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The Smell of Death

Bruce Duff

Reviewed by Tim Stegall, Fri., May 30, 2014

Summertime Peruse

Barnacle/Rare Bird, 380 pp., $16.95 (paper)

What is the titular Smell of Death? According to the first chapter of rock journalist/punk musician Bruce Duff's account of a wintry, three-month, Nineties European tour he spent playing bass for noted Stooges disciple Jeff Dahl, it permeated every club GG Allin played. Duff begins with Dahl opening for the notorious sewer-punk in San Francisco, seemingly so he can draw an analogy between Allin's fetid funk and what dogs "the heels of every musician traveling on a low-budget van tour ... It's as if the modern independent econo-musician is stalked by specters: unnameable illnesses a step behind, venereal disease to the right, psychosis, loneliness, and paranoia to the left. Dead ahead: A skanky bar in Any Town with Your Band's Name on the tiny, battered marquee – misspelled." Thus opens a tour memoir minus any glamour, a hard-boiled, hilarious romp through cramped vans, inept promoters, remuneration never delivered, inadequate meals, a distinct lack of groupie sex but myriad broken promises and dashed hopes. Duff's dual life renders the prose darkly humorous and highly readable. You can almost smell that funk. (The author signs and reads from The Smell of Death at Brave New Books, 1904-B Guadalupe, on Thursday, May 29, 7pm.)

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