January 5, 2008

Of Pythons and 'Placements

As long time readers of this blog are aware, when I'm not engaging in useless pursuits (like stalking Bill Corbett), I enjoy reading good books. Although I was sorely tempted to nominate this recent read as best non-fiction book of 2007, there are two books - both of which are first person accounts, and whose work I have featured back in 2006 - that really deserve the attention - and the title - of the Blog This, Pal Best Nonfiction Books of 2007.

Jim Walsh's All Over But the Shouting serves as a great first book about the Replacements, who were featured in a very early pre-podcast Record You Should Own. I've spoken about how the band had an influence on me (they're one of the few bands whose worst stuff is still listenable), and it is tempting to admit bias. However, this book is a warts-and-all examination of the band through friends, loved ones, and former members. (Westerberg, Stinson and Mars are represented through press quotes). Unlike most "you-should-have-been-there" efforts, this book seems to capture the quality that endeared the Replacements to their fans - the dual dynamic of wanting success, but also turning and running away. (Or as Westerberg so eloquently put it, "if bein' afraid is a crime, we hang side by side"). There is a certain amount of local scene gossip (including suggestions of a feud with Husker Du), but that isn't what makes the book remarkable.
Two things Walsh does lifts All Over But the Shouting up - first, he demystifies and gives us a greater sense of Bob Stinson as a human being. It was easy to see Stinson as representative of the 'Mats get-drunk-and-mess-up school of rock; it's much harder - and his early demise is much more deeply felt - as the result of reading these memories. But more importantly, Walsh seems to provide a great rationale and end to the Replacements' story. Although there was a kinda sorta reunion for a Rhino compilation, in many ways, this book encapsulates the appeal of the Replacements enough...to make a reunion meaningless. If any band deserved this book as an epitaph, it would be the Replacements.

The other book that made a definite impact is Michael Palin's Python Diaries - Palin has always been my personal favorite Python member. His sense of visual whimsy and gentle humor helped provide an excellent counterpoint to the more cerebral John Cleese...or the verbal Eric Idle. This is not a warts-and-all examination of the inner workings of the original show...but even in its all-too-brief excerpts, Palin provides an excellent memoir of the working life of a television writer balancing the vagaries of show-business with a growing family.

(One point of note - in a recent episode of her most excellent podcast, Lene of I Read Comics mentioned that she felt a lot of Palin's family life seemed left out of the book...that Palin may not have thought to write about it. Given some of the jumps in diary entries - and the fact that his children are now adults - Palin may have chosen to give them their privacy. The focus of the book is mostly on Palin's business/creative life - although his family life would be just as interesting, he does have the right to maintain some boundaries.)

What makes this book interesting is the matter-of-fact examination of the dynamics of writing and performing in Monty Python. (Reading about how each of the members interact with each other - and how Palin regards them - makes for fascinating reading). Unlike most modern behind-the-scenes featurettes, the stories behind Holy Grail and Life of Brian are especially revelatory and given a certain more weight. (Example - Mr. Palin describing how a church actually commended the troupe on Brian as an excellent tool for teaching independent thought). It's a long book that - much like All Over But the Shouting - is a total page-turner from start to finish. (And to mimic Terry Jones, "At 600 pages, it bloody well ought to be").

But both books do what the best non-fiction does - illuminate, enlighten, and at the same time, make an experience seem real. And both books are the best of 2007.

Both are highly recommended.


Nik said...

I absolutely loved Palin's Diaries, too, fantastic stuff and far more literary than these kinds of things usually are. Will have to check out that Mats book sometime, sounds great!

H said...


I wasn't even aware there was a book on the Replacements out. Thanks for the hot tip!