Book Review: NOTHIN’ BUT A GOOD TIME by Tom Beaujour & Richard Bienstock
By August Edwards
Nothin’ But a Good Time is a dazzlingly dirty oral history of hard rock. For those who lived through and loved the explosion in the ‘80s, you’ll either find it great to relive this period, or you’ll find the piece lacking a critical retrospective eye.
The book is written as an oral history. An oral history is a necessary genre for documentation, especially when the subjects—a large cast of characters—are still alive and have colorful recollections. Quotes from the interviews for such books are not copied and pasted at random; rather, they’re curated and carefully assembled to create a coherent story. I only bring this up because I have a lot of reverence for the literary genre, especially after reading Please Kill Me, the meticulous and uncensored oral history of punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. All of that being said, I think Beaujour and Bienstock did a fine job with the construction of this book.
Nothin’ But a Good Time gives a rich look into the clubs on Sunset Strip and the day-to-day life that was a reality for those in the scene. For the most part, we get a pretty good idea about band dynamics, as well. We hear from Guns N’ Roses, Twisted Sister, Vixen, Madam X, and Cinderella, just to name a few bands, along with managers, photographers, club owners, publicists and record producers. The book addresses a few crucial questions (ex. Why did hair metal die in the early/mid ‘90s?) that I did find enlightening.
Nothin’ But a Good Time begins by letting the reader know that the people being interviewed are not going to be apologizing for their past transgressions or ideations—exaggerated sexism, racism, homophobia; the book serves to report, not repent.
To me, hard rock represents when a community of Lost Boys were given the freedom to do whatever they wanted (the freedom was fed by what their audience wanted to see). While they learned lessons along the way (sometimes from their own mistakes, even), it doesn't seem like they had anyone around to keep them in check, teach them, or nurture them. I think the entire culture, however glamorous or cool, was unsustainable as it was, and I don't know if there will ever be another time where famous people don't have to keep their debauchery behind closed doors.
In addition to its inherent harmful inequalities, the genre didn’t continue to thrive past the early 90s (the way it did in the ‘80s) is because it was so extreme, from a sexual forefront to gaudy, painstakingly-designed getups (to me, their look was and remains the best element). The love of cock rock—now, classic rock—is still rampant today, however. There is an inexorable draw to the genre, maybe because there’s no room for subtlety, and that is kind of refreshing.
I think it would be important for these figures to discuss the topics of misogyny, racism, etc. now. Maybe to not apologize for their past (which would likely come off as insincere fluff), but to have a serious discussion that would ultimately illustrate why the music industry must be held accountable and continue progressing. That could set an important example for the fans of the genre, as well.
However, I that that is a completely different (crucial) book topic that was not intended for Nothin’ But a Good Time. While an oral history does need to exist about this time, I personally can’t imagine writing a book on this subject that doesn’t address any of that. And that’s why none of these artists will probably ever talk to me (or anyone, maybe; the cultural reflections may need to be done entirely by a third party, something sort of akin to the recent book She Come By It Natural on Dolly Parton by Sarah Smarsh).
I’d say you’d enjoy this book if you a) love these bands, or b) are willing to put up with 500+ pages to learn about this scene. You could skip out on this book if you’re not interested in this kind of history—the kind that sort of comes off as a lot of reminiscing and not very heavy critical thinking.