Your Band Sucks
Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear)
By Jon Fine
Rock memoirs are a dime a dozen these days. The rock memoir has certainly become an institution of American, uh, “literature?” Just go to any of the three remaining independent bookstores in America and you’ll find stacks of them – probably an entire section devoted to, um, “rock books.”
I am a sucker for rock books. I read Keith Richards’ book where he bragged about having a bigger dick than Mick Jagger. I read Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler’s book where he bragged about having the biggest dick in a big dicked band. (According to Adler, everyone in G’N’F’N’R is packin’ a rod – but his had, ahem, maximum firepower, so to speak.) Hell, I even read Slash’s book, where he bragged about getting herpes from Izzy Stradlin in a sloppy seconds related mishap. (Yikes.)
Yes, the rock book genre is essentially a dick contest – or a limbo game. How low can you go?
Former Bitch Magnet guitarist Jon Fine has admirably bucked the rock book dick contest trend with his memoir, Your Band Sucks: What I saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear). Unlike the preponderance of rock books, Fine’s memoir is much more than (and much different from) the usual longwinded tally of drugs taken, band breakups and reunions, rehab attempts and pussies trounced.
OK, I’ll admit something here. I hardly ever listened to Bitch Magnet back in the day, and I don’t really remember that much about their sound. Yeah, they were a noisy indie rock band that used odd time signatures. Yeah, they were a band whose name is mentioned (along with Slint) whenever “math rock” is being discussed – and what a dubious distinction that is. (Does this mean that Bitch Magnet wins the math rock dick contest? You know, I don’t really care. I digress.)
Anyway, Bitch Magnet was a moderately successful indie rock band that sold tens of thousands of records and toured internationally in the late ’80s. They sure as hell didn’t get rich, but apparently the band was important to quite a few people.
Your Band Sucks is primarily a memoir of Fine’s time in Bitch Magnet and the band’s reunion that spanned 2011-2013. Fine writes: In the eighties and early nineties I was certain we [Bitch Magnet] were participating in something important. Something that would change the world, or the world of culture, at least. I was, of course, completely wrong, and neglecting to consider how the world would eventually change the music and the people who made it, but that’s a common mistake of youth. …But there was a great power in being young and not knowing those things. And you could be certain that if you pointed your van or car toward any city or college town, you could find the people who didn’t know those things, either.
So, Fine’s memoir is an account of a band that didn’t exactly “make it,” a band that kind of knew that the brass ring of popularity and mainstream success was always beyond their grasp. Hell, they were a damned math rock band.
The charm of Your Band Sucks is that it doesn’t follow the usual rock book narrative arc of rags to riches – and then back to rags (when the band breaks up) and back to riches (when the band regroups). Still, Bitch Magnet was kind of known. And yes, they did regroup decades later. But they didn’t make it big in their first incarnation – and they didn’t get rich the second time around, either. Still, this is no sad sack story.
(ATL-Related Fun Facts: Bitch Magnet lived in Atlanta for three months in the summer of 1987. During this period the band only played out a couple of times – once at a loft party with Dead Elvis and Porn Orchard. Fine also has fond memories of Wuxtry Records in Decatur. Them was the days.)
Fine’s memoir is suffused with a sense of yearning – for the audacity, idealism and innocence of youth, for the righteous indignation of obscurity, and for what might have been. In the ’80s, Fine championed (and lived) the DIY ethos with religion-like zeal. He was, in this way, a True Believer. But then he lost his religion, so to speak. The realities of economics and middle age finally wore him down. So he capitulated, quit being in a fulltime band, and joined the urban middle class. (Now, Fine is an Executive editor of Inc. magazine.) Your Band Sucks chronicles this fall from grace – or getting real – however you wanna interpret it.
Fine is an excellent writer. The book is funny, insightful and fun to read. And anyone who has ever been in band or intensely involved in a music scene will be able to relate to Fine’s story. On occasions he veers into passages of overwrought, self-aggrandizing, semi-poetic cadence – but always manages to reign it back. In this way, Your Band Sucks mirrors the rhythmic chaos of Bitch Magnet’s math rock. So I guess Bitch Magnet must have been a pretty cool band, after all.