Category Archives: Books

Book Review: Jason Molina: Riding with the Ghost – Erin Osmon

For those who know the name Jason Molina, there is a certain unspoken agreement that his talents were plucked from his adoring fans far too soon.

As many know, he was a musical genius who succumbed to an addiction he could never overcome and in turn put down his guitar and great talent in order to hold on to a bottle.

I call myself a fan, but a Molina novice at best.  I openly admit that I am one of those late fans who never got to see him play live and grew to appreciate his entire catalog after his passing.  I can not say I have ever quite heard music like what Molina created.

I didn’t know the whole story of a man who got his start less than an hour from where I live.  I knew he was with Secretly Canadian and knew how he passed, but I knew nothing in between.

It only seems fitting to have someone collect all the memories, both good and bad, and put them into a book for all inquiring minds like mine.  This biography, to be released by Rowman & Littlefield on May 15th, was full of memories and folklore about a mysterious individual who took his music far past any boundaries ever set prior and in doing so did it his way.

Jason Molina: Riding with the Ghost, written by Erin Osmon, pretty much answered questions about Molnia’s life that some of me never wanted to know.  From tales of his youth in a trailer park Lorain, OH to memories in recording studios and overseas, this family-authorized book really covered it all.

Family, friends, bandmates, and even tourmates all provided insight to the life of Molina.  Where most of the book spoke on Molina’s journeys from Songs: Ohia to Magnolia Electric Company and even his solo work and impromptu sessions, the book also brought to light family tensions, failed relationships, depression, and of course the demise of greatness.

Molina’s college days and the years shortly after were probably my favorite recollections to read.  Obviously, the toughest parts to read were about his separation from his wife and an attempt at recovery through bandmates and the very label he helped get their start.

It was interesting to learn how Molina formulated his albums in homes and studios alone and with others.  I was also fascinated learning about his life outside of the music including living conditions and places of employment.

Reading how Molina got material released by Secretly Canadian seemed like something that would have happened in a comedy movie, but it was all true.  He was the stepping stone of a label that may not have gotten their start had they never connected.

Molina’s humor style as told by others made me laugh more than once.  His approach with his bands though seemed rather repressed at times, especially when he would up and leave without communicating properly to those involved.

The book obviously was not all fun and games.  Reading about uncomfortable obsessions and how they were put to song made me realize the inventiveness Molina’s mysterious mind carried.  The self-sabotaging of a musical career as told in detail, really opened my eyes and held my interest to the point I couldn’t put down the book.  The marriage that never ended in divorce was painful to absorb but the love that remained was inspiring.

The last few chapters were very difficult for me to read as I lost an uncle to alcoholism earlier this year.  The stories of the support Molina received by loved ones and all of the chances given to him that were eventually passed upon just reminded me of what addiction can do to someone.  Reading about the deterioration of a proud man who kept too many secrets just hit too close to home for me.

Overall, the book carried a life-spanning account of a musician from his young days on Lake Erie to his final days secluded in a room slowly drowning his life away.  The emotions were really felt through this book from those who were stunned at his approach to making music to finding out their friend was no more.

My only small distress with this book is at times it seemed the author had a synonym book handy that was used frequently.  Perhaps it was I, the reader, who needs to dip deeper in to a more prolific writing style, but in the first chapter alone, Molina’s father was referenced as a “patriarch” and the term “spinning platters” was used over playing records.

Eventually I was able to get in tune with Osmon’s style, but there were times I just felt some of the vocabulary used was just too much and interfered with the story-telling.  One thing Osmon did well was put all of the memories and stories together in a chronological order making it easy to set down the book and pick it up again without losing your spot.

The copy that I read was not the final copy but one provided to me early on my the publisher, so there is a chance things will be changed.  I will tell you this, the chapters at times were long, but they were read through quickly as the memories were so well put together.

Fans of Molina will appreciate this book due to all of the content Osmon was able to hunt down over the span of three years.  There were so many angles of Molina’s life put down in this book and I am sure it was not easy for Osmon to capture it all, yet she did it well.

As an added bonus to die-hard Molina fans, Secretly Canadian is releasing a limited-edition bundle of the book with a LP pressing of a 1994 Jason Molina WOBC radio session at Oberlin College.  Where I failed to pre-order my copy in time before it sold out, I did get to listen to the performance and I can tell you it is beautiful and will haunt you, but not in a scary way.  Molina even back in 1994 was so laid back and happy to be sharing his songs with others.  Personally speaking, I think had I heard that session live back then on the radio, I would have been a changed man.

Jason Molina: Riding with the Ghost is available for pre-order through Rowman & Littlefield, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and other fine retailers.

