For the longest time, my dad had been trying to get me to read the Tommy James & the Shondells biography Me, the Mob, and the Music. I just wasn’t that big of a fan of them, though.
And now, as I have grazed the introduction and the first chapter or so, I sort of see how both the band and the book itself are disposable, but singular, in their own way. If rock and roll as art can be traced as a psychological trajectory, Tommy James’ is undoubtedly the direct route — he insists to us that “In 1956, a greasy-haired kid playing a guitar was the ultimate expression of rebellion” (11). This celebration just OOZES confidence. And confidence James wasn’t without — and he’d go on to play sort of dumb, infectious pop for that one summer when you’re first exploring romance, and you don’t necessarily have that many responsibilities.
But this kid can know no wrong, and the music he made is incredibly direct and ABOUT as timeless as Nirvana, if lack of originality can be compensated by palatability — so the question looms, is it actually just better to be an all-agreeing golden boy who can do no wrong, than a constantly tortured, askance artist on a never-ending quest, sort of like a gloomy perfectionist? Is James actually exhibiting a higher “morality” here, by just agreeing and going with the flow, ascribing to his “art” a disproportionately high amount of “rebellious” quality, given that the statement follows Elvis’s appearance on Sullivan? In fitting with this dichotomy, a common qualm voiced in Nirvana: The Biography by Everett True was Kurt Cobain’s frustration at the limited means of his genre for purposes of femininity, sensitivity, etc., and he began writing rape awareness songs simply by narratively assuming the perspective of the rapist, or the victim. But then, is power just in the mind in this case — if you see the guitar as invincible, does it actually become, to an extent, invincible?
So impossible to please was Kurt Cobain, for instance, that even following making a record like Bleach, which me and my friend will rock out to more than gladly while playing NCAA Football ’04 for Play Station 2, he saw fit to take up heroin, and, admittedly, write songs that were somewhat better, but wow, at a hell of a price. And undoubtedly, I’m more likely to change the radio station if I hear “Crimson and Clover” than I am to hear “On a Plain,” but equally, there are amorous moments in sundry (get it) summers wherein Tommy James is more appropriate than the abrasive, dark punk of Nirvana. More on this note, Cobain undoubtedly makes for the more interesting biography — he was the product of divorce and a crazy, upheaval-tainted, drug-addled childhood, but through his life he ended up hurting probably as many people as hurt him, I’m saying this as an informed person who’s read Nirvana: The Biography something like six full times, and so it just makes you wonder as to the behavioral limits and reaches of a person who’s COMPLETELY unable to assimilate to the norms of society, and who constantly feels compunction in everything, to the point of madness.