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October 27, 2011

Book Notes - Mark Yarm ("Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Mark Yarm's Everybody Loves Our Town is an exhaustive and definitive oral history of the grunge era.

The Wall Street Journal wrote of the book:

"Mr. Yarm's book is a comprehensive and often fascinating assessment of the Seattle scene, a music revolution that ate its own children."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Mark Yarm's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge:

When you're doing publicity for a book about grunge, a lot of websites ask you to provide them with a list of your favorite grunge songs. This is not one of those lists. What follows are some songs that remind me of specific moments in time during the three years I spent working on Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge.

1. Mudhoney - "Overblown"

Early on, I proposed naming the book after Mudhoney's wisecracking, scene-deflating contribution to the Singles soundtrack. My editor pointed out that calling a 500-plus-page book Overblown would undercut what was shaping up to be a "definitive" tome on the grunge scene, so I settled on a line from the song instead. Mudhoney singer Mark Arm (no relation) is someone who's understandably jaded about all things grunge, so I was nervous when it came time to tell him the title I'd chosen. His succinct reaction: "Ehh."

2. Soundgarden - "Spoonman"

After the music magazine I worked for folded in March 2009, I took a much-needed month-long break to hike the Appalachian Trail with my wife. A few days into the trip, somewhere in Georgia, Bonnie and I began hiking with Brian, a former beekeeper who adopted the trail name Beeman. It wasn't long before I started singing "Beeman," to the tune of Soundgarden's 1994 hit "Spoonman," as a form of greeting him. It became a running (walking?) joke of sorts. Yes, you really had to be there.

3. Iggy Pop - "The Passenger"
4. Iggy Pop - "Lust for Life"

A couple of nights after witnessing Soundgarden's first show in 13 years, at the Showbox in Seattle, I went out drinking with half the reunited band—guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Ben Shepherd—at a local watering hole of theirs. As Kim and I exited the establishment around four in the morning, Ben and a bunch of regulars were still going strong, all of them dancing atop the bar to one or the other of these Iggy Pop songs (the memory's a bit fuzzy).

5. Hole - "Malibu"

Over the past few years, the last thing I've wanted to listen to during my downtime was grunge music. It just reminded me too much of work. Which is why I was none too thrilled when my wife—inspired by what I'd told her about my predictably unpredictable interviews with Courtney Love—went on a major Hole binge, repeatedly blasting Celebrity Skin on our home stereo. Bonnie's calmed down since, but one of her life ambitions remains to sing a karaoke duet of "Malibu" with Courtney Love. Frankly, I don't see this happening anytime soon.

6. Butthole Surfers - "The O-Men"
7. Butthole Surfers - "Sweet Loaf"

Austin punk legends the Butthole Surfers had a strong kinship with Seattle proto-grungers the U-Men ("The O-Men" is the Buttholes' crazed tribute to them) and toured with Nirvana. So I was hoping to interview the band's singer, Gibby Haynes, who just so happens to live in my Brooklyn neighborhood. (It took me a while to confirm that the sensibly dressed guy I'd see walking my block was indeed the onetime drug-gobbler who famously rubbed his genitals on Amy Carter's suitcase). In winter 2009, I found myself in line with Gibby at the local health food store, but I didn't introduced myself—I chickened out, reassuring myself that I'd have plenty more chances to do so. Of course, I haven't seen Gibby in the neighborhood since, and more conventional efforts to get in touch with him proved fruitless. The moral of the story? To quote Gibby's spoken-word intro to "Sweet Loaf": "Well, son, a funny thing about regret is that it's better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven't done."

8. The Fluid - "Is It Day I'm Seeing?"
9. Alice in Chains - "Fear the Voices"

Sadly, two of the musicians I interviewed for the book, Ricky Kulwicki of the Fluid, and Mike Starr of Alice in Chains, passed away earlier this year. Kulwicki, who was 49, succumbed to arteriosclerosis, and Starr, 44, died of a suspected drug overdose. Even though I'd never met either of them in person, news of both these premature deaths really shook me. A single parent, Kulwicki left behind twin teenage sons, Richard and Roman, who play together in a band called the Purple Fluid; you can contribute to the memorial fund for the kids here. Mike Starr's family has requested that all donations in his memory go to MusiCares.

Mark Yarm and Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge links:

the book's Tumblr
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Bloomburg Businessweek review
Independent review
Montreal Mirror review
Mule Variations review
Observer review
Paste review
Telegraph review
Wall Street Journal review
Washington Independent Review of Books review
Washington Post review

The Cult interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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