Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Smell of Death - Bruce Duff

I should preface this review by saying that I've known Bruce for decades now and was even invited to his
wedding to the lovely Else, who was responsible for this book seeing the light of day. So, considering that we've shared innumerable stages over the years, this review might not be as objective as some. And consider that I know many of the characters herein and that I've played with Jeff Dahl (the man whose tour is chronicled in the book), as well. So, to me, this highly enjoyable book read like an old friend sharing road stories - which, essentially, it is.

Opening with a tale of playing a gig in San Francisco with the legendary GG Allin (I never knew before this where the Jeff Dahl album title Vomit Wet Kiss came from), Bruce uses the chaos, anarchy and wretched stink of that show as an analogy for life on the road. The bulk of the book is based on a Jeff Dahl tour of Europe in the early 90's (amazing to me that there is 90's nostalgia already) that included Bruce on bass, Ratboy (of LA glam rockers Motorcycle Boy) on guitar and Jeff Zimmitti (the Ultras) on drums and he does give a good representation of the touring life at this level. The poor accommodations, the cold (there are never summer tours of Europe – you only go while school is in session), the weird venues, the boredom, the frustrations, the flaring tempers, the lack of females (this seems exaggerated in the book – maybe my bands had more gender crossover), the tales of girlfriends back home having plenty of fun (and you wonder what else) without you, the general stir-craziness and doing things - like dancing all night long and making a general fool of yourself in public - that you'd never do at home because you're pretty damn sure that you'll never see any of these people again. Throughout the journey, there are plenty of memorable characters, from crazed fans, to small-town Satanists, to promoters like the legendary Kike from the Pleasure Fuckers, a totally insane but sweet man, who has since passed away.

I knew that this was the tour that my band, the Tommyknockers, met up with the Jeff Dahl Band on the night that we arrived in Germany and Bruce does give us a brief mention – mostly about making out with my bassist, Laura, though nothing more comes of it. Someday I’ll have to review my diary of this tour, as I'm sure there were some interesting events this night that Bruce was not aware of…

Without giving too much away, our heroes survive the tour and the story ends with familiar tales of broken friendships and relationships (I can't count the number of couples that have broken up after one goes on tour - for all kinds of reasons, not simply infidelity), but with some coming out stronger and wiser.

Any touring musician will easily relate to this book, as most have lived it, though I'm not sure what "civilians" will make of it all. But Bruce tells his story with wit, humor, and a highly personable style. If you're interested in discovering the "glamorous" life of a relatively small-time touring rock'n'roller, this is it. For me, this truly was one of those books that you can't put down.