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By Joshua Jabcuga
January 1, 2004
Milking It Just a Little Bit More: Wherein Josh Jabcuga reviews Milk It!, the latest book by one-time Rolling Stone writer Jim DeRogatis, and sucks it dry. (He’s even got that nasty little vein popping out in his forehead.)
Recently, during one of my weekly trips to Borders, I stumbled across a copy of MILK IT!, COLLECTED MUSINGS ON THE ALTERNATIVE MUSIC EXPLOSION OF THE ‘90s by Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. DeRogatis has also contributed to Spin, Guitar World, Modern Drummer, and Rolling Stone (although those evil, AMERICAN IDOL-loving trolls canned him; more on that later). You may also be familiar with one of DeRogatis’ other books, LET IT BLURT: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic.
Like the book’s title states, this is a collection of interviews, reviews, and “think pieces” about artists from the ‘90s, which was an incredibly robust, if not overly hyped, period in music history (although hype has always played a key role in any musical era, to be sure). The plot and characters are familiar to most of us: We had the rise and fall
of what was marketed as “grunge music,” the martyrdom of Kurt Cobain (which, ironically, was caused by the rise of grunge, and in turn, perhaps contributed, more than partially, to grunge’s own demise), the annual pilgrimages to Lollapalooza, the sacrilege of Woodstocks 2 and 3, the British invasion by the BEATLES, er, I mean OASIS, the abortive strike of electronica (Prodigy, anyone?), and the eventual seduction of our youth by bubblegum popsters like Britney and the BACKSTREET BOYS.
In contrast, it’s 2004 already and the only things of significance so far seem to be the death of bubblegum pop (but we all saw that coming, didn’t we?), the Battle of the The Bands (more like the drizzling shits, if you ask me), the loss of Johnny Cash (a true talent) and, oh yeah, did you hear the one about Ozzy’s wife/manager Sharon Osbourne sleeping with Ozzy’s best friend/guitarist, the late Randy Rhodes? I’d take the ‘90s any day of the week over what’s been offered to us so far in this millenium.
MILK IT! has no right to be boring then, does it? Certainly not. What makes the book interesting though, is the author’s contribution to the scene. Sure, we were all there, but DeRogatis was on the front lines; He was there with a lawn chair. He even added a little fuel to the fire I believe. Case in point: Chapter four, “Melancholy and the Pear-Shaped Boy.” It recalls the feud between DeRogatis and Billy Corgan of the SMASHING PUMPKINS. See, DeRogatis thought the PUMPKINS were a little self-indulgent at times. He said their lyrics were sophomoric. Big deal. DeRogatis went so far as to say the PUMPKINS drew some of their influences from, gasp!, JOURNEY. Low blow. PUMPKINS’ brains and front man Billy Corgan took exception to the Journey comparison and in seeking retaliation, during one gig that was broadcast on live radio, referred to DeRogatis as “that fat fuck from the Chicago Sun-Times.” Take that, bee-yatch! Believe it or not, like all good rock ’n roll feuds, the hatchet was eventually buried, but the whole ordeal is covered in MILK IT! for posterity. Side note: Corgan is no stranger to the dramatics used to sell tickets, whether it’s to a rock concert, or to pro wrestling events. A self-confessed pro wrestling fan, the Uncle Fester-esque frontman was involved with the late Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) on several occasions, even involving himself in an “angle” on one of ECW’s television broadcasts. Maybe if ECW didn’t fold soon afterward, Corgan would have changed his tune, or career. “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage…match!”
DeRogatis is a pro at pissing off people in the music industry. Producer Steve Albini is another music personality/producer who has a thing or two to say about the writer, dating back to a piece DeRogatis did about the band URGE OVERKILL (who, by the way, Albini also loathes). I won’t get into it here since, well, that’s what the book is for, but I will say that Albini dissed the author by addressing a letter to him as “Jim DeRogatis, Music Pimp” and then going on a tirade which concluded in mocking the writer’s weight. Many in the music biz consider Albini, and Corgan, for that matter, to be musical geniuses. Why, oh why then, can’t they think of a better slam than to make fun of some poor guy’s weight?
