Are You Receiving Me? — The Annotated Boris (Day 4)
By Mike Faloon
Ever since I had an allowance I’ve been a steady book buyer. But from my teens through my early thirties I didn’t read much fiction. That part of the bookstore gave me headaches--I didn't know what to look for and felt stupid as a result. I kept trying different writers, kept trying to find a novel I enjoyed as much as To Kill a Mockingbird, which I'd read in high school, but I kept running aground. Finding non-fiction titles, on the other hand, was easy. First, sports books, then musician biographies. I’d read about virtually any one. Most of the time I wanted to read about the bands I was trying to figure out. (Thank you Nicholas Schaffner for writing The British Invasion and Ira Robbins for those Trouser Press books!) But prior knowledge has hardly a prerequisite. (I had no interest in buying George Jones records but I couldn’t put down I Lived to Tell It All.)
Then about ten years ago I did a 180—I’d finally found writers I could rely on and dove into the fiction stacks. It started with zine writers-turned-novelists such as Jim Munroe, Sean Carswell, and Todd Taylor. Their books boosted my fiction-buying confidence and led me to Lewis Nordan, Kurt Vonnegut, and John Steinbeck, among others. Good times indeed.
It wasn’t until yesterday, reading The Annotated Boris, that I realized the extent to which I've done another half circle in recent months, most of which has been music books. First there was Pete Seeger’s In His Own Words. Then Ed Sanders's Fug You. Then Steve Wishnia’s When the Drumming Stops (well, this is framed as fiction but draws heavily on his days with the False Prophets). Each altered the way I think of the respective era but for the most part they didn't send me back to the music on which the tomes were based. Pete Seeger inspires like few others but his tunes are best consumed in small doses. Ed Sanders helped me chip away at a long held sense that the sixties generation can’t let go and move, but didn’t propel to seeking out his former band, the Fugs. Wishnia’s book is highly recommended—it’s a warts and all look at the punk scene in ‘80s New York, written with a surprising amount of heart—but I’m not about to reopen the False Prophets case file. (Wishnia’s participation in the short lived, criminally overlooked Iron Prostate is a whole other matter. Loud, Fast, and Aging Rapidly!)
With all of these books, though, I'm reading about someone else's era, things that had come and gone while I was still in school or earlier. The Annotated Boris is one of the few music books whose events overlap chronologically with my own--playing pop punk in the '90s, self-releasing 7" records, going to MRR columnist night at Coney Island High. Is there the risk of excessive sentimentality or "you should have been there" nostalgia? Sure thing. To what extent that's a problem is someone else's call. But I'd argue that time period, overlapping or otherwise, isn't the glue that binds with The Annotated Boris. It's this: being an oddball in the U.S. is all right. Children's literature is dense with "You're weird? Party on!" tales, but not so much for adults. It took me awhile to find a subculture that felt right. I agreed with the hippies' politics but not their manner of dress or choice of intoxicants (not to mention the often relaxed approach to personal hygiene.) I was on board for a lot of '80s punk sonically but didn't share the anger nor was I that strident about what others were imbibing (aka the straight edge movement). It wasn't until the pop punk scene of the early '90s that it came into focus--a strong sense of building things yourself, a healthy skepticism for mainstream culture, along with great melodies and a sense of humor.
Boris the Sprinkler were the best of the bunch and The Annoated Boris is a smart, funny, kick in the trousers reminder that walking your own path is a far more interesting way to spend a life.