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A legend in his own mindHistory, they say, is written by the winners. With his new book, Live Through This: American Rock Music in the Nineties, Everett True tries to invert that truism. Some may find his claim of loserdom a bit disingenuous, as the former Jerry Thackery is one of Britain's most renowned music journalists, the person Courtney Love once introduced as "the guy that runs England." But, as True is quick to point out, all his fame as the man Entertainment Weeklysaid "invented grunge" has amounted to little more than a few thousand free drinks and ownership of a house in Brighton.
True's been a controversial figure ever since the first issue of '80s fanzine Communication Blur (started by future Creation Records honcho Alan McGee), in which he held forth on the hideousness of the British pop scene. On one cover True was even depicted bursting into a room and firing bullets into the body of the whiny leader of Everything But the Girl, Ben Watt.
True gained further renown after he began writing for the British music rag NME in 1983. There he championed small indie spheres such as Olympia's K Records crowd and Edinburgh's fuzz-pop scene, singing the praises of Beat Happening, the Shop Assistants, and the Cannanes. But it wasn't till Melody Makersent him to Seattle in 1989 that he truly hit the big time.
Live Through Thischronicles True's subsequent adventures in the altrock spotlight. Fortunately, the book isn't some dry treatise on all things Nirvana-esque, even if the front cover tag-line -- "This should be the first and last word on grunge" -- might lead you to think so. No, True's far too megalomaniacal for that. Instead, we get a meandering, often insightful memoir of someone who was there before, during, and after the year that punk broke. Unlike Michael Azerrad in Our Band Could Be Your Life, which just came out in paperback, True ignores the technique of journalistic distance, tethering his own drunken antics to those of Babes in Toyland, the Melvins, Mudhoney, and others. While the incessant name-dropping can get tiresome, True provides intimate peeks into the artists' lives: There are snowball fights with Toby Vail from Bikini Kill, barroom wrestling matches with Kurtney (his name for Kurt and Courtney, whom he supposedly introduced), and karaoking with the Breeders.
True may feel obliged to brag, since he also opened for Nirvana and other acts. Going under the moniker the Legend!, he helped pave the way for Oasis by recording the first release on the Creation label, a 7-inch called "'73 in '83." Although the single sold only a few dozen copies and was called "totally worthless" in one review, the song's thickly accented vocals, stuttering drumbeat, and veryminimal organ sound pretty cool today. All told, True released six 7-inches and two minialbums for labels such as Sub Pop, K, and Vinyl Drip before going quiet around 1992.
Now the Legend! has a new album, Everett True Connection, out on S.F. label 3 Acre Floor. The imprint is the sole province of Jason Honea, whose psych-pop band the Knit Separates sounds awfully Legend-ary. "He's probably our biggest influence," says Honea.
Honea discovered True in 1987 via the Legend!'s single "The Ballad," which the local singer calls "one of the most beautiful indie-pop records ever." Then, a couple of years ago, Honea's bandmate Glenn Donaldson (who writes for SF Weekly) came across True's e-mail address and passed it along to Honea, who contacted the Brit. When True said he'd just recorded an album, Honea offered to put it out. "The songs were absurd and clever and really witty," Honea recalls.
Recorded in Melbourne with ex-members of the Cannanes and Cat's Miaow and in Olympia with assorted K folks, Everett True Connection recalls the bands True loves, especially Beat Happening and the Fall. Whether he's mumbling about cracked singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston and smelly thrift stores or destroying the 13th Floor Elevator's "You're Gonna Miss Me," True revisits rock at its elemental beginnings, sounding like an erudite caveman trapped in Sun Studios. The record has a lovingly offhand feel, as if the songs were recorded moments after they were written.
As for whether True is a loser or a legend, the point is moot. Nirvana's Dave Grohl once called him "the un-coolest man in rock," to which True replies, in Live Through This, "What a compliment!"
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