In addition to irking Albini and Corgan, DeRogatis did a little investigative reporting to find that ‘90s rabble-rousers RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE might need to dig a little deeper themselves when choosing their own political heroes (Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas, for instance), whose tactics were anything but “shining,”—and he called out RAGE/AUDIOSLAVE guitar virtuoso and man-of-a-thousand-footpedals, Tom Morello, on the matter. DeRogatis flipped the script on the band, wondering “…killing in the name of?” Maybe Morello was a little too quick to pull his own trigger (and whammy bar) and should have asked his band mates this very same question, or perhaps, “singing in the name of?”-- since after all, the Shining Path, a group celebrated by RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE in interviews and in the track “Sendero Luminoso” are a “Maoist revolutionary group that has been notorious for three decades as the most vicious guerrilla organization in South America.” Or maybe the band should have taken heed from one of their other song titles, “Know Your Enemy.” Or at least know who the hell you’re singing about.
In addition to RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE and the SMASHING PUMPKINS, other ‘90s heavy-hitters like NIRVANA’s Kurt Cobain, PEARL JAM’s Eddie Vedder (the Batman to Cobain’s Superman), and Courtney Love (the Wonder Woman, er, Yoko Ono of the ‘90s?) are all given ample coverage in MILK IT!, and deservedly so. DeRogatis is big on Cobain, so-so on PEARL JAM (although he seems to be impressed by Vedder’s intense charisma), and, well, pretty much in love with Courtney Love (but that’s just my take). What I really enjoyed though, were the pieces in MILK IT! that covered some artists that are underexposed but equally essential to the ‘90s music scene. These are artists that always seem to slip under the mainstream radar, especially at that particular point in time: performers like MUDHONEY, Richard D. James of the APHEX TWIN, PJ HARVEY, RIDE, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, and SPIRITUALIZED. Sadly, MILK IT! misses the boat completely on RADIOHEAD (who by this point get more than their share of press, but back then, most thought of them as “that group that did that ‘Creep’ song”), Jeff Buckley (who may be more “classic rock” than anything else, but who was also very much part of the alternative scene), and THE VERVE. (In the book’s appendix, titled The Ninety Best Albums of the ‘90s, conspicuous by their absence is, in fact, RADIOHEAD. I find it hard to believe that The Bends and OK Computer were overlooked. I must have checked his list a dozen or so times to make sure that I wasn’t overlooking it, but it’s just not there. I find that quite surprising.)
I used to think that getting published in Rolling Stone magazine was the apex for any music critic. This may still hold true, but the measuring stick might be judged more in the paycheck than in actual integrity these days. (And from what I gather, the paycheck ain’t all that anyway.) Face it, Rolling Stone isn’t the paragon of coolness anymore. Can’t even remember when it was. You’re a fool if you believe Rolling Stone is actually hip, or even credible anymore (or you’re a contributing editor at the dirt rag). And yeah, I’m perfectly aware that I blew my chances right there for writing for the “venerable” publication. C’mon, though, I’m surprised they even need writers these days. Between all the glossy pictures of Christina, Justin, Britney, Rueben, Clay, or whatever else is the Tiger Beat flavor-of-the-month, I’m surprised they even have a need for actual words in the damn magazine. These days isn’t it merely used for wallpaper in some middle school kid’s locker anyway? Sure, Kurt said it best, corporate magazines still suck. DeRogatis does an admirable job of proving the point, too.
The author spent eight miserable months at Rolling Stone. (Cameron Crowe’s ALMOST FAMOUS, it was not.) “As deputy music editor under my friend, Keith Moerer, I theoretically had the power and the money to send the best writer of my generation to Iceland for two weeks (along with a photographer and a stylist) to do the ultimate profile of Bjork. Instead I was assigning desperate freelancers to cover the birth of Art Garfunkel’s baby, or to do a story critical of Don Henley’s efforts to save Walden Woods because the magazine’s infamous uber-Boomer editor and founder, Jann Wenner, had not been invited to the former Eagle’s latest wedding.”
