Skyscraper Magazine » Niceness in the ’90s: An Indie Music Memoir
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Jim Miller
Pleasant Peasant LLC
Format: Paperback
Release Date: March 23, 2011
By Dave Cantor April 12, 2011

Book writing’s a herculean task and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly, even as volumes based on Twitter accounts are spiraling our culture into a rubbish bin no one seems to have noticed yet.

With that in mind, the wealth of non-fiction books over the last few years detailing specific 1980s bands or scenes hasn’t been the most troublesome development in underground culture’s broadening. Volumes on gunk punk (whatever that is), Cheetah Chrome, and Hüsker Dü have all been well received. They should be. Even if some of that prose gets called into question – and rightly so – the stories and attendant perspectives remain unique enough to get those tomes over. Jim Miller, as well meaning as he surely is, doesn’t write a mean sentence and, unfortunately, was far enough over on music’s periphery that his memoir, Niceness in the ‘90s, reads like a short pamphlet typed up for the benefit of friends and relatives. It’s 288 pages, but that’s with some decent sized typeface and a wealth of blank pages interspersed among the three or four page chapters. Yup, three or four page chapters.

Not to rail against the guy without reason – and surely, whoever marketed this thing is more to blame than its author – but if a book’s billed as having some inside track on Nirvana, Hole, and whoever else was set to make it big during the late 1980s and early 1990s indie music scene, there should actually be a few good stories. Instead, there are repeated qualifications about not really knowing Kurt Cobain personally, just meeting him, and a few wind sucking Dave Grohl asides. The latter, at least, come correct with self-effacing critique to close out the book.

Before Miller’s life whizzes by, there are a few engaging moments – his friendship with L7 and West Coast tours he went on. Punctuation aside, feeling like this thing was dashed off at a moment’s notice is almost an inevitability. Similar attempts at personalizing history generally serve to investigate the ins and outs of a time or the maturation of a movement. Miller, a musician living in Los Angeles, had plenty of opportunity to do that, whether it was through his affiliation with Sympathy for the Record Industry or a fuller view of Jane’s Addiction. Something. Briefly, the author retells getting drunk for a few days and dicking around with his guitar during the last set of LA Riots concurrent with Rodney King’s assault. While reading this particular chapter, we should all be asking for more detail and for Miller to draw out his observations. That’s what books are for. At times, Niceness in the ‘90s feels like an assortment of (really) short recollections. It’s not going to satisfy most voracious readers. But if an afternoon with a few free hours is ahead of you, there are surely worse ways to spend it than reading about this guy’s life.

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