Due to summer vacations, public corporate events, and family visits, my blog has been laid low like the poor Washington Nationals over the past month. Life gets very complicated and chaotic in ways that are unpredictable. During this time, I decided to finish a book on my increasingly growing Amazon watchlist, OVER THE ELECTRIC GRAPEVINE: INSIGHT INTO PRIMUS AND THE WORLD OF LES CLAYPOOL. To understand why I would read a novel about a band whose heyday existed in the early 90s, it is important to go back to the beginning of when the Expert of Some first discovered Primus.
Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area, Irwindale, California, 1993, the eve of Lollapalooza 1993.The lineup consisted of seven bands: RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, TOOL, FRONT 242, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, FISHBONE, ALICE IN CHAINS and PRIMUS. The tour earlier had BABES IN TOYLAND and DINOSAUR JR. who did not play during this last segment of the concert. My friends and I got a hotel for the evening in nearby Arcadia, a quick walk from Santa Anita Horse Track. Because of a wandering friend who disappeared on his skateboard that night (Which made us even more nervous after we went to ask about his whereabouts at Santa Anita and were greeted by some people acting very bizarrely), none of us got any sleep. Our “friend” re-appeared at our hotel early in the morning right before we had to leave for the concert. Among all of us, I got the most sleep with an impressive three total hours. On August 8th, 1993, just days before my 19th birthday, I went to the best rock concert of my life. After FISHBONE came out and blew the crowd away, we watched a subdued but impressive performance by ALICE IN CHAINS. And then came PRIMUS to headline. Only being familiar with a couple of their songs up to this point (Which were impressively played rock numbers) like TOMMY THE CAT, JERRY WAS A RACE CAR DRIVER, and TOYS GO WINDING DOWN, I had no idea what to expect. After an almost three-hour performance, I was completely blown away. I had just witnessed my favorite rock performance of all time. Nevertheless, I have seen Primus six times since then and they remain my favorite concert band of all-time.
Approaching 30 years of fandom with a band whose incredibly talented lead singer and bassist looked like he was spawned by a mad scientist out of the DNA of Geddy Lee from RUSH, Les Claypool has always gotten the benefit of the doubt from me regarding his diverse musical output. Even if some of his other music is not as interesting as PRIMUS was. I also do not read novels about bands. Because most of them usually end up telling the same story (Band becomes popular, bandmates have lots of sex, drugs become a problem, personalities begin to clash and this leads to the inevitable breakup which in most cases, eventually leads to a reunion with members that are wiser, more satisfied with their legacy, and sober). The BEASTIE BOYS book released a few years back was more of a history book than a novel about three Jewish boys from New York who became world famous rappers. SCAR TISSUE, Anthony Kiedis’s autobiography about his experience with the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, fell more into the atypical rocker story involving a man with a severe drug and personality problem who succeeded despite his best efforts to fail. OVER THE ELECTRIC GRAPEVINE does not fall into any of these categories. The most interesting part of the book is the first few chapters which lays out the history of the main character in PRIMUS (Les Claypool) and how he arrived at creating one of the most interesting bands of the 1990s. This historical section is the true highlight of the book. Les is truly an interesting man, and many famous rockers and personalities seem to have an opinion about him. The problem I had with the book was more on a fundamental level. Unlike the BEASTIE BOYS who turned over chapters of their books to specific personalities, much of this book was written by the members of PRIMUS and other individuals and rockers that surrounded them during their 1990s heyday. You find out some interesting details. For instance, Tim Alexander and Les Claypool seem to have a particular chemistry problem regarding their personalities. This issue is mentioned but often dismissed by overtly polite writing where they discuss how much they admire each other before diving into the seedier details. This occurs throughout the book and quickly becomes uninteresting. Multiple individuals talk about Les’s aggressiveness towards drummers or his perfectionist personality. But no one every dives into this topic for exploration. Everyone seems like they are protecting their reputations and seem afraid to show the darker sides of their personalities. When I read a book like this, I want to understand these people, the good and the bad. I still lack the understanding of various parts of the PRIMUS timeline. The last three chapters of the book are completely pointless. It is just a summary of the greatness of PRIMUS and how talented and unique each member of the band is written by various other musicians. If I had not already read this over 20 of the previous 27 chapters in one form or another, maybe this would have been interesting. Les is great, unique and has an interesting personality that comes through in his music. So please tell me something else that I do not know. Despite these complaints, the book is fascinating. Les’s open-mindedness towards different experiences has led him to be a part of as many bands as Mike Patton. Kirk Hammett and Matt Stone from SOUTH PARK are two of Les’s best friends. Like myself, Les was one of the only people in his friend base to have children which caused him to distance himself from many of them due to a changing of priorities. All these things were quite interesting, and I wish there would have been more discussion about these topics. How did he balance being a father and a rock star? But despite all of this, Primus remains a fascinating band. You will not find the same problems that have struck down many famous rock bands over the decades. If anything, Les’s divergent interests and his rocky relationship with Tim Alexander were probably the only things that led to any real issues within the band. They were a disciplined trio that just loved to make unique music together and got famous along the way. I recommend this book mostly for people who do not know anything about PRIMUS. Read it and buy their albums or watch a few of their videos on YouTube. Your life will never be the same.
If you want to dive in, watch these videos, listen to their best album, or watch the satirical movie made by Les Claypool.
SAILING THE SEAS OF CHEESE – MY FAVORITE PRIMUS ALBUM
ELECTRIC APRICOT – A SATIRICAL AND QUITE FUNNY MOVIE DIRECTED BY LES CLAYPOOL
EXPERT OF SOME