Book Review – Primus, Over The Electric Grapevine: Insight Into Primus and the World of Les Claypool

Book Review  Primus, Over The Electric Grapevine: Insight Into Primus and the World of Les Claypool
Author: Greg Prato
Akashic Books
All Access Rating: A-

Greg Prato - Primus, Over
The Electric Grapevine
Most recently, noted music writer Greg Prato chronicled the heady early years of Iron Maiden, compiling a fast-paced, absolutely engrossing oral history of the brief, but explosive, Paul Di'Anno era. Last fall, the ever prolific Prato meticulously traced the long, strange trip of Les Claypool and the oddball alternative-rock circus called Primus in "Primus, Over The Electric Grapevine," out via Akashic Books.

While the Iron Maiden book was more of a snapshot of a band on the brink of greatness, just as the movement that would become known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was gathering strength, Prato's Primus primer covers the entire history of this wildly original combo and one of the most unlikely success stories to emerge from the '90s alternative-rock zeitgeist.

A master storyteller, skilled in the art of assembling oral histories that not only examine their subjects in great depth but also spin a great yarn, Prato is able to combine a thorough study of Claypool's eccentric genius with a relaxed, free-flowing narrative of the Primus' origins story, detailing influences and lineup changes, early performances and the making of landmark Primus albums from Suck on This to Frizzle Fry and the breakthrough LP Sailing the Seas of Cheese on through Tales From the Punchbowl and more, while also tracking their rise to fame and tours with Rush and U2.

Casting a wide net in terms of interview subjects, Prato weaves together commentary from a multitude of sources. Everyone from former and current Primus members to Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett – a friend of Claypool's from childhood – and Rush bassist Geddy Lee, Public Enemy's Chuck D, "South Park" creator Matt Stone, Phish's Trey Anastasio, and Tom Waits, just to name a few, gets a say and contributes to the tale, but Prato doesn't stop there, interviewing less famous friends and associates, including "Trouz," the band's road manager to develop a well-rounded and rich portrayal.

Done in conjunction with Primus, "Primus, Over The Electric Grapevine" doesn't get bogged down by minutiae, and although it could called an "exhaustive" work, it's far from an exhausting read. It is dense with anecdotes and behind-the-scenes revelations, the whimsical, all-over-the-map read revealing how music videos for "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" and "Tommy The Cat," among others, were created, while sharing tales of the characters that inspired such classic songs as "Fish On" and "Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweakers."

And yet for all the conversation regarding their insane musical chops and the hilarious mayhem caused by the inimitable Bob C. Cock, the greatest accomplishment of Prato's work is how it paints Claypool as an artist able to craft something sublime and absurdly funny out of the mundane, all while staying surprisingly grounded. Remarkably candid and often irreverent, Claypool and the universe he inhabits – where fishing is not only a favorite pastime, but also provides comedic fodder, and people like "Flouncin' Fred" play key supporting roles – could be the subject of a Fellini movie. Not that Hollywood would ever have the gumption to turn Prato's book into a screenplay. Or, would they?
– Peter Lindblad

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