Tuesday 17 April 2012

Devouring Books: This is a Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl by Paul Brannigan

If the subtitle of this book wasn't 'The Life and Times of Dave Grohl', then I'd be mercilessly tearing it to shreds, not only review-wise, but probably in actual real life too (maybe not, because I don't know if I could do that to a book... We'll see). As it is, I'm not going to be too kind about it, but at least I can't say I wasn't warned. But still. Grumble, grumble, grumble.

I'm basically always more disappointed by biographies of people that I already know a lot about than any other kind of books. I guess part of it is thinking that I could maybe do it better (I mean, I couldn't actually, but it sometimes it feels like I could. And sometimes I actually could *cough* What's Eating Johnny Depp *cough, cough*), and the other, much bigger part is the fact that they're unauthorised. And what that means is that they have literally no access to the subject of their writing, which, you would think, would stop them from writing the thing. But apparently not, and that's a problem when you already feel like you know someone, and the author also feels like they know them, and neither of these conflicting visions of said person are probably accurate and everything just becomes this big fat mess.

So. This is a Call. Paul Brannigan claims, on the first few pages, that Dave Grohl has said to him that he 'considers him a friend'. He claims this quite a few times, actually, although I'm not sure too many 'friends' would write an unauthorised biography of their 'friend' that actually turns into a book that isn't a great deal about their 'friend'. Because here's the deal with this book- It's not so much about Dave Grohl. Rather, it's a pretty good history of music in the last, ooh, 30 years or so, with almost peripheral mentions of Dave Grohl. I'm not kidding. There's about one chapter that's sort of fully dedicated to Grohl, and that only comes right near the end of the book, and, actually, is more of a history of Foo Fighters than Grohl anyway.

I mean, I get it. No man is an island, and certainly a lot of the people who get pages long profiles and many of the bands talked about extensively have affected Grohl's life in one way or another. But selling a book as a biography of one person, and then using it to basically express your own opinion about various bands, most of which Dave Grohl never appeared in? That's not cool, Brannigan. Not cool at all. (BRAAAANNNIGAN!) So, yeah, I basically spent the entirety of the book going 'ok, but what's Dave doing at this point... oh right, you just want to talk about Metallica some now. Well, that's ok, but how about we get back to... Oh, Kurt Cobain killed himself? No way! So how did Dave... You don't know? Right. Well, this is very HAWEFBNWAGFWAAFASFFKAV!' It was frustrating, is what I'm saying.

Oh, and ALSO Brannigan used to be the editor of Kerrang!, which is this music magazine in the UK that focuses waaay too much on metal bands, which is why I don't buy it anymore unless, say, Foo Fighters are on the cover. So, since he didn't actually want to write about Dave the person (or, rather, couldn't because he doesn't know him) he goes through the critical reception of like every piece of music he's ever made. And in relaying this information, he not-so-subtly undermines every magazine that isn't Kerrang!, with extra bitterness aimed at Q (maybe because they never asked him to be editor?) and Rolling Stone, which is, I would have to say, my favourite music magazine. So this just gave me extra things to hate him for and, really, I already wanted to punch him in the face a little, so, yeah.

I did learn a few (a very few) things about Dave Grohl/the 90s music scene that I hadn't read elsewhere, and these are them:

  • I would have fit in really really well in Olympia in the early 90s. Like, disturbingly well. Observe: "They all dressed in 1950s and 60s clothes with kitty cat glasses, they baked pies and made apple butter, they had dance parties and made mix tapes. Everyone was in a band, everyone crafted, everyone had a fanzine, everyone was everyone else's biggest fans... even when they were not." Everyone crafted?! I love these people! I mean, the point of this quote in the book is to show why Dave Grohl thought these people were weird, which maybe makes me think twice about him, but they baked pies and made apple butter?! Get me a time machine and a guitar, stat!
  • Dave Grohl has a lot of love for this one Foo Fighters song, Aurora, that I also happen to really love. This excited me because, well, they never play it live, so I just assumed that he thought of it as filler, but to know that he thinks it's one of the most beautiful songs he's ever written, as I also do, made me all happy faced!
  • Paul Brannigan really doesn't like Kurt Cobain. I realise this isn't about Dave Grohl, so why was his personal opinion about Cobain allowed to come out into this book? I mean, I'm fairly nuts about Kurt Cobain, so any criticism of him at all makes me want to cry (did I mention that I was reading this basically on the anniversary of his death? No? Cause that made it a whole lot more fun) but I don't think I was being over-sensitive- Brannigan's basic attitude was 'what a junkie loser moron', along with 'well, some of his music was ok, I guess'. I was charmed, obviously.
Basically, this book was one big annoyance after another. I honestly think that if it hadn't been a present then I would have just stopped reading it, although I'm glad I persevered and found out that thing about Aurora that made me happy. I would have really appreciated a lot more Dave, and a lot less Brannigan, but I guess he had to go with writing about what he loves best, and that would be himself. I wish I could recommend a better Dave Grohl Biography to you, but I'm fairly sure the authors of the other two I've read hadn't even met Grohl, so, yeah, Brannigan's got an advantage on them. Not that he uses it very well, obviously.

Wow, that was moany. Here, have this as a reward for getting through the rant, and as an insight into all I've been thinking about while writing this:
A far, far superior Brannigan, in my opinion.


  1. I don't understand, if this *isn't* a biography of Dave Grohl why does the title (or sub-title) claim to be? What a stupid title. False advertising.

  2. I mean... It is. A bit. But it's more about the 'times' of Dave than the 'life', which I happen to find super annoying when I want to learn more things about him! But thank you for your joint indignance, I love it!

  3. Oh man that sucks. When I saw you were reading this one I immediately googled it. I hadn't heard of this book and my boyfriend is obsessed with Nirvana and all things Kurt Cobain, and his birthday is coming up. Since he has every book every written about Nirvana I thought this would be a good alternative for one of his smaller gifts. But if you hated it and you also love Dave Grohl, I'm not sure he'll like it. *sigh*

    1. Argh! I feel bad now! But I will say that I did learn a few new things, and there is a LOT of Nirvana stuff (which sort of ignored Dave, hence why it annoyed me) so he might still like it! Just... don't give it to him and tell him that it sucks because then he won't want to read it!

      Also, I love that your boyfriend is obsessed with Nirvana. Just sayin. :)

    2. Okay if I run out of ideas and feel like I need one more gift, this book will be it :)

    3. Cool. But just, you know, have some better ideas hehehe :)

      ps I totally recommend Heavier than Heaven by Charles R Cross as a Kurt Cobain biography. Although odds are that your bf already has it cause I think it's fairly well known... but if not, I recommend that!