Interview with Greg Prato Talking “Grunge is Dead”

Posted: March 17, 2015 in New Music and New Discoveries

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A couple of books acted as role models and inspirations during the writing of “I Found My Friends” – one was England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage, the other was Greg Prato’s Grunge is Dead. Being a quizzical soul I decided to write to Greg and learn a bit more about his work, share some of mine with him and so forth – turns out he’s a charming fellow and was more than happy to tell all about Grunge is Dead and to permit me to share it with you. Please enjoy…

When was your first contact with the grunge scene, how did it come about?

Greg Prato: The first grunge band I fancied was Soundgarden, first via seeing the “Hands All Over” video on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, but I truly became a big-time admirer of the band after seeing them live in Brooklyn, NY in March 1990, on a bill that also featured Faith No More and Voivod (the latter of which headlined!). I then bought Mother Love Bone’s ‘Apple’ later in the year (after reading great things about it in Rip Magazine), followed by Alice in Chains’ ‘Facelift’ in spring 1991. From there, I discovered Nirvana and Pearl Jam just like the majority of other non-Washington folks did…

Similarly, at what point did you decide that the kind of epic work you must have put in to construct “Grunge is Dead” kick in…?

Greg: I felt very disappointed that seemingly as soon as Kurt Cobain died, rock music regressed to the largely unoriginal copycats that plagued rock music in the late ’80s (and that the very progressive way of thinking that Nirvana and Pearl Jam championed had regressed back to the groupie/rock star vibe of the Sunset Strip in the ’80s). This only seemed to get worse throughout the late ’90s and early 21st century (Creed, Kid Rock, etc.). While there were a few books written about grunge before ‘Grunge is Dead,’ many were either hard to follow chronologically or were written before main events took place (Cobain’s death, Soundgarden’s split, Layne Staley’s death, etc.). So, I set out to put together a definitive book that told the complete history of Seattle rock music, and interviewed as many people as possible.

What hooked you about grunge? I’ve noted you did a book on Blind Melon, quite a few on aspects of Seventies/Eighties music culture (and sports), is there a natural link with your other works?

Greg: I’m lucky that so far, all the books I have written, have been on subjects that I was a fan of, and wanted to read a book about and there wasn’t one. Since I’ve been a journalist since 1997, I felt it wouldn’t be that big of a stretch to make the jump to book writing, and it wasn’t bad at all! Certain rock n’ roll bands and sports teams have been a long-time interest of mine, so writing books about them seemed like the logical step.

Did the book get a reaction from the fan communities for grunge or for any specific bands like Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, etc.?

Greg: I’ve received a lot of great feedback from fans of all the grunge bands, and also the majority of user comments on such sites as Amazon. It makes me feel good to hear whenever someone fancies one of my books (as I put a lot of work into each project, and feel strongly about each subject I tackle).

Similarly, what was the diversity of reaction? I’m assuming almost entirely positive? Any fun responses or moments of madness…?

Greg: From what I recall (the book was originally released in 2009), there wasn’t many harsh criticisms about ‘Grunge is Dead,’ it was mostly positive. A few people may be a bit befuddled about the oral history set-up (it being comprised of quotes from the people I interviewed pertaining to specific subjects) and wanted there to be a narrative that I provided throughout – but that was exactly what I did NOT want to do with the book. I am not from Seattle and I was not lucky to have experienced the early shows of Soundgarden, Nirvana, etc., but I interviewed plenty of people who were there. Let the people who were actually there tell the true story…

Did you come to the project with your connections already fully formed? If not, how did you go about tracking people down?

Greg: The germ of the idea for the book started with a feature story I wrote for Classic Rock Magazine around 2004/2005, which focused on Soundgarden’s history. After doing several interviews for it (Ben Shepherd, Matt Cameron, Jack Endino, etc.), I realized I had a good start for a possible book on Soundgarden, but then realized why not go for the whole enchilada – GRUNGE!! From there, it was like a snowball rolling down a tall, snowy mountain – the more interviews I did, the more people recommended others I should speak to. I obeyed their requests!

Is there an interview you were particular proud to acquire and why…?

Greg: Without a doubt, Eddie Vedder. To the best of my knowledge, his interview for ‘Grunge is Dead’ is the only time he was willing to open up and recount Pearl Jam’s early history (he declined to do so for a Rolling Stone cover story around the same time) – years before he was interviewed for the book that Pearl Jam eventually did, ‘Pearl Jam Twenty.’ He was also kind enough to be interviewed for nearly 2 hours, willing to give thorough answers to all my questions. It remains one of my favorite interviews I’ve ever conducted (and having begun doing interviews in 1997 as a journalist, I’ve done hundreds over the years).

