The market for niche music product must be bigger than I thought. How else do you explain recent biographical DVDs from cult acts like The Circle Jerks, The Monks, Big Star, Rodriguez, and Mudhoney? As a fan of these and other under-appreciated bands, it’s great to see their stories getting the treatment usually reserved for mega-successful acts, but in the case of Mudhoney: I’m Now both the story and how it’s told are a little too familiar. Co-Directors Ryan Short and Adam Pease are clearly big fans, but the combination of talking head interviews and archival footage has been done a million times before, so even when someone as entertaining as Keith Morris (Black Flag/Circle Jerks/OFF!) or Thurston and Kim from Sonic Youth show up to praise Mudhoney it’s more expected than exciting, thanks to their appearance in so many other DVDs chronicling underground music. How cliche has this Behind The Music-style form of storytelling become? So cliche that when Mark Arm discusses his drug addiction he mentions all the cliche ways in which drug addiction is handled in music documentaries. If you’ve read books like Grunge Is Dead, Everybody Loves Our Town, or any of the countless articles written about grunge, then you already know pretty much everything about the band that the movie tells you. The movie also misses a few key detours that might have proved interesting – instead of spending so much time rehashing old news why not spend time on their many side-projects, or Mark Arm’s stint with the reunited MC5, or digging a little deeper into their influences…etc. It’s shortcomings like these that limit I’m Now’s appeal to Mudhoney die-hards.
If you’ve been itching for a Mudhoney bio, then 2013 was a year to celebrate. First came the documentary, I’m Now, and now there’s The Sound and The Fury From Seattle, written by British music journalist Keith Cameron. So, which one should you spend your hard-earned dollar on? I’m giving the nod to the book, which is far more detailed than the film. With over 250 pages of material, Cameron covers all the things you already knew about Mudhoney, but finds new areas of exploration like singer Mark Arm’s experiences as a stand-in for Rob Tyner in the reformed MC5 and the band’s long-term spiritual connection to the Australian punk scene. Mostly it does a better job of capturing Mudhoney’s contrarian attitude (born from formative years on the hardcore circuit) and the humorous acts of self-sabotage that made them a cult act rather than the globe-conquering supernova many of their Seattle peers became. Perfect example: When offered $20,000 to record a song for the soundtrack to Singles – basically a 90 minutes infomercial for Seattle rock (a.k.a. “grunge” – and yes, that term still sucks) – they spent $164 recording “Overblown”, a song with lyrics that poke fun at the Seattle rock zeitgeist the film celebrated, and pocketed the rest. Speaking of soundtrack contributions, the book never mentions “Freak Momma”, their Sir-Mix-A-Lot collaboration from the 1993 soundtrack to Judgment Night. I don’t care about the song (although my Judgment Night cassette was on regular rotation in High School), but I’d love to hear what happens when a band that loves The Stooges and The Scientists goes into the studio with the rapper famous for “Baby’s Got Back”. That one small miss aside, Cameron’s book is fun, interesting and highly recommended.