Guided by Voices

Greer, James. Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-one Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll.  New York; Black Cat, 2005.

“They are just making music I would make, if I could make music”

– Steven Sodenbergh, from “In Lieu of an Actual Introduction”

 

One of the best bands to come out of Ohio (Dayton) over the last 20 years, Guided by Voices emerged on the national scene in 1993 — during the height of alternative rock — with the albums Propeller and Vampire on Titus.  Eventually GBV became an international cult classic, signing to Matador Records and gaining notoriety for their long drunken live shows.

GBV was a different sort of band.  Recording with 4 and 8 track technology, they were lo-fi before lo-fi was something. And perhaps more significantly, they were old: band leader Robert Pollard taught elementary school for 14 years before being “discovered” at age 36.  GBV has made news in the last year, regrouping with the classic lineup for a small tour in 2010 and recording new material for an album due out early 2012.  What better time to look at James Greer’s band bio, written shortly after the band’s “last” show on New Year’s Eve 2004.

Reading the beginning of Hunting Accidents (as it is referred within the text) is maddening: James Greer is not your typical rock biographer.  In fact he’s more like a cult member (“[…] free will is a thing granted both by God and by Bob, and like God, Bob will only smite you if you abuse the privilege” (36)).  To the uninitiated, the megalomania that goes into the description of GBV frontman Robert Pollard is over the top.  Before we even get to the band, there are lists of Pollard’s drinking buddies and endless stories of childhood athletics, even testimony from Pollard’s son about growing up with the man as your father and pee-wee football coach.    Continue reading

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Under Glass

Hirt, Jen. Under Glass: The Girl with a Thousand Christmas Trees. Akron, Ohio: Ringtaw Books, 2010.

Stongsville is a rapidly growing western suburb of Cleveland; a town of less than 10,000 residents in 1960 and now a city of over 44,000.  I have driven through Stongsville on several occasions and it feels much more like the modern suburb that it has become than the semi-rural town that Jen Hirt’s great-grandfather set up the family’s greenhouse in 1915.  Hirt’s collection of essays, Under Glass, is not directly about the changes that have occurred to Strongsville, but it deals with the gradual upheavals and endings that generally follows youth into adulthood.

Though Under Glass has an overarching theme covering four generations of greenhouse keepers and the eventual sale and demolition of the buildings, the writing is very accessible to non-greenthumbed reader.  Essays on greenhouse design seamlessly discuss divorce, religion, and death.

Most of the essays are good enough to stand by themselves, but Under Glass as a whole is much better.  Unlike a memoir collection by David Sedaris, where the stories can be read (or not read) in any order, Hirt’s selections have a natural flow to them.  Though the author states in the introduction that the essays are “each on a theme, not at all chronological’, there is a straight (though expansive) story from the family history and childhood memories told in ‘A Girl with a Thousand Christmas’ to the reflective ‘Near a Fine Woods’, where she completes her grandmothers history of their home; several years after the home has been demolished. Continue reading