Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Most Hated Book in Amazon History, and How I Came to Write It

So there I was in 2003, newly (a year before) relocated to the United Kingdom, bored senseless, and without an income. An editor from a publishing house that specialized in music biographies remembered me from when I stopped Led Zeppelin in their tracks, and took me to lunch in Soho, over which he asked if I’d like to write a book for him. Actually, I wanted to write as many books for him (or anyone else whose cheque wouldn’t bounce) as possible. He showed me a list of possible subjects. I chose Kate Bush because I’d loved “Wuthering Heights,” and because the editor knew she was inaccessible, meaning he wouldn’t expect lots of spicy revelations. I’d been working on a novel about a body-dysmorphic guy who imagined himself morbidly obese, and mused that I could easily make an obsession with La Bush another of his…issues. The editor agreed. I also chose The Pixies (and the solo career of their leader, Black Francis/Frank Black), for no good reason at all. I hadn’t liked what very little of their music I’d heard, but they were the only Americans on the list, and this was before George W. Bush & Co. made me ashamed to be an American. I hoped it might be fun to research and then recount their story. I greatly enjoy research, and storytelling.

I contacted their manager, a lapsed psychotherapist. Maybe the group would make themselves available to me, and maybe they wouldn’t. He’d have to think it over. In the meantime, I began reading everything I could get my hands on about the group, and reaching out to everyone on earth who might know something about them. I interviewed their producer, who didn’t realize that I hadn’t been sanctified by Lapsed Shrink. I exhaustively interviewed two musicians who’d worked with Frank Black after the Pixies broke up. I wanted not to have to write about the music (which, as noted, I disliked), but instead to recount their history in detail. Eventually, though, Lapsed Shrink advised that his charges had decided against speaking to me, consigning me to the woeful position of having, to come anywhere near the number of words I’d promised, to write —a lot! — about the music. Another fucking Critical Overview, as I’d had to do almost 20 years before with The Kinks! It soon became clear that even if I forced myself to say something about every track in The Pixies’ dismal oeuvre,  I would have to take Drastic Measures to produce enough words. 

I resolved to recount, in alternating chapters, how the group’s music had changed the life of one (fictitious) fan over the years. Listening to all of the Pixies and Frank Black’s recorded output began very quickly to feel like cruel and unusual punishment, and it got more excruciating as the latter’s solo career progressed. I hoped that my book’s readers would be slightly mollified by my sympathetic portrayal of the group’s fictitious fan, Vicky.

They were not. Oh boy, were they not! In the wake of my book’s publication, Amazon fairly staggered at the ferocity of the denunciations that its servers came to house. Twenty-two of 23 reviewers gave it only one star out of a possible five, and several bemoaned their inability to give it no stars at all. “This book is a piece of garbage,” seethed Jordan Cooper, representatively. “For a book about music it is extremely heartless and cruel. It's really a miserable read. Meaning, it will put you in a bad mood when you read it. I was shocked at what a miserable bastard the author is.”

Snarled K. Buckley, “Not only is [sic] the worst musical bio I've ever read, it is undoubtedly the worst book I've ever picked off the shelf…Besides the criminally lame fiction which occupies over 50% of this bomb, what is it with Mendelssohn's pathological fixation on Matthew Broderick?” [I honestly don’t remember mentioning him.] L. C. Nielsen emphatically seconded K. Buckley’s emotion: “Very simply, the writing in this book is so terrible it's nearly unreadable.” A reader who enigmatically identified himself as qrter was slightly more moderate, at least until he or she fell into a syntactical hole of his or her own digging: “I was terribly disappointed by this book, to say the least. This book isn't about the Pixies, it's about Mendelssohn and especially his terrible writing. The book contains everything that can be bad about music journalism: an author who constantly is trying to be wry and witty (but just comes of [sic] as forced and very repetitive [sic]), thinks we read the book because he has written it (therefore trying to be An Author, again just resulting in forced prose) and not because of the subject and mistakenly thinking the reading public actually cares what he thinks about the subject.” [And you thought I was hard to follow!]

He or she continues, “Mendelssohn likes to pull a quote from an interview he has found and then reacting [sic] directly to what Black says there — not only is the quote taken completely out of context but Black obviously has no chance to react.” [Well, actually, you truculent little shit, I kept offering him Chances to React until the day I submitted my manuscript.]

Gasped Zelle Nic, “Good Nite! This is without a doubt the worst book I have ever read. What's worse is this actually got published. How?!! I felt like a 12 year old wrote this.”

“Does he even like this band?” wonders Jana. “If he doesn't why write a book about them?

And that was really the heart of the matter, wasn’t it? Only around a year after its publication did it dawn on me, with the help of my occasional friend Handsomeboy Fitzgerald, the intellectual thug, that if I’d pretended to share their enthusiasm for this appalling group, my readers might very well have found my book gloriously well researched and sublimely written.



  1. Ha, ha, ha. You just sold me on the book.

    During one excruciating tour (1991) up the West Coast one of the guys in my band insisted on playing a cassette of "Surfer Rosa" over and over again in the van. I wanted to crush his skull in the worst way.

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