Ginger Nuts of Horror
Jason Arnopp is no stranger to Gingernuts of Horror. His debut novel, The Last Days Of Jack Sparks, was a big hit with us in 2016, and we were delighted when he agreed to be interviewed about the writing of that novel.
Since then, he’s been hard at work on the screenplay - the book having been optioned by Ron Howard’s production company, Imagine Entertainment - and in between he’s put out this book; a ‘greatest hits’ collection of interviews with some of the biggest names in rock and metal, from 1992 to 2005.
See, it turns out, before taking up storytelling as a full time occupation, Jason was actually earning a living doing my other dream job, as a reviewer and interviewer for the mighty Kerrang! Magazine, through the period I was growing up as a metalhead, and he got to attend shows and chat with… well, basically everyone who was anyone.
You could go off some people, if they weren't so damn likable.
This book collects a career spanning assortment of interviews with Rock royalty, from Anthony Kiedis and the Robinson brothers in 1992/3 through to Fred Durst and System Of A Down in 2005. It’s a real who’s who of the period, and the interviews themselves are conducted, for the most part, with the kind of unfettered access and free-flowing questioning you’d struggle to get now - a point the author himself makes in the footnotes.
Ah, yes, the footnotes. In addition to the 30 interviews collected herein, Arnopp adds some pretty hefty value to proceedings by extensively footnoting the pieces with additional information. These notes are often fascinating, giving either further reminiscence and context for the questioning, background information about his wider relationship with either the subject or their music, or occasionally berating his younger self for a faux pas or missed opportunity to delve deeper.
It certainly adds another layer of interest to proceedings, though my own preference was to read the entire block of interviews first, then explore the footnotes afterwards - though the ebook was impressively well formatted, making passage between the notes and the main text smooth, I personally preferred the experience of reading the interviews as published, and getting the ‘backstage gossip’ afterwards.
And blimey, the interviews. I was hit on more than one occasion by a powerful wave of nostalgia, as the names of bands and musicians washed over me - Garbage, Slash, Manic Street Preachers (yes, with RIchie James, in Tokyo, for crying out loud), James Hetfield, Trent Reznor, Faith No More, Rage Against The Machine, Eminem… I’m not a rabid fan of every band featured (I have an active and not entirely rational loathing for Limp Bizkit, for example), but I found myself transported back to a time when these names, these artists, dominated my mental landscape, were hugely important to me as signifiers of identity.
In that sense, it not always a comfortable look back. I was a huge Chilli peppers fan in 92 (and still don’t have a lot of time for the now-fashionable hatred for the group), and am to this day a Black Crowes devotee, but neither group covers itself in glory in these interviews. They come across as nice enough, but there’s also… well, there’s no polite way to put it, but a vacuity to many of their answers. It’s just a touch depressing to see artists I’d so worshiped come across as the not-terribly-well-informed, arrogant and yet insecure men children they must, logically, always have been. Or maybe I’m just getting old, and it’s depressing to read interviews with old gods who were younger then than I am now.
But, hey, it’s a good kind of depressing! No, really it is. For starters, there were some surprises. Whilst Pantera came across very much as the hyper-macho guitar bros their image always suggested, Korn frontman Jonathan Davis transcended my own mental image of him, with some to me surprising displays of emotional intelligence. The interview with Trent Reznor is just superb, meanwhile, taking in pretty much everything you’d have wanted to ask the man about, in between finishing The Downward Spiral Tour and working on The Fragile. Reznor is a superb subject, but Arnopp really shines here too - asking smart, probing questions, and then just getting the hell out of the way. And much as it pains me to admit it, even arch douchebag Fred Durst comes across as more human than you’d have any right to expect, given his public persona. Although maybe that’s more a function of the fact that nobody could really be that much of an asshole.
The other factor that packed a significant emotional punch here, for me, is the weight of history. The obvious, sledgehammer blows fall when the subject is someone no longer with us - the aforementioned Manics chat, obviously, and Dimebag Darrell, and an especially tough interview with Shannon Hoon, which covers a lot of the issues that would sadly lead to his passing, far too soon.
But there’s also just some significant cultural moments - or, I suppose, sub-cultural ones. Like getting to interview Steve Harris and Bruce DIckinson as Iron Maiden wrapped up what was, at the time, Dickinson’s final tour with the band. And as well as the aforementioned conversation with Trent Reznor, right between his two seminal albums, there’s moments like bumping into Slash in 1996, when the prospect of a new Guns N Roses studio album still felt like a live, somewhat imminent possibility, rather than the depressing, cruel joke it would later become (Slash himself came over well in this conversation, I think, honest about some of the obvious issues in the band, but also surprisingly diplomatic and upbeat).
Taken all in all, if, like me, you loved this particular style of music during this period of time, it’s hard to call this anything other than indispensable. It’ll put you back there, that’s all - back to a time when you felt that a perfectly struck power chord and a screaming, curse-laden vocal might actually have the power to change the world. Jason is an able guide through this foreign-feeling past, and there’s an undeniable pleasure in juxtaposing his youthful swagger with his more considered, reflective footnotes.
The only real quibble is with what must, surely, have been left in the Arnopp vaults. You’re not telling me he hasn’t sat down with Marilyn Manson, or Ginger Wildheart, for example, to name but two musicians of the period with a deserved rep for giving good copy.
What do you say, Jason? Can we get an encore?