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Primus, Over the Electric Grapevine: Insight…

Primus, Over the Electric Grapevine: Insight into Primus and the World of… (2014)

by Primus

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I’ve been a fan of Primus since middle school. The first time I heard Sailing the Seas of Cheese I thought ‘This is the weirdest, most awesome music I’ve ever heard’. Most of my friends agreed that it was definitely the weirdest, so my relationship with Primus was always solitary venture. I devoured every album they put out and on release day I’d drive to Best Buy (when they used to sell CDs). For me Primus scratched a musical itch that nobody else could and I was grateful.

When LibraryThings.com sent me an early review copy of Greg Prato’s new book Primus: Over the Electric Grapevine I was pretty jazzed. The book chronicles the musical history of Les Claypool and Primus from it’s earliest beginnings all the way to the present. I don’t know if Greg created the documentary/interview style used for this book, but it absolutely the perfect way to tell this kind of story.

Most ‘rock and roll’ bios are written by official biographers or music journalists. These writers generally craft the story of a band into a type of history book. Those types of books are good and I’ve ready my share of them. One of the things I hate about them is that often the writer’s opinions dictates the story. The author’s own feelings about and experiences with the artist tend to determine how the story is told. You get an image of the artist, but it’s definitely the author’s perspective. Greg avoids all those pitfalls by simply facilitating a conversation between all the individual artists. The read gets front row seats to listen in!

The book consists of various transcribed interviews that were chopped up and pieced back together. Certainly the result is something greater than any one interview could have been. You get to hear from Les, Ler, and Tim, but also Adam Gates, Jay Lane, Todd Huth, and a cast of others who have been in the Primus/Claypool circle. As a reader you aren’t privy to the questions that prompted the responses, but you don’t ever wonder about them either. It’s almost as if you’re sitting across from them at the bar as they reminisce about the past and debate what really happened.

That ‘debate’ aspect is my favorite part of this book. (Debate is probably not the right word though– plurality of perspectives?) Prato allows the reader to hear Les’s version of events, followed by Larry’s, followed my Tim’s, followed by the road manager or some other party. This multi-voiced approach leaves you with richer and more vibrant stories. Rather than one “officially factual” story you get something far more honest. In the process you begin to understand the relationship dynamics and the personalities of each person.

I was always a Primus fan rather than just a Les Claypool fan (although I did have Sausage’s record the Holy Mackerel album). The parts of this book that cover when Primus was on hiatus were like hearing a new artist for the first time. While it was probably nostalgic for some to read about Frog Brigade, Bernies Brains, and Oysterhead, but it was pure discovery for me. The jam band scene was never my thing, but hearing how Les got into it and listening to the stories from the other artists compelled me to seek out those recordings. I was not disappointed. Hearing those recording reminded me of the first time I heard Primus (especially C2B3’s The Big Eyeball in the Sky record). Reading this book even changed the way I listened to the old Sausage album. I heard it fresh and new for maybe the first time and fell in love with Jay Lane’s drumming style.

The way Greg Prato has structured the book and presented the interviews makes it an extremely personal experience. It will remind you of how your own past as a fan is intertwined with Primus’ music, albums, and imagery. That nostalgia element was huge part of this book’s fun for me. I hadn’t really thought back to how Primus had been a musical back beat for my youth, but as I was reading about their history I was often reminded of my own.

I remember when the Brown Album came out and some folks were bitching about it. I loved it. It was still quirky and weird and Primus, but more polished and punchy. Shake Hands With Beef was my favorite track on the album. My first foray into smoking was because of Les’ mention of Tijuana Smalls in that song. [Pull out the cannon boys, steal us some wine. Puff Tijuana Smalls and shake hands with beef!] I was 17 and working at CVS as a cashier. On the bottom shelf of the cigar aisle (before cigars were behind the counter with the cigarettes) there were these eye-catching packs of cigars. The box looked like some cheesy easy listening album cover from the late 70’s. Each held ten plastic tipped, cherry flavored Tijuana Smalls.

