HELL by Ben Foster aka Ben Weasel of Screeching Weasel.
Fiction, May 2001. 191 pages. Hope
and Nonthings Publishing.
Spanning a 10 year time period, 1989-1999, Ben
Foster weaves an adventurous tale of a fictitious punk rock band called
Pagan Icons. Written through the eyes of frontman Joe Pagan, we witness as
the band starts out as an unknown punk band to reaching semi-stardom as
the Pagan Icons capitalize on the popularity of punk rock during the mid
to late 1990’s.
begin with a little character development and band history. Joe is about
to turn 21 years old and the band is already four years old. We are
immediately introduced to Joe’s passion for beer, pot, fighting with his
girlfriend Sylvia, and arguing with just about anyone within eyesight. Oh,
let’s not forget his ability to be Mr. Quick Draw when it comes to
spitting out the smartass comments to anyone and everyone. The book also
goes into some detail concerning various band members as they come and go.
Most notably, Jimmy and Vic. Jimmy is the lead guitarist and has been
Joe’s best friend since forever. Vic is one of the drummers and once
starred as the goon on a minor league hockey team in Canada. We get to
know these various band mates mainly through Joe’s annoyance with them.
we’re off on a few small Pagan Icon tours, the hijinx that goes with
being on the road, excessive crowd baiting, and Joe’s struggle with his
troublesome relationship with Sylvia. Even while on the road and having
sex with other punk chickies, Joe can’t stop thinking about Sylvia and
how she drives him crazy, but just can’t shake the love he feels for
third of Like Hell dives a little bit deeper into Joe’s personal life as
he struggles with wanting to earn a living by making punk rock, but hates
the notion of becoming famous due to his music. It is here that Joe’s
differences with his band mates really surface and his love for Sylvia
becomes harder to deal with because they just can’t seem to get along.
Wrapping the book up, Joe seems to have reached
his end as Pagan Icons are popular enough to open for big time “punk”
bands and get three page stories written about them in Rolling Stone
Magazine. However, along with the band’s semi-stardom, Joe continues to
wrestle with his inner demons as he fights to keep the Pagan Icons from
losing their dignity while still being able to make the big dough. Along
with the hassles of being in a popular band, Joe must also come to grips
with his still festering love for Sylvia and dealing with a shocking
tragedy that throws him for a loop.
Although Ben has stated that his book is a work
of fiction, there are some striking similarities between himself and Joe,
as well as Pagan Icons and Screeching Weasel. Joe writes for a punk
fanzine called Punk Bible and is fired after supposedly becoming a
“sellout.” Ben use to write for Maximum Rock-n-Roll and was dismissed
after The Riverdales (Screeching Weasel side project) opened for Green
Day. At least that’s what the story is. In Like Hell, Pagan Icons
temporarily split from their long time record label as did Screeching
Weasel with Lookout Records. Anyway, Ben says this book is fiction.
said, this book is a great read. It is entertaining, funny, and gives the
reader a good look at what it might be like to play in a punk rock band.
Grimy details of life on the road are graphically depicted; smelly farts
in the van, spreading peanut butter with a screwdriver because nobody
thought to bring a knife along, sex with a skinhead chick as her skinhead
boyfriend gets porked by another man close by. You know, the usual road
also a nice surprise with Like Hell is the love story between Joe and
Sylvia. Throughout the entire book, no matter what’s going on, things
always seem to circle back to Joe and Sylvia’s love for each other.
Although they are seemingly deeply love each other, they are constantly
fighting and cheating on one another. To make things worse, Sylvia sleeps
with a guy who is hung like a water buffalo. That hurts…hurts Joe that
is. I can relate to that. My wife’s ex-boyfriend had a huge dong. Then
there’s me..sporting a full fledge pee wee.
As I read
this book on an airplane to Las Vegas, I was constantly rolling on the
floor hysterically laughing. The funny cracks hit you out of nowhere and
are often simply one sentence. One such sentence, “I mean, the guy had a
fuckin’ moustache and a mullet for chrissake,” still has me busting a
gut laughing (I find mullet humor most amusing). Of course you’ll have
to read the book to appreciate that particular crack.
annoyed me about Joe, the main character. He basically despises his fans.
I’ll tell you, I am sick and friggin tired of hearing about how people
in bands hate their fans. Fiction or non-fiction, I still hate it and I
fail to understand it. Joe is also one of those guys who you just
wouldn’t like to be around, ie. always looking for a confrontation and
overly boisterous in a mean spirited way when it comes to his thoughts. I
really hope Ben Foster isn’t like Joe because I really wouldn’t mind
meeting him (been a Screeching Weasel fan forever), but screw that if
he’s like Joe. Ah, but this is fiction, so maybe the teenie bopper in me
Ok, back to
the book. Simply put, this a great read and I had a ball reading it. The
best thing about this book is that Ben doesn’t waste words. He gets to
the point and doesn’t use 25 words to describe something that can be
described in 15 words without being too pithy. In other words, Ben gives
us pointed substance with a little extra to sink our teeth into.
Get yourself a six pack, sit your ass down, and
read read read. – Denis Sheehan