March 27, 2014

Metalheads who Read: Too Late to Die Young Now, Andrew Mueller

Metalheads Who Read

It’s Too Late to Die Young Now answers the question: what became of the rock writer the day the music died?

There is no field of journalism more mythologised or more derided than rock journalism – with good reason, according to Andrew Mueller.

And he’d know. Starting out writing for the Sydney music street press in his teens, by his early twenties, Mueller was working for the legendary UK music weekly Melody Maker, earning a living by listening to records, going to gigs, hanging out in seedy pubs and travelling the world with his favourite rock groups. In barely two years, he went from a childhood bedroom with a poster of Robert Smith to The Cure’s tour bus.

Though it didn’t seem like it at the time, the years Mueller was living the dream – the late-eighties to the mid-nineties – were actually the last hurrah for the music scene as we knew it. The era of flourishing live pub venues and record stores, and rock journalists as cultural arbiters and agitators, is now long gone.

Featuring cameo appearances from luminaries of the Seattle grunge boom and the Britpop response to it, and encounters with the likes of U2, The Cure, Pearl Jam, The Fall and Elvis Costello, It’s Too Late to Die Young Now is an Almost Famous for Generation X, and a hilarious and heartfelt eulogy to a life that seems even less probable now than it did at the time.


It's Too Late to Die Young Now, Andrew Mueller.

It’s Too Late to Die Young Now, Andrew Mueller.

Being more than mildly interested in the lives of musicians, I’ve read my share of rockstar autobiographies in my lifetime. They usually go the same way – a wilfully naive rockstar grows up with some degree of hardship, gets their break and, in an emotionally immature state, enters a world of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, does a bunch of crazy shit and then gets all existential at the end. But It’s Too Late to Die Young Now is the first time I’ve read a rockstar journalist’s autobiography. I must say, if all the writers of rock are as good as Andrew Mueller, the zeitgeist ought to be more popular than it is.

It’s Too Late to Die Young Now was given to me on my birthday by a kind friend, and I’ve just finished it, and it was wonderful. Written by Andrew Mueller, who was a rock journalist for the UK’s Melody Maker during the 90s, this book is a glimpse into both the writing of one of the most infamous music publications and the life of a music journalist – the elation, the random interview questions, the festival mud, the antics, the depression, the soul-crushingly low pay.

Mueller’s humour is typically antipodean (he’s an Aussie) – condescendingly mocking of everything and everyone, most of all himself. Although you won’t find much mention of heavy metal, Deicide do make a brief appearance after Mueller reviews their debut, Deicide:

“Whoever it was,” nudged my opening, “who said that the Devil had all the best tunes never heard Deicide.” The review grew less complimentary from there. On publication, I was called by the press officer at Deicide’s label, Roadrunner, who imparted the grim tidings that Deicide’s major domo, Glen Benton, had cast a hex on me. Undaunted, a year or two later I would review Deicides next album, as well, concluding with the challenge: “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough, you great fairy.” To date, I have suffered no ill effects as a consequence of my impertinance. Perhaps Benton is biding his time.

The book continues in this vain. Between it’s covers you will find some hilarious anecodes from many bands you will recognise – Sisters of Mercy, the Cure, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Johnny Rotten, Pearl Jam, Lemonheads, Nirvana, Suede … the list goes on.

I’ve had to keep dragging this book around the house so I could look up bands I didn’t recognise on youtube. Thank you, Andrew Mueller, for introducing me to the Fatima Mansions. Thank you. And it was cool to see some appearances from local favourites, like the Straitjacket Fits.

I found this book engaging, not only because of the appearance and antics of some of my favorite musicians, but because of the hijinks of Mueller and the Melody Maker team. The infamous “Riot Grrl” wars (if you weren’t a fan, you were declared an enemy), the animosity between Melody Maker and their competing title, NME, some insane inter-office politics that often found their way onto the pages of the magazine, insane reader-letters and their witty replies, the time Melody Maker became a sounding-board for self-harmers following Manic Street Preacher’s frontman’s disappearance, the list goes on …

One of my favourite writers, Caitlin Moran, makes several appearances, as she worked at Melody Maker while still in her teens. All-in-all, Mueller made the magazine sound both like a nuthouse and the coolest place in the world to work. If his goal in this book was to say, “Sure, you get paid shit, but music journalism is the best career on earth,” then mission accomplished. I think he should donate a copy of It’s Too Late to Die Young Now to every school careers counseller, so that Metallica-shirt-wearing weirdos like me could read it at age 16 and know that there is hope.

If there’s a problem with this book, it’s that you’ve really got to have a more-than-passing knowledge of 90s rock to really get to grips with it. Otherwise it’s just a sea of weird-sounding names and oddball situations. Also, there isn’t really a hero to the story – there are a whole collection of heros, many of them with names we remember, but single set of personalities carry the book from beginning to end. Mueller acts as narrator, and he does this job admirably, but his narrative really serves as the framework on which the story sits. What details we get of his personal life make us hunger for more. This definitely isn’t a “bare-all” autobiography, although I love his casual and astute observations about being an ex-pat in London.

If you’re looking for something to read, and at the same time, a list of new albums you absolutely must check out, then I would grab yourself a copy of It’s Too Late to Die Young Now.

Buy It’s Too Late to Die Young Now on Amazon.

Want to read more from me? Well, check out my novel, At War With Satan – the ebook version is only $2.99 from AmazonKobo, and Smashwords.