has a rag tag band that outgrows Tucson’s sin bins and decamps to LA. DIY recordings lead to record deals and label rip offs before Billings and crew set out to conquer the world only to find that the craziness follows them until the band falls apart. Intending to start afresh he’s fucked by legal shenanigans forcing him to retain the band name screwing his pals and hurtling forward into an ever increasing maelstrom of mental indignations. The book ends with Billings in a psychiatric institution.
If the above appears to be a conventional retelling of the Green On Red story then you’d be right apart from the conventional element. Stuart tells the story in short, staccato bites. Each chapter is no more than two or three pages delivered in a hard boiled, almost voyeuristic fashion. Like a fusion of Hemingway, Bukowski and Jim Carroll Stuart is bare boned in his reportage with no shying away from the misogynism of the times while drug fuelled embarrassments are described with a particularly debauched Edinburgh visit detailed. For a “rock” biography there’s little about the music itself within the pages. The set ups, the producers, the screw ups and legal crap are all here but unless you know the band you wouldn’t have a clue as to what they sound like. In addition Stuart (in fine roman a clef fashion) doesn’t name names for the most part but this adds to the attraction of the book as I was scouring album sleeve notes and googling like hell to pin down the cast list.
It’s rough, raw and rude but according to Stuart and others who were there that’s what it was really like. Stuart himself describes the book as “it’s just words and shit” but as a portrayal, not just of Stuart and Green On Red but numerous others in the post punk LA scene , it’s a visceral slice of life, warts and all.
Buy it here