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LIKE 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.
     Things 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.
     Next, 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 her.
     The second 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.
     With that 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 trip stuff.
     What is 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.
     One thing 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 is safe.
     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



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