I’M IN THE BAND: BACKSTAGE NOTES FROM THE CHICK IN WHITE ZOMBIE by Sean Yseult; Soft Skull Press, 2010
Goddamn I loved Soul Crusher. I bought it for the cover alone, this miasma of psychoglo paint and fleecy-headed rockers with hot Crayola lettering—thinking magenta?—and inside was wax worthy of anything coming forth at the time. White Zombie was on the map, first releasing Crusher on its own and then getting picked up by Caroline.
A review in Sounds nailed Soul Crusher:
“This runaway train ("like a shack of hate") takes no turns and make no stops, it just goes into itself, a black, undifferentiated lava flow of burdensome metals. Not a pretty record.”
But starting at the beginning is tough when the end is why we’re here. Sean Yseult’s literary heft comes from her role as bassist in White Zombie, the megapopular metal foursome, Beavis and Butthead favorites and a band revered by backward-baseball capped knuckleheads everywhere. The White Zombie that makes this book possible is a far cry from the hungry sounds put forth in 1987.
The cover photo of Yseult on a festival stage says fame is the game. This is why the flyers, the notes, the letters, photos and other detritus of rock band life are interesting to most people, which means Yseult gives what is called for. She’s homey and sweet all the way through, given to name-dropping in such a kindly way that you can’t blame her—it’s almost a ‘can you believe this is happening to me’ delivery that enchants the reader all the way through.
Still, the book changes direction about a third in, when the fame—and a Geffen deal—arrives. Were she in a band that didn’t make that leap, I’m In the Band would mean nothing and it wouldn’t have ever seen the light of day, which is a shame. I’d love to see this as a document of a band that played great music that no one ever understood and kept pushing on, living on Ramen and making ends meet any which way. No photos with Danzig or Stipe, no mention of the word ‘limo’ and nothing about wacky stage pranks and tales of the Marilyn Manson bassist who pogoed “so hard that he cracked his head open on a beam in the ceiling.” Just the meat of making true music, as the book begins. But that would interest few.
Maybe that’s my bitch—this is a terrific document of a once-great band that gives less and less as it goes along. The early Xeroxed flyers are replaced by itinerary sheets and the photos become more about backstage with the crew and relative celebrities rather than interesting clips and art.
The text portrays a slice of Yseult’s life, and its cheery innocence is a little frustrating—no dirt for sure, nothing on the drugs, sex and trouble that is endemic to life on the road. And there is very little on the acrimony and poison that defined Zombieland at the end. We don’t need dirt as much as we need honesty and anecdote.
Yseult proves to be a smart chronicler of time and arc, and her success is to be admired. The message here is that achievement in the arts dims the senses and makes the mundane artificially funny/interesting/worthwhile.
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