Here’s the lowdown: DeRogatis lumped together a trio of God-awful albums by HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH, THE DAVE MATTHEWS BAND, and the SPIN DOCTORS, tying them together by the notion that not only did they all flat-out suck, but that they shared the dubious distinction of being “lame jam bands” whored out on “the whole vapid modern-day hippie trip, and the blame needed to be placed squarely at the feet of the Grateful Dead.” Seems pretty logical to me. DeRogatis only gave HOOTIE a two-star review, and Wenner thought the band wasn’t being given its due. The band had been placed on the cover a mere nine months earlier (I guess some never learn from their mistakes). DeRogatis notes how there is a sign hung in “the Rolling Stone copy department advising that THREE STARS IS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU’RE SORRY”. Apparently Rolling Stone’s star rating is based more on album sales than say, actual musical merit. It’s all pretty amusing, though, considering that at the MoviePoopShoot offices, in the little Squib Central cubicle, we have a banner that reads: GIVING HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH MORE THAN TWO STARS MEANS YOU HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE WHATSOEVER, PERIOD.
The highlight of the DeRogatis’ book is his piece on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, which was originally published in the New York Press on September 20, 1996, roughly a month after the museum had just celebrated its one year anniversary. The author contends that the Mecca of all things rawk is nothing more than “a mighty mountain of crap.”
I visited this mighty mountain of crap last January to view the tiny but tasteful exhibit honoring the late Jeff Buckley, one of my musical heroes. Now, I could be confusing my tits-and-bodily-fluid film genre here, but I vaguely recall a scene in the third and (let’s hope) final entry in the AMERICAN PIE trilogy called AMERICAN WEDDING, where one of the characters had to search through a steaming pile of dog feces to fetch out a wedding ring that had been digested by the canine culprit. That pretty much sums up the day’s experience in Cleveland for my girlfriend and me, except, well, she had to put up with me the whole time. (And if you’ve ever suffered through the RnR HOF, you understand what a tower of shite the place really is.) Our day went something like this:
Me: “Did you find the Buckley exhibit yet?”
My girlfriend: “Nope, not yet. You see anything?”
Me: “Nada. Any Eddie Vedder artifacts?”
My girlfriend: “Nope, not yet. But they do have those weird puppets from that Alice-in-Chains video.”
Me: “Cool, but there’s no sign of any Buckley stuff yet?”
My girlfriend: “Relax, I’ll let you know if I find some.”
Me: “Do they at least have Vedder’s combat boots?”
My girlfriend: “No, Josh, I didn’t see any Doc Martins yet. Relax, I’ll let you know if I find some.”
Me: “What about Richard Ashcroft? Any Verve items?”
My girlfriend: “You mean John Ashcroft silly? Maybe I’ll just go wait in the truck and listen to the radio.”
Truth is, my girlfriend probably should have waited in the truck and played some CDs. She would have had a more genuine rock ’n roll experience than the one we “paid” for that day, and boy, did we pay. I did somehow manage to find my golden ring, the Jeff Buckley exhibit, in that vacuum sealed pile of costumes and stage props known as the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. ‘Course, I couldn’t take any pictures of it, but that’s okay, because the memories are always better when they’re left untouched, something the curators at the RnR Hall of Fame haven’t quite figured out yet. Maybe they never will. One thing's for sure, though: DeRogatis’s MILK IT! brought back a lot of fond memories, many good, some not, but all of them worth recalling, or…milking, even if just for a little longer,--or at least until this decade can come up with something better.
Squib Central is written by Joshua Jabcuga and is published every Thursday exclusively at www.moviepoopshoot.com. When not working on his column,
Mr. Jabcuga can be found waxing one of Jann Wenner’s cars. He also recently came across a revelation of sorts: pop chanteuse Dido is one “L” removed from being named after a sex toy. Genius!
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