Spy Rock Memories

August 29, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

spySpy Rock Memories by Larry Livermore


After reading Punk USA, the story of Lookout! Records, I figured I needed to get the complete picture of the label by reading Larry Livermore’s take on it, too. The thing is, when I went to find his book, I saw that he had another book, one he wrote about his time living on a mountain in a house that had running water thanks to the creek near his cabin, and electricity thanks to its solar panels. That time predated (and overlapped) Livermore’s time with Lookout!, so I figured I should start with this book before moving on to How to Ru(i)n a Record Label, even if I wasn’t all that interested in reading about living off the grid.

In my review of Punk USA, though, I noted that a well-written book about a topic in which the reader may not have a lot of interest will still be engaging, and Spy Rock Memories is one of those books. Livermore tells his tale with a kind of self-awareness that shows us both sides of a story, even though it’s written by just one person. He’s quick to show us his successes (he even admits that he is his own favorite topic), but he also easily admits his failings.

Though Livermore touches on his dealings with Lookout!, the story is really a memoir of his life on the mountain. He talks about how he came to buy his home there, how he survived the brutal winters, the repairs and additions he had to make to his home (which, based on the way Livermore tells it, he had to do constantly), and his run-ins with the local wildlife. He writes about being a hippie, about being into punk, about making friends and enemies on the mountain due to his beliefs, and tying all of his ideals together into a self-published newspaper/newsletter called The Lookout. He writes about starting a band with some of the kids of his neighbors, of his forays into San Francisco and Berkeley both before and after the label began, and his presence in the local town and what it meant to his life on the mountain.

He also writes about the heartache of broken relationships, of finding, raising, and losing pets, of achievements and losses, and disilluisonment, not just with his label, but also with how to live life and the idea of living on the mountain. It’s a very human story, with a sharp focus. Sometimes, Livermore comes off as being self-important, enough so that it’s difficult to know if what he’s telling us is the truth as it actually happened, or is the truth as he wants it to be, but his self-effacing manner through the memoir suggest more of the former over the latter. It still comes through on occasion, though.

Spy Rock Memories is a fascinating read, and one that preps me for How to Ru(i)n a Record Label. It’s good to know that Livermore can write about more than just the facts, and can pull real emotion into his story, because it means the next book will be a perfect complement to Punk USA, where it felt more factual than emotional. That’s probably the difference between a memoir and a biography, to be honest — one is told by the person, while another is told about a person. Regardless, I look forward to seeing Livermore’s take on his involvement with Lookout!

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Stitches: A Memoir

August 3, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

stitchesStitches: A Memoir by David Small


I stumbled across this book while browsing Goodreads one day. That’s nothing of note (a lot of the books that wind up on my to-read list come from there), but that particular day, I happened to be browsing the site after installing a browser extension that linked to my library. The summary and artwork both looked promising, and my local branch had a copy, so I gave it a test run, and what do you know? It works!

Stitches is a memoir of David Small’s early life. It’s a heavy story. Small’s parents were cold and distant, more interested in their own well-being than his own, and they often saw him as a burden more than anything else. His father, a radiographer, tries to cure Small’s pulmonary problems by dosing him with X-rays, so when he’s in his early teens and develops cancer, it’s not much of a surprise. Well, it’s not much of a surprise to his parents. It is to Small, because he goes into surgery expecting the doctors to remove what he’s been told is a sebaceous cyst, but when he wakes, he’s missing his thyroid and one of his vocal cords, and is effectively mute. It’s only then that he discovers he had cancer.

Dysfunctional families are the subject of many a memoir, so the memoir itself isn’t anything new, nor does it provide any particular insights into why families can be dysfunctional. What drew me to the story was the anecdote about his surgery and his ignorance of his own health, and once that point is passed in the story, it ceases to be as interesting. Small carries the story through to its conclusion, offering some small explanations for why his parents were like they were, and offering some small bit of closure to the relationship with his mother, but it doesn’t feel engaging. The story is compelling enough, and Small’s illustrations are evocative (there’s a break in the middle of the story where the style changes, and that change is used to great effect), but in the end, I couldn’t feel much more than pity for the author and his family, and I don’t feel that’s the appropriate emotional response for what happened to him.

Memoirs aren’t really my thing, but every so often a graphic memoir catches my attention enough to make me want to read it. Fun Home was another one I read and only just barely enjoyed, and Stitches is about the same for me. Part of it is they’re so one-sided; family dynamics, even in the healthiest families, are complicated, and it’s impossible to get the entire story of a family just by listening to one member. In his afterword, Small suggests that he did a lot of research into his family when writing the book, but it’s still a story told entirely from his viewpoint. I can’t help but feel we’re not getting the entire story, but maybe that’s the point of any memoir. Again, they’re not a genre I typically read.

I wasn’t impressed with Stitches, but I admit I’m not the target audience. I liked Maus, but most other memoirs I’ve read have felt pointless and self-indulgent. Fans of memoirs, or fans of stories about terrible families, might enjoy it (is “enjoy” even the right word here?), but for the most part I didn’t get it.

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