Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Terre Roche's Blabbermouth, a memoir



I've been obsessed with the Roches lately. I've always been a fan, but a couple of months ago I listened to their 1995 album Can We Go Home Now and got hooked all over again. After I bought the few Roches albums I didn't already own, I listened to their guest appearances on other artists' albums. Still wanting more, I ordered Terre Roche's self-published memoir, Blabbermouth.

This slim book (110 pages) came out in 2013 and is a print-on-demand title that is available only through Lulu.com

The Roches' music defies categorization, as critics like to say. The group was associated with the Greenwich Village folk scene, but they weren't a folk act. They were more closely aligned with the '70s singer-songwriter scene but wrote about offbeat topics, peppered their songs with in-jokes and private references, and weren't afraid of dissonance. They were kind of like the post-punk group the Raincoats combined with a traditional pop vocal sister group like the Lennon Sisters. But the Roches were way weirder than the clean-cut Lennon Sisters and more musicianly than most post-punk groups.  

Within the first several paragraphs of Blabbermouth, I felt like I'd wandered into a room where people were arguing. Before the book was published, Terre shared a draft of Blabbermouth with her mother and sisters. They objected to her airing of the family's secrets and wrote letters asking her to cease and desist. Terre put the letters at the beginning of the book. 

As a result of the book, she was ousted from the group and apparently has had a strained relationship with her sisters ever since.

I didn't like the family-feud aspect of the book. I love the Roches' music and would prefer that they live in happy harmony, but that's not the way life is. The entire first half of the book is riveting, though. It describes Terre and Maggie's ups and downs as they pursued a music career, and I couldn't stop reading. 

The story feels complete up to their 1975 album Seductive Reasoning and subsequent professional meltdown. Afterward, Suzzy joined the group, and the three sisters became the Roches. At that point, the story skips ahead to Terre's post-Roches life, when she's struggling to make a living as a guitar teacher and make sense of it all. 

Reader reviews of the book say that it should be longer, and I agree, because it seems as if the entire middle of the book is missing. I wanted to read about the other Roches' albums, the group's attempts to go mainstream, their television appearances, their journey from major to independent labels, and all of the other professional and artistic struggles that surrounded the peak years of their popularity. The book skips past all of that.

In the parts that are included, though, Terre doesn't hold back—she writes about some deep, dark, and personal stuff. The naked photo on the cover symbolizes the nakedness within. I've read plenty of biographies but not many memoirs, so this book got me thinking about the ethics of memoir writing. I decided that I'm undecided: I loved Blabbermouth and felt nothing but compassion and affection for the Roches, but I also can understand why Terre's family didn't want some of these stories to be told. Like the book itself, my journey as a reader was filled with tortured introspection. Now I've moved on to a book about psychopathy, and it seems much lighter. 






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