Let me explain to you the complete literary weirdness that happened to me this week. I’ll begin at the absolute beginning: in 1999 my cousin, the stagehand, snuck me in the back door of a Primus show. (And yes, I know that “snuck” is not a word.) I was a junior in high school and had been going to a ton of shows that year, spending unreal amounts of money on shitty metal bands. And I knew Primus, but I wasn’t a die-hard superfan or anything. I had Sailing the Seas of Cheese. But everyone has Sailing the Seas of Cheese (and if you don’t, you should), so that doesn’t really count. It was free (sort of) and I was on vacation so I figured what the hell. However, this particular show was in-fucking-credible. Buckethead opened for Incubus (before they started to suck) who opened for Primus and my mind was thoroughly blown. So, typical Vanessa long-story-short-but-not-short-enough, I went off the OCD deep end and bought every Primus album (on CD, whippersnappers). Huge Primus fan.
Fast forward to 2006, when I heard through the Giant Evil Bookstore grapevine that Les Claypool, the lead singer, bassist, and general heart and soul of Primus, had released a novel. I was stoked and confused and weirded out by the whole thing. Could not for the life of me, even with all my insider information, find a copy of this book. I asked every used bookstore in town to keep an eye out and call me if they saw a copy. I checked the Giant Evil Bookstore database day after day and there weren’t any available. And eventually I gave up, wrote it on my ridiculous books-to-buy-eventually spreadsheet, and forgot about it.
Then I was in the used bookstore in Arcata last week, just poking around. I usually avoid the fiction section. Too many books I want to read and I’ll spend all my money. So I stick to the scifi and fantasy sections because I have very specific things I’m looking for there. More cost-effective. See? I’m a responsible grownup. I irresponsibly wandered over to the fiction section and was reaching for a book on the very top shelf (to clarify: I am short and top shelves are usually difficult for me), when I tripped and knocked over a small stack of books that were precariously balanced on top of some other books. I was putting them back (even though they shouldn’t have been there in the first fucking place) and what do I see? South of the Pumphouse by Les Claypool. In the wrong section, of course. It was in the L’s and not the C’s. Damn it.
This is the third time that I’ve found something I was looking for in this particular bookstore by almost seriously injuring myself. I’m not sure if I should be more cautious or less cautious while in this establishment. Either might serve me well. Hypothetically. Fuck it, I’m just clumsy, and the universe seems to be rewarding me for that. By giving me books. Or something.
Anyway. It’s a pretty small book. I read it in about a day and a half. Weird. Very weird. If you’re a Primus fan, you’ll recognize a few lines from the song “Fish On.” It’s basically a story about two brothers who haven’t seen each other for years and are trying to work on being a bigger part of each others lives after the death of their father, even though now that they’re adults they have absolutely nothing in common anymore. There’s a lot of stuff about trying to go home and see things the way that you did when you were a kid. There’s a lot of fishing, which I kind of took as an extended metaphor for how one can’t force camaraderie through sharing an experience. But then, about three quarters of the way through, it takes a real hard left turn. I won’t give out any spoilers, but I have to say that was not the way I expected it to go. All in all, a good book. Not a great book, but worth the day and a half, for sure.
But I wasn’t quite sure what to think so I read a couple of reviews of it after I was done, just to see what other people had to say about it. And almost all of them (as well as the blurb on the back of my copy of the book) compare Claypool to Hunter S. Thompson. I don’t know that I agree with that comparison. There are drugs and madness involved, and some wacky shit goes down, but Thompson was a revolutionary and a complete crazy person and I wouldn’t in good conscience compare him to anyone. He’s the Pink Floyd of journalism. This novel reads a little more like Steinbeck, trying to squeeze profundity out of the mundane.
Point is, it wasn’t at all what I expected and I’m very disappointed in myself. Because I shouldn’t have hyped up the book based on my previous opinion of the author, right? Just because his music is this wonderfully weird thing doesn’t mean that his written work will be (which is not to say that writing lyrics is not, in itself, worthy of being called “writing,” but you know what I mean – long form prose versus lyrics which are essentially poetry? Apples and oranges, yes? We can all agree on that?). Why pigeonhole people because they’re really good at one thing that they’re famous for doing? Doesn’t mean that’s the only thing they’re good at. Or the only thing that they love. Frankly, I’m dismayed to learn that I even had that particular kind of bias in me. Made me sad. Mostly because when it’s the other way around (and, most often, when it’s someone else’s opinion) I rail against it. Like saying that just because Matthew Gray Gubler is an actor, that he can’t paint. Or that Henry Rollins can’t do spoken word poetry because he’s a punk singer. Or that Eddie Murphy can’t sing because he’s a comedian.
Wait, no, that one’s true.
And I’m not condemning Les Claypool’s work, or saying that he should just stick to shredding on the bass guitar (a fretless, six-string bass guitar). If he writes another book I’ll probably read it. And of course I would never discourage anyone from expanding their artistic horizons. You have a story in you? Fucking tell it or it will die. Period. But beware the preconceived notion monster. Because apparently it will eat your face without you even knowing about it. Lesson learned.