Book Review: Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock’s Most Famous Anarchist Sellout – Laura Jane Grace with Dan Ozzi

I wasn’t always a fan of Against Me!  In fact, I was turned off by the idea of that band in the early 2000s.  I refused to listen to them.

This was due in part to a group of obsessed punk kids I sparingly partied with at Kent State who played them over and over nightly, declaring they were the greatest band of all time.  I never gave them a true chance.  I was just annoyed I guess.

It was not until I caught Against Me! live at a small club that I started to appreciate them and realized those little punk kids were actually on to something.  Soon after that show, I declared myself a fan.  I have been ever since.

For years, I would catch them live any chance I could and even was lucky enough to shoot some of their shows at Warped Tours and also at the House of Blues in Cleveland.  Being up close and personal while they played was always a treat for me as not only was I taking photos of a band I dug, but also really got to take in their stage presence.

Hell, Warren Oakes (Against Me!’s former drummer) used to smile directly at me every time I pointed my camera at him.  That right there was just great.

I thought Tom Gabel was the coolest and not only loved the band he started, but enjoyed his style and swagger.  I once tried to emulate him of sorts by buying shoes and black jeans like what he rocked. I still have the shoes today, but me in those black jeans are not anything anyone needs to see.

I had always hoped to catch him before or after a show where I could strike up a conversation with him and we would become fast friends.  It was a typical fan expectation that never happened and I’m not mad about it.   I am just grateful for the experiences I had being able to shoot Against Me! as they played songs I adored.

The last time I saw Tom Gabel play live, he had grown his hair long.  Never in a million years would I have guessed his reasoning behind that.  Soon after that show, Tom Gabel was gone, and Laura Jane Grace emerged.

Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock’s Most Famous Anarchist Sellout is an memoir by Laura Jane Grace, with help from Dan Ozzi, that tells the whole story.

Props to Grace for spilling her heart out to anyone curious to know about her life and all the shit she went thought to get there.  The book takes it all the way back to a young boy with a broken family, a kept away secret, years of rebellion, and of course the start of a band.  Throughout, Grace fought with coming to terms with a feeling embedded in her mind and made it a reality no matter how difficult the outcome would be for herself and others.  She also talked about how the anarchist DIY punk band sold out and the hell endured trying to make it big.

Reading about the life and times of Against Me! from Grace’s first person point of view was fascinating enough, but learning about her coming to terms with her gender dysphoria was even more interesting, especially while building up a band and touring the world.

I cannot imagine how tough it has to have been for her to hide all of the feelings and essentially have an affair with herself, secluding the truth from everyone she loved including her wife and bandmates.  With great detail, Grace shared memories of when she realized she felt she was a she and not a he.  This wasn’t something that just happened overnight.

I do not wish to ruin anything for anyone who has not had the chance to read this book by going into great detail, but will say this:  Some of the stories are funny, some are haunting, and all are honest.

Memories with the Rancid, Blink 182, Har Mar Superstar, and even Marilyn Manson really kept the pages turning for me.  I smiled and even laughed out loud while reading some chapters while during others re-read sentences just to make sure I fully understood what had just happened.

It can’t be easy for a band who’s trying to make it big with the major labels while knowingly losing their fan base because of it.  Add on top of that a member who is struggling with their gender identification and at the brink of giving it all up,  I’m shocked the band didn’t just implode.

Fueled with drugs, depression, anger, and also love, Grace’s road to accepting herself was nothing short of futile.

It killed me to read how miserable she and the band were at times when they played in front of their fans, including me.  It never occurred to me the facade all of the band members put on for the sake of their fans.

The triumphant moment within this biography, when Gabel turned into Grace and started telling others the hidden secret, was built up so well thanks to Grace’s recollections and Ozzi’s sorting out the years worth of journal entries.

The epilogue might have been my favorite part of the book as all of my previous questions I had while reading finally were answered.  It was amazing to read that James Bowman was still happily around.   I learned what really happened to Oakes, where Andrew Seward went, and what they all really thought of Jay Weinberg.  I also found out what happened with the marriage and more importantly, what happened with their daughter.    The last few sentences in the memoir put the biggest smile on my face.

I learned a lot about Grace in the book.  I truly have a great about of respect for her in how brave she was to release this chronicle of her life.  I am sure this was not an easy thing to do, but sharing her story is inspiring to me and I am sure tons of other readers.

Everyone owes it to themselves to read Tranny.  It won’t hurt you, I promise.  In fact, it’s probably one of the most interesting stories I have ever read about someone.

Book Review: NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories

NOFXI distinctively remember the first time I heard NOFX in the 90s.

