Greg Prato – Grunge Is DeadJanuary 28th, 2010 by Anthony CW Morgan
Based in Long Island, New York, Greg Prato regularly writes for Classic Rock, All Music Guide and RollingStone.com, and has had articles published in other magazines like Guitarist, Metal Hammer, and Record Collector. Through self-publishing service Lulu, Prato has issued the following; A Devil On One Shoulder And An Angel On The Other: The Story Of Shannon Hoon And Blind Melon (September 2008), Touched By Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story (December 2008) and No Schlock…Just Rock! (May 2009), the latter collecting the journalist’s writtens published between 2003-2008.
Written in the form of an oral history, Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History Of Seattle Rock chronicles the Seattle music scene, and contains over 130 interviews with those involved. Lasting only several years mostly during the early nineties, prominent names grunge spawned include Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains. Also, the book provides background information on grunge, beginning with the early sixties, and explaining the series of events that arguably led to the birth of the grunge movement. Included is the first interview in which Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder discusses the group’s history in detail, interviews with Alice In Chains’ members as well as the mother of the late Layne Staley, a look at the Riot Grrrl movement, and insights into less discussed grunge acts like Mother Love Bone / Andy Wood, the Melvins, Screaming Trees, and Mudhoney.
Grunge Is Dead was published by ECW Press in April 2009 throughout North America, and in June 2009 throughout the United Kingdom. To discuss Grunge Is Dead, Greg Prato was interviewed via email.
You’ve been writing as a journalist since 1997, so how did you come to venture on that career path?
I took a job as a customer service rep for a music mag that will remain nameless. I saw how easy it was to do reviews / interviews, but my boss was not willing to give me a shot to write for them regularly. So… I started freelancing for other places and left that stinky job – started out writing for local papers (for free), and then built it up from there with paying gigs.
Grunge Is Dead was inspired by a Soundgarden article for Classic Rock magazine. What about the article prompted you to take the subject further with a book on grunge, and from there, how did the book develop?
For most of the feature articles I do for Classic Rock, a lot of time / research goes into it. Being a long-time fan of Soundgarden and other grunge bands, I always wondered why there was not a comprehensive and well put-together book that chronicled the Seattle rock music scene from beginning to the modern day. So I figured I had a pretty good head start to do a book, and took the plunge.
Books written as an “oral history” are your favourite, and Grunge Is Dead has been written in this format. What appeals to you about the style, and why did you feel it would suit Grunge Is Dead?
Most of my books thus far have been done in the “oral history” format (the Shannon Hoon / Blind Melon book A Devil On One Shoulder, the Tommy Bolin book Touched by Magic, and Grunge Is Dead). I’ve always enjoyed reading interviews / Q&A’s in magazines, as you’re getting the answers directly from the source. It’s almost like it’s a documentary…but in book form. I was introduced to this set-up via one of my fave all-time books, Please Kill Me (The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain).
Over 130 interviews were conducted for Grunge Is Dead. How did you condense such a wealth of information into one book? Some interesting material must’ve been sadly omitted from the final draft.
A fair amount was not included in the final draft, but I have to say that I made it a point to include all the most interesting and juicy tidbits in the final version. As far as how I condensed it, I knew a lot about the subject doing into it, so I knew what to include, where to include it, etc. It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle…
Grunge Is Dead is the first of your books not to be self-published, Grunge Is Dead being published through ECW Press. What prompted you not to self-publish this book, and to go down the more conventional publishing route?
I felt that this book deserved the push by a regular publisher – to promote it and put it out there. But I also wanted to go with a smaller publisher, so I could have more say in the final product.
In your opinion, what spawned the grunge genre? In explaining what spawned the grunge genre, your book traces as far back as the early sixties.
It’s a mixture of things, as grunge itself was a mixture of styles. You can trace it back to garage rock a la The Sonics and the song “Louie Louie”, but then there are also elements of psychedelia, punk, arena rock, heavy metal, and even folk. It’s impossible to trace it back to one single style or occurrence.
Grunge is often accredited as being the main reason heavy metal experienced a low point in the early to mid nineties. Would you say this was because a lot of heavy metal bands had a somewhat dated sound and image by this time, or would you say this was because the media shifted its focus to grunge?
