Monday, January 19, 2009

Book Recommendation: Stripped

I've always felt there were a couple "levels" of music fandom. Level one are the fans who really like a band's music. Level two are the more fanatical fans who own everything a band ever put out, no matter how obscure. Above this level, however (or depending how you personally look upon it, below) is the level three fan. The fan who is not content merely to memorize lyrics and attend every show, but who memorizes the labels a band's records came out on, what year those albums came out, or who produced each one. The fan who, pathetic as it may seem, wants to know what microphone a particular vocal on their favorite song was recorded with or what synth made a particular sound.

Hello. My name is Tom, and I am a level three fan. ("Hello, Tom.")

Okay, I may not be that way about every band, but with bands I really like, I develop an almost obsessive need to know all the details of how they achieved what they achieved, as if that will somehow give me a window into their genius (it won't). Depeche Mode is the band that got me interested in electronic music, and, I'm sad to say, they're a band I'm a level three fan of. I've read a lot of interviews and books written about their music, but I can safely say, that thus far, I haven't found a better or more thorough one than Jonathan Miller's "Stripped".

The band's roots are traced all the way back to their school days, but that's not what makes it great. What makes it great, at least for level three fans like myself, is that it doesn't just tell the story of the people involved, but it has incredibly detailed... uh... details about the equipment and processes used during the different periods of the band's existence that are fascinating. If you're one of those people who is constantly wondering what machine made what sound, or how they achieved a certain effect, this is the book for you. Of course, the human stories of each member of the band are interesting to hear, but for me, it's the level of technical detail in this book that makes it stand out from other books about the band. You enjoyment of this book is largely related to what level a fan you are of the band. It's a great band biography regardless, but I could see how non-techy fans might get bored with the more technical tidbits. One way or the other, if you are at least at the level of fandom where reading a book about Depeche Mode's history appeals to you, this one is probably the definitive one.



Smalldot said...

If you've seen any of the documentaries that have come with the re-mastered catalog (being a level 3 fan I'm sure you have ^_^), Fletch says something that I think is quite apt: "Depeche fans know more about Depeche Mode than we do."

I'm also guilty of being a level 3 fan. I've read two different bios on the band, I obsessed about them for years, and when I was first learning about synthesis, they were the band I studied the most. I did stop short of trying to own everything they put out regardless of obscurity.

I've seen this book around but have neglected to pick it up. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll definitely have to get it now.

Tom said...

You'll enjoy it for sure!

Line of Control said...

My name is Sunil and i once was a level 4 fan of DM. my mania reached scary proportions around the time of Violator and then went down...

what is a Level 4 fan you ask???

It's a given that your fave bit of 101 (the video) is where Alan chats about his Emulator! You own everything they have ever done on tape, CD and vinyl. (yes i have all the albums on all formats!). Your prized possession is a signed letter and photo from Wilder himself (long story).

and, i once made a list of the different studios they had used on different albums and tracks and wrote down the reverb characteristics of the rooms and each song- just for fun... got through 5 albums or so and then realized that maybe they used effects and not just the room... d'oh!!! this was before i became a musician...

i'm glad to say that a series of crap albums allowed me to...ehem... shake the disease.

Tom said...

Although, if you read "Stripped" you'll find out that often they DID use real spaces for reverb. One track... I think it was "Pipeline" had it's vocals recorded under a bridge near the studio that had a nice reverb, for example.