I was a friend’s house who told me there was a band I had to hear and before asking who, he immediately played NOFX for me.  The very second that music hit my ears, I turned into a fan.

I loved their crass style and catchy songs to the point I went out that same day and bought a handful of NOFX cassettes where I proceeded to memorize all of the songs.  I would listen to I Heard They Suck Live daily and even unsuccessfully looked for a pair of NOFX shorts as seen on White Trash, Two Heebs, and Bean album cover.

In 1996, I got to see NOFX for the first time live at a Warped Tour that was held on a gravel parking lot.  There is so much to this story I do not care to get into, but it was pretty much the day that I knew I would be a fan forever.

Last Spring, NOFX released a tell all (and  mean tell all) autobiography titled NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories.  With help from Jeff Alulis, the band all took turns telling stories of how they all came to be without holding back anything.

Chapter one started with a confession of the drinking of urine.  From there, the autobiography was everything  expected from to hear from the boys, but there was so much more that I was not ready for including the personal hardships, the suicides, and especially the murders that were revealed.

I loved how the book was split into various chapters by previous and current members.  Sometimes the chapters complimented one another’s recollections, while others were random for a moment and then touched back on something else said.  Where they were not exactly in chronological order, they followed suit enough where I never was trying to connect the dots.  It was almost like I was just hanging out with everyone in a room listening to random stories.

The content was funny, serious, and scary as hell at times.  Where a lot of the band spoke on the good times being in NOFX and touring the world, a lot was spent talking about severe drug abuse and the insane adventures they were involved in.  Reading various memories from original members and current members really encompassed all angles on the story of NOFX.

I loved reading about the bands they saw as kids and the bands they toured with.  Hearing them talk about Rancid and the Offspring signing to major labels while they held their own was interesting.  I was shocked to even learn that NOFX almost signed to a major label but collectively changed their minds and did things their way.

Of course the part where they all talked about playing at Eric Melvin’s aunt and uncle’s house in Aurora, OH stuck with me.  I grew up next to that city and wished to hell I could have seen them play outside in a suburban neighborhood.  Truth is, I was probably a bit too young then, but the best part about this story is that I actually became friend’s with Melvin’s cousin.  She introduced me to his parents once (if you’re reading this, hi Suzanne!)

Reading about Smelly’s heroin addiction and how he eventually overcame it was just intense.  At first, his stories were humorous and chaotic, but soon became almost uncomfortable to read, especially the ones he told as a full blown junkie who hit rock bottom.  One of his stores that had me laughing out loud though was about a stolen van and a kid who turned out to be Billie Joe Armstrong.  When the pieces came together a few chapters later, I lost it.

Fat Mike kept things unfiltered and entertaining.  I know more about his sex life now than I ever cared to, but I made sure I read all of it.  I was mostly surprised to read that he was not the biggest embarrassment early on (sans his singing).  It is crazy to have finished this book knowing that shortly after its release, he decided to chill out on things and go for treatment all because of his pal Tony Sly.  Fat Mike say seem like an a-hole on stage, but he is a family man and a loyal friend.  I really enjoyed reading his story from start to finish.

El Hefe had me cracking up many times with his stories, mostly when he first started the band, but the one thing in the book that I will never forget was the photo he shared with himself and Tori Amos.  If you read the book, I am hoping you know exactly what I am talking about.  I also appreciated learning how he grew up and became the man he is today.

The fact that the band members dropped their own moments of truth to one another in print for the first time just made this book so much more real to me.  Kept promises were broken and made public because they needed to heard and the autobiography was the perfect place to release.  The admissions clearly would open up healed wounds, but were probably never meant to be hidden forever.

Reading how they went from learning about punk rock at an adolescent age to becoming one of the most prolific bands in the punk rock community and beyond was just perfect.  Sadly, the road they traveled for 30 years to get there was not a smooth ride and not easy to read at times.  I especially appreciated not only learning about NOFX, but also other avenues by the band including Smelly’s motocross company, Melvin’s coffee shop, and El Hefe’s hot mess of a nightclub.

You really don’t need to be a fan of NOFX or punk rock for that matter to enjoy this book.  Their stories in this book will suck you in and Jeff Alulis did a great job putting it into print.

Granted it took me a little longer to finish this book than I wanted to, I will tell you that I read almost half of it in just two nights as I could not put it down.  I can honestly say I finished the last chapter with a smile on my face and even a bigger appreciation for the band who I’ve been a fan of now for over 20 years.

If you are just looking for a group of dudes telling you true stories from a punk rock, drug fueled life, NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories is a must read.  For the record, you will learn about the bathtub and it is a little nastier than you might think.