I was lucky enough to make a small contribution to it, and here -- with Mary's permission -- it is.
BY STEVE SIMELS
If truth be told, when the lovely and talented Mary Donnelly asked me to contribute some introductory words to the book you now hold in your hand (or whatever the phrase is if you're reading it via some sort of digital device). I was more than a bit hesitant. For a couple of reasons.
The first, of course, is that I consider Mary a good friend. Secondly, if you've read any of my poor scribblings about rock music and pop culture over the last couple of years, it's almost entirely due to the fact that Mary trusted me enough to give me a spare set of keys to the car, metaphorically speaking, over at PowerPop, the website she created in 2004, and I am thus eternally in her debt on a professional level. Both of these facts, of course, might lend a certain credence to the idea that anything nice I have to say about Boys Don't Lie would fall into the category of what SPY magazine used to refer to as "logrolling in our time." You know -- a little, uh, self-serving.
Another, and probably the more important, reason I was initially reluctant to contribute to the project is that the greatest foreword to a music tome of all time has already been written, so, like, what's the point? I refer, of course, to the work of legendary Irish playwright and pub crawler Samuel Beckett, who in a prefatory note to the first (or maybe third) edition of Nick Tosches' Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll called it "the only book about rock 'n' roll that knows what it's talking about", a claim (and essay) that while almost certainly actually penned by Tosches (the Great Man himself being probably dead at the time) is unlikely to be bettered any time soon, at least not by a white suburban punk like me.
All that said, however, the fact remains that Boys Don't Lie is an exemplary rock-band bio and then some. On the most basic level, it's brilliantly researched, to the point where one suspects its subjects learned all sorts of stuff about themselves they didn't know. It also puts Shoes' now decades-long saga into a historical/cultural/music-biz context in a way that nobody's had the wit or temerity to do before, which is to say that apart from a passionate (and convincing) critical argument for just why these guys' music is important, it also makes clear where it came from along with the real-world strictures that led them to creating it. In other words, this band may have been hermetic and out of step with the pop mainstream on some level, but in fact none of their albums were, as Robert Christgau famously suggested, written and recorded by elves.
This is also a book about pop obsessions, by which I mean there are cult bands, there are Cult Bands, and then there are Shoes. Shoes have been a life changer for a lot of people (Mary included, obviously) over the years, but it's not exactly news that they've never sold a lot of records (at a level, say, commensurate with their critical accolades) since their debut LP Black Vinyl Shoes appeared to a world in equal parts baffled and delighted by it. The subtext of Boys Don't Lie is how that process works, how three guys working in a sort of provincial-but-not-really isolation (their Zion, Illinois roots turn out to be far more important and interesting than I for one had realized) came up with the equivalent of a secret language that spoke first of all to themselves and then, in ways that must have surprised them, to a small subset of humanity that got the message in an instant.
Which means, now that I think of it, that Christgau's elves formulation was not completely off the mark, and that what makes Shoes unique -- for those who also speak that secret language -- is that they sound, simultaneously, like nothing you've exactly ever heard before and something you seem to have heard heretofore only in your head. Last summer, discussing the work in progress over a Japanese dinner, Mary asked me, "Have you ever turned anybody on to Shoes by playing the albums for them?" It seemed a silly question, at first, until I realized -- no, in fact, I never had; the people I knew who loved the band had, to a person, discovered them on their own, without prompting from me or any other fans. And I was reminded of what Jules Feiffer said about the pop obsession of his youth -- the first generation of American comic books. "When Superman at last appeared," Feiffer wrote in The Great Comic Book Heroes, his definitive history of the all-in-color-for-a-dime stories that changed his life, "he brought with him the deep satisfaction of all underground truths. Our reaction was less 'How original!' than 'But, of course!'"
If ever there was an "of course!" band, Shoes is it.
But enough, as it were, of my yakking; the band's story, and much, much more, awaits you. In Boys Don't Lie -- which, despite what that probably-dead drunken Gaelic lout had to say earlier, actually is the only book about rock & roll that knows what it's talking about.
-- PARIS 2013
Delightful as that is, if I do say so myself, the rest of the book is way, way better. Trust me.
Also -- order a copy over at Amazon HERE.
And in case you were wondering what the fuss is all about, (and in which case, I can't imagine why you're currently haunting this here blog) please enjoy the 1979 video for Shoes' "Too Late."