I would say it occurred because the vast majority of metal bands simply sucked by the early-mid nineties. But to say metal died at that time is incorrect, as bands such as Tool, Pantera, and Korn prospered, and Metallica and Slayer continued merrily on their path. And quite a few people would consider Alice in Chains and Soundgarden heavy metal, anyway. Also, another one of my fave all-time bands, Faith No More, released what I consider to be their best albums in the early to mid nineties. As far as grunge killing glam / hair metal… thank god!
Obviously, the scene’s best known group is Nirvana. Do you feel the group are as great as modern day critics suggest, or has Kurt Cobain’s death clouded their judgment somewhat?
No, Nirvana was indeed the real deal and one of my fave all-time bands. I’d put Mr. Cobain up there with the John Lennon’s and Johnny Rotten’s of the world – meaning that you don’t often see a major rock artist with the cajones to openly and freely speak their mind on a variety of topics. Musically, I’d put Nirvana up there with just about any rock band – there’s simply no comparison between Nirvana and most of today’s popular rock bands. Apples and oranges…
Grunge Is Dead also touches upon more overlooked grunge acts like Mother Love Bone / Andy Wood, the Melvins, Screaming Trees, and Mudhoney. In your opinion, why did these acts not experience the heights experienced by fellow Seattle alumni like Nirvana etc.?
Another tough to answer question, but it’s probably a mix of being in the right place at the right time and having a major label backing you. Also drugs played a part obviously in what kept Mother Love Bone from succeeding.
Your first published book was A Devil On One Shoulder And An Angel On The Other: The Story Of Shannon Hoon And Blind Melon. Within the alternative rock genre, how much of a force were Blind Melon? An underrated one?
Absolutely. I’ve seen probably between a hundred or so shows (maybe more) in my life, and the Shannon-era Blind Melon shows rank right up there with the greatest shows I’ve seen in my life (Sabbath, Stooges, Soundgarden, FNM, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, etc.). Shannon was one of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen live – there was something certainly special about that gentleman. Anyone who is not familiar with Blind Melon or think of them merely as a one-hit wonder, you owe it to yourself to hear their second album Soup (1995). It may very well be the musical discovery you’ll come across this year (but a suggestion – listen to it more than one time, as it’s an album that grows on you immeasurably with each listen).
Touched By Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story chronicles the tale of the sadly deceased guitarist, best known for appearing on Deep Purple’s Come Taste the Band (1975). How would you compare his guitar playing style to Ritchie Blackmore’s, and what did he bring to the table that is perhaps overlooked by many rock critics?
Like Shannon Hoon, Tommy Bolin is one of the most tragic / sad tales in the history of rock. There really wasn’t a style of music that Tommy Bolin couldn’t master – give a listen to his great / underrated solo debut, Teaser (1975), to hear what I’m talking about. I absolutely love Blackmore’s playing (both in Purple and the first few Rainbow albums), and he also created some of rock’s all-time great riffs, so it’s not fair to judge Blackmore and Bolin. But as far as pure talent on the guitar, Tommy Bolin could hold his own with anybody, and again, there wasn’t a style he couldn’t adapt to and master. Few can do that.
The book No Schlock… Just Rock collects your magazine writing for the likes of Classic Rock, Guitarist, Metal Hammer, and Record Collector between a five-year span (2003-2008). Of the magazine articles you penned during that five-year period, which are you the most proud of, and why?
Hmm… I rather enjoyed my article about the Bad Brains, because they’re one of my fave all-time bands, and I never read their whole / complete story anywhere before. Meat Puppets was another cool feature, as was the story of the great GG Allin!!! But probably the greatest article / interview I’ve ever been involved in would have to be a discussion with William Shatner about his music career. All these articles (and many more) are in No Schlock.
At the moment, what new book projects are you working on?
I have a few ideas, but have yet to finalize anything yet. Hope to get back in the book-writing game soon though. Check out my MySpace page for updates (as well as info on how to buy my books and read samples of each).
And finally, what is grunge’s lasting influence upon the world of music?
I’d say it shows that a musical movement can come out of nowhere and change / influence the world in more ways than just music (politics, fashion, etc.). Grunge also showed that anyone could pick up a guitar, go on stage, and as long as you weren’t afraid to speak your mind and put your own original spin on it, you were a-ok. I also love the sound of a real band playing together live in a room – no ProTools, no drum machines, no click tracks, etc. Music today has reverted back to the dreary eighties – everyone sounding the same, no originality. Please somebody, come and save rock n’ roll!!!