Tag Archives: Berkeley

Dave Eggers Goes Retro

It’s derivative…

“…we, the loudmouths who so cloyingly espouse the unshackling of one’s ideas about work and life…”

“If you don’t want anyone to know about your existence, you might as well kill yourself…   You will die, and when you die, you will know a profound lack of dignity.”A heartbreaking work

There’s been an ongoing dispute over Dave Eggers.   His initial novel, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, came out in 2000 (hardbound) and 2001 (trade paperback).   Some viewed him as a genius – “like a young Bob Dylan” in the words of the Washington Post – while others just found his writing style to be clever.   After reading this book, I tend to concur with the latter group.   Eggers is clearly funny and he has an obvious knack for writing humor but content-wise there’s not much here.   Heartbreaking is a bit like Seinfeld, which was a TV show about nothing.

Here Eggers fictionalizes his own life, when both of his parents die while he’s in his early twenties and he moves from Lake Forest, Illinois to Berkeley.   Oh, and he also takes care of his nine-year-old brother while his sister studies law at Bolt Hall.   That’s about it for the plot except for Eggers’s work in starting a magazine and auditioning for The Real World, MTV’s so-called reality show.   (Eggers, of course, is not selected to live in the fun house in San Francisco.)

Eggers seems to be at his best when telling shaggy dog stories.   For example, he tells a story of when he and a date were jumped on a San Francisco beach by a group of Hispanics.   He blames them for stealing his late father’s wallet but the reader figures out halfway through the lark that Eggers left the wallet at home in Berkeley.   Not so clever or funny.

Eggers looks back more than once at the 70’s.   But this book is actually a throw back to the 60’s, and this is the biggest flaw with Eggers’s not-so-unique style.   While the style is entertaining, it’s a blatant return to the Gonzo rock journalism practiced back then by Lester Bangs, Ben Fong-Torres (who appears as himself in the novel The Year of Fog) and others too obvious to mention.  

Reading this “work of fiction” in which all the events are said to “have actually happened,” is like hearing a newly formed rock band that sounds like the Beatles and Badfinger.   One would be tempted to say, “Good work but we’ve already been there, done that.”   Next.

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon.

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Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs: West of the West

Decades ago, the late singer Marty Robbins recorded an album entitled “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.”   This would be an appropriate sub-title for this book of essays by Fresno-based writer Mark Arax.   In Arax’s world, California is still the wild, wild, west inhabited by gunslingers, drifters, grafters, and others up to little good.   On the positive side, a few of the essays read like articles from old issues of New West magazine.   On the negative, there’s just a bit too much paranoia in this world, which is why most of the material reads like excerpts from the long-departed Ramparts magazine.

“When I strolled into People’s Park and onto the Berkeley campus and found the steps of Sproul Hall there wasn’t one man raging to thousands about throwing his body into the gears of the machine but thousands, en masse, heedless, staring into the iridescence of their cell phones.”   Are we not about 45 years removed from Mario Savio?

For a book that purports to examine the exciting present times and culture of California, this collection was, sadly, too past-directed for this reader’s tastes.

Joseph Arellano

Public Affairs, $26.95, 347 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.Arax West

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The Rain Falls on Bad Moon Rising (a book review…)

Let me provide a warning right up front…   If you’re a huge John C. Fogerty (JCF) fan and wish to remain as such, you may not want to read this book.   If you’re on the fence about Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and not sure whether they were a great band or simply both a lucky and extraordinarily unlucky one, this book may convince you that the latter is more likely the case.   This band biography is simply not a pretty picture which is why Bad Moon Rising is subtitled, “The Unauthorized History of CCR.”

How bad does JCF come off here?   On page 293 of this 316-page treatise, he’s quoted as saying:  “We call these Beatles songs and I guess we call them Monkees songs, and in my case we call them Creedence songs.   But actually, John Fogerty wrote all the songs.   So I think now that I’m out in this limelight, I’m going to try and straighten out that misconception.”

Ouch!   Not only does JFC compare CCR to both Those Guys and The Monkees, but he refers to himself (Himself?) in the third person.   The book does, on the plus side, clear up the misconception that JCF refused to appear at the deathbed of his brother Tom.   But little else here puts either JCF or the two other surviving CCR members – now in Creedence Clearwater Revisited – in a positive light.

Slogging through this book is like revisiting the worst parts of your own family’s history while watching an unpleasant soap opera on the tube.   And remember all those stories about Saul Zaentz, founder and head of Berkeley-based Fantasy Records, as the supposed bad guy (which culminated with JCF’s solo song Zanz Can’t Dance/Vanz Can’t Dance)?   There’s little here dealing with this, which may even be fortunate.

Bottom line, there’s more unsaid than said in this not so definitive book which was advertised as covering “30-odd years of legal wrangling, thwarted ambitions and lost potential.”   Lost potential for the reader, definitely.

For me, it has been more difficult to listen to either JCF or CCR since reading this book.   No more unauthorized band biographies for me, as long as I can see the light.

Joseph Arellano

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer.

Reprinted courtesy of the Troy Bear blog; originally posted on April 27, 2009.

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