When you read a book about a favorite artist, you can tell when it has been written by someone who respects them, happens to be a longtime fan, because of the way they treat the language of what they write. It’s not that they necessarily gush or sugarcoat unfavorable details about the subject’s life, but that they handle that life with greater precision, making sure facts are clarified and observations are on point. It’s how Greg Prato has approached writing about one of his favorite rock bands, Soundgarden, in his latest music biography, Dark Black & Blue.
Author of over twenty music and sportsbooks – if you ever talk to Prato, he’s always working on another book – he has quite the fondness for writing about the grunge era that encompassed much of the late 1980’s into the 1990’s. From A Devil On One Shoulder & An Angel On The Other, about Blind Melon singer Shannon Hoon, to Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History Of Seattle Rock Music, Prato has interviewed some of the top dogs in the music of the northwest, including band members of his current book. Having been a music fan most of his life, he moved easily into being a journalist, so you can pretty well trust the guy to know what he’s talking about when it comes to the music of his lifespan. Which means, you can just jump into one of his books without second-guessing his quotes, his facts or his timeline of history.
For Soundgarden fans, having a book on their favorite band that is over 400 pages long might be quite salivating. It is also refreshing to have the story focus on all band members – guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron, and bass players Hiro Yamamoto and Ben Shepherd – and not just frontman Chris Cornell. In fact, the amount of quotes from Thayil is a breath of fresh air, cause this very well could have become a eulogizing behemoth to Cornell or grunge in general, losing it’s footing and frame-of-mind. But luckily for readers, this volume stays focused on Soundgarden while giving equal spotlights to side-projects like Hater and Audioslave as well.
For fans who have tried over the years to read everything written about the band, Prato has made your life easier: it seems as if he has sought out all those interviews and found a place for them in Dark Black & Blue, saving new fans from the fate of spending hours online trying to find elusive interviews from publications no longer in print (and yes, Prato has a hefty sources section). Prato has also provided album details, including about anniversary and special editions released over the years; not to mention, personal details about concerts he attended, giving an insider’s view of what really happened on those nights.
If you are looking for more sordid details about sex, drugs and suicide, don’t bother looking here. Prato mentions these things where they fall into place and how they may have affected those around them – especially in regards to the death of Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood, which sent ripples of shock and sadness that lasted years within the cores of his friends – but not to any extreme. And the tension that leads up to the band’s breakup is as thick as a pea soup fog. You can actually feel it as you read it.
Near the end of the book, Prato has included interviews with people who knew the band and/or toured with the band, among them the Reverend Horton Heat, Pantera’s Phil Anselmo and Ramones drummer Marky Ramone. But one of the best quotes in the book, I found, came from the author: “To Soundgarden’s credit, they were one of the few bands that remained true to their artistic vision from their inception through to the very end.” If you believe that, then this book about this band is for you.