Similarly, what was the most revealing interview in your opinion?

Greg: I appreciated the openness and honesty of quite a few people, tops being Mudhoney’s Mark Arm and the Dwarves’ Blag Dahlia. I was not aware that Mark had a drug problem during the early ’90s, but was very open and honest about it (I even told him during the interview that I had no idea he had a drug problem in the early ’90s – I hadn’t read about it ever before in all the Mudhoney articles I had read over the years). And Blag was very funny and very witty – he had some great memories/stories and also some interesting theories that I had never thought of before until he explained them (including how he saw more similarities between Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses, rather than differences).

Was there anything you’d say was a shared characteristic, attitude, style, approach to life among the individuals you spoke to? I’m always curious what communities share that binds them…

Greg: There definitely seemed to be a strong sense of community between most of the grunge bands – quite a few people interviewed said that when you’d go from show to show during the mid to late ’80s, you’d see the same group of people there. But as the style of music became more popular in the early ’90s, that group was nowhere to be found anymore at local shows – replaced by strangers and out of town folks who flocked to Seattle.

Do you feel that grunge has been mischaracterized and misunderstood over the years?

Greg: There’s a misconception that grunge killed heavy metal in the ’90s. This is incorrect. While it did put an end to the majority of stinky hair metal bands (thank god!), plenty of metal bands continued to survive thrive post-‘Nevermind’ (Metallica, Faith No More, Pantera, White Zombie, Ministry, etc.).

You seemed to approach the structure of the book by speaking about wider aspects then homing in on particular bands who pushed the scene further – was there an intentional structure?

Greg: While there is certainly a focus on the better known grunge bands in the book, I wanted to also share the spotlight and focus on lesser-known but really great bands from the area/era, including the U-Men, Tad, Truly, Brad, etc.

For someone who hasn’t picked up the book, why does the oral history format make so much sense when trying to capture a real live experience such as the grunge scene? I think it was totally the right choice to make and a definitely inspiration to me.

Greg: I first discovered the oral history format by reading what has become one of my fav all-time books, ‘Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk,’ by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. As I mentioned earlier, I like the fact that the reader is getting the story “straight from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak, and not a bunch of thoughts/opinions by someone who wasn’t part of the scene (in fact, Soundgarden/Nirvana/Mudhoney producer Jack Endino offered up a very nice compliment that is posted on the book’s Amazon page – “I like this book. It lets the people who were actually here tell the story directly, without the author having any particular axe to grind”). As I’d like to consider myself somewhat knowledgable with the topic, I was able to ask the questions and shape a story (in chronological order) out of all the quotes.

What was your personal path to Rolling Stone and AllMusic and your other outlets? I can’t imagine it was an easy journey, you must have worked like a dog!

Greg: It wasn’t as hard as you’d think – both gigs were landed by either a simple phone call or email. It’s the same with any site or publication – they want to see some writing samples, they give you a tryout, and then if they like what they read, you can write on a regular basis.

Musically, what has been floating your boat most recently? Do you think there’s any visible new movements in rock music that might pierce mass consciousness?

Greg: I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the majority of mainstream rock is a big pile of steaming doo-doo. But like any era, there is going to be good music and stinky music. In fact, I’m sure as I’m typing this right now, there is a band just starting out (or is in the underground) that will sooner or later leave their mark, and offer up their own original sound/spin on rock n’ roll. The last bands that I really truly dug were Eagles of Death Metal and Death From Above 1979, but both are like, at least a decade old by now! Nowadays, I tend to listen to bands I’ve loved for years (as a matter of fact, as I type this answer, I am listening to Devo’s ‘Hardcore Devo Live!’ album on my headphones). Does this mean I’ve become an old fart?

Is there a band or scene that you’d love to settle down and write a volume on? S’ok if you want to keep your cards close to your chest!

Greg: Right before I started on these answers today, I took a break from proofreading my next book about a specific rock n’ roll era of yesteryear. I hope to have it out later in 2015, but I’d hate to spoil the surprise of announcing the subject matter at this moment. I’d suggest checking my Twitter page on which I regularly post my latest interviews for sites and info about upcoming books:

https://twitter.com/gregpratowriter

Also, feel free to check out my author page on Amazon, which lists all of my books:

http://www.amazon.com/Greg-Prato/e/B002MJ4CXI

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Comments
  1. […] I had the pleasure of being interviewed for the Nirvana Legacy site about my 2009 book, Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, by the author of the […]

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