I lusted after those cigar like most guys my age lusted after porno mags. I needed to have them. Finally one evening I walked down the aisle, pick up a pack, shoved them in my pocket and continued about my business. I couldn’t wait to get to my car and light one up. It tasted like shit and I coughed and choked through the experience. (Nobody ever told me you weren’t supposed to inhale cigars!). I may have been a little green by the end, but I felt like hot shit. The next time I got a co-worker to sell them to me instead of stealing them. Eventually the store stopped carrying them, but to this day, if I smoke, I prefer some sort of tipped cigar (which I also still inhale). Thankfully I never did feel compelled to rob a liquor store.

Anyway, this book was the most fun I’ve had reading a book all year. Go get it! ( )
  erlenmeyer316 | Sep 21, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Have you heard that Les Claypool is an innovative bass player? I've told you now, and in doing so saved you reading about 1/3 of this book, including the entirety of chapter 28.
I love Primus, I love a good band history, and I really dig an oral history. Sad thing is that particular oral history isn't too well curated by Greg Prato. The anecdotes and observations are repetitive. The stumbling, imprecise language is simply transcribed.
Having said that, there can't be a better rundown of the band's existence, and Claypool's other professional interests, in existence. If you've ever wondered how they did or did not do X, Y, or Z, it's certainly in here . . . probably mixed in with some praise of Claypool's instrumental prowess and invention. ( )
  LitClique | Feb 14, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Primus is one of those bands that is known for having die hard fans. The majority of the people who like Primus, really, really like it. I am not one of those people and therefore this book was not for me. It wasn’t a bad book it's just that unless you are a Claypool worshipper it wasn’t super interesting. At first I thought the layout, the entire book is written interview style, would make it an easier read. But in actuality it made it less satisfying to read. Like eavesdropping on conversation I really had no interest in over hearing. All in all, not a terrible book just as long as you're really interested in Primus
  frankiejones | Feb 1, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Enjoyable book. I like to read music biographies, but often time these books are more about the sex and drugs, and not about the rock n roll. This book was very much about the music and the appreciation of it. Book is written as an "oral history" - basically transcribed interviews, which to me seems perfect for a Primus book. ( )
  DCavin | Oct 20, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Primus, Over the Electric Grapevine: Insight into Primus and the World of Les Claypool by Primus / Greg Prato was received by me through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. This book was written as an oral history from fifty interviews, which I didn't think I would like, but to my surprise it turned out to be an enjoyable read about a band of which if I had very little knowledge. That just goes to show that you can never tell how some books you think you will like, you end up not liking and some books which you think will be terrible, turn out to be much better than you ever thought they could be. ( )
  PeggyK49 | Oct 18, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 161775322X, Hardcover)

Praise for Primus:

"They were real musicians' musicians...Primus had their own thing, for sure. Nobody really does that Primus thing--they have their own personality, which is something difficult to do."
--Chad Smith, Red Hot Chili Peppers

"Primitive, animated, dinosaur, Halloween, trailerfunk. I felt Les was a kindred spirit. Someone I could learn from and collaborate with. Quick, schooled, humble, with an amazing musical lexicon and down home as hell, with a bent sense of humor."
--Tom Waits

Usually when the "alternative rock revolution" of the early 1990s is discussed, Nirvana's Nevermind is credited as the recording that led the charge. Yet there were several earlier albums that helped pave the way, including the Pixies' Doolittle, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Mother's Milk, Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking, and especially Primus's 1991 album Sailing the Seas of Cheese.

This fascinating and beautifully curated oral history tells the tale of this truly one-of-a-kind band. Compiled from nearly fifty all-new interviews conducted by journalist/author Greg Prato--including Primus members past and present and many more fellow musicians--this book is sure to appeal to longtime fans of the band, as well as admirers of the musicians interviewed for the book.

Interviewees include: Tim Alexander, Trey Anastasio (Phish), Matthew Bellamy (Muse), Les Claypool, Stewart Copeland (The Police), Chuck D (Public Enemy), Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Larry LaLonde, Geddy Lee (Rush), Mickey Melchiondo (Ween), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Matt Stone (South Park), Tom Waits, and many more.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:34 -0400)

This fascinating and beautifully curated oral history tells the tale of this truly one-of-a-kind band. Compiled from nearly fifty all-new interviews conducted by journalist/author Greg Prato, including Primus members past and present and many more fellow musicians, this book is sure to appeal to longtime fans of the band, as well as admirers of the musicians interviewed for the book.… (more)

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