HOW THE MISTAKES WERE MADE by Tyler McMahon

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release date: October 11, 2011
MSRP: hardcover: $26.95, trade paper: $14.99

I saw this book in Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks back. The cover caught my eye and I thought it was a crime novel. That turned out to be completely wrong.

How the Mistakes Were Made is the story of “the first lady of hardcore” Laura Loss and her cross over into the world of grunge. It flashes back and forth in between the early 80s and the early 90s. Those two periods were very significant in the history of rock and roll, bringing us hardcore in the early 80s and the early 90s brought grunge.

Laura Loss started out as an underage bass player in her brother Anthony’s Washington DC-based hardcore band. The two were brought up by liberal college professors in the DC suburbs, and for them in that time and place, rebellion means hardcore music. It’s their only option. Hardcore back then was scary: shows regularly turned into riots and people would get hurt before the cops would show up, turning things from bad to worse. Laura Loss watches the scene destroy a person she cares deeply for, who helped make the scene what it was.

Flash forward a few years and Laura is living in Seattle playing in the kind of hipster band that she and her brother railed against during the hardcore days. While on tour through rural Montana she meets two musicians, Nathan and Sean. Nathan is a vocalist and bass player. Sean is a guitar playing prodigy who, because of a neurological condition, sees colors in the music he plays. This trait helps him become a Jimi Hendrix/Kurt Cobain figure later in the story. After an act of kindness, Nathan and Sean show up at Laura’s apartment door. They end up forming The Mistakes, a Nirvana-like band, and sign with a local label that to me is a thinly-veiled portrait of the seminal grunge record label Sub Pop. Woven throughout the book, if you are familiar with this era of musical history, are references to people and bands that will make you wonder how closely they are based on real-life people.

Now, many of these Seattle bands from the 90s… They ended badly. Whether it was insanity, suicide, or overdose, very few came away unscathed. From the beginning of the book, for me from the very first page, it’s clear it’s going to end badly.

I hated How the Mistakes Were Made, and finished it just to finish it. The character of Laura Loss rubbed me the wrong way. I thought she was very unlikeable, but then again so were most of the other characters in the book. When the motivation behind some of Laura’s actions is finally revealed, I was outright angry. Again, here is another book that happens to be a piece of shit, taking shelf space away from a more deserving book. I want to know who gave this the green light, because it never should have happened.

If you want to read about grunge or hardcore, stay away from the novels. Truth is stranger than fiction, remember? Everett True’s book Nirvana: The Biography is an excellent place to start on grunge. American Hardcore by Steven Blush and Paul Rachman, and Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azzerad are also required reading.

Dave Wahlman