Thursday, April 11, 2019

Greg Ashley's Anecdotes

In a society in which feeling too much is a crime, Greg Ashley’s Anecdotes is not just another musician’s tell all, coming to terms with the addictions to alcohol and drugs, but it’s often driven by a deeply felt sympathy and empathy for the suffering of others with insights into America’s disease at least as profound as any sociologist, with a heavy dose of gallow’s humor. Although the narrator is disarmingly frank about how his addictions have lead him over and over again to fuck up, Ashley is also a precise observer and listener, with as keen of an ear for the nuances of the music of others’ stories & confessions as he as to other musicians’ in the studio or on stage. 

In contrast to many books by people known first and foremost as a musician, you’re not going to get a lot of insights into Ashley’s musical craft as song writer/producer, no epiphanic childhood discovery that music was his calling, or some abstract sense of one’s loyalty to one’s audience or fan base or whatever. No career complaints about being mismanaged, or bitterness about the imitators, sycophants, and “fans” who want him to sound like he used to. There are no cloying confessions, or special pleading. The book is not a self-advertisement.…and if there’s bragging in this book, it’s usually for a “We” (whether Gris Gris, or the French band he worked with in 2017 & 2018).

Though arranged loosely chronologically, Anecdotes eschews the overarching meta-narrative of the memoir for 24 self-contained chapters. Greg has a knack for weaving tales (far better than I am capable of), with the warm tone of a sarcastic shit-talker, who is ultimately more of a lover than a fighter. Even if Ashley’s mouth may get him in trouble, this narrator is able to step outside the barroom brawls that often form in the testosterone driven music scene to appreciate their story-worthy absurdity with the same wry eye of detachment that he brings to watching his past self score crack from a prostitute, and visiting an Elvis museum (not because he’s especially interested in Elvis, but because the man who runs it is a fascinating character).

The poignant portraits of the friends who died tragically young made me cry without falling into the idealizations so easy to succumb to when speaking about the dead, and any policy maker seriously interested in getting to the bottom of why our mental health system, and rehab detox centers, or AA do not work for so many, and consider possible alternatives can learn much from his scathing and witty accounts of being in Rehab & Detox. His portraits of the New Bridge Foundation sound like it could be from Boots Riley’s “Sorry To Bother You” or other dystopian futurism. The dystopia’s already here, and just because you’re sick and you know it doesn’t mean you aren’t able to help heal others. It’s punk at its non-dogmatic best.

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