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Modest Mouse: A Pretty Good Read
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Modest Mouse: A Pretty Good Read

5.0 4
by Alan Goldsher

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Unruly and antagonistic, the Washington State rock trio Modest Mouse would seem like one of the least likely candidates for mainstream stardom: Their often brilliant live performances sometimes collapsed into utter chaos. Their highly original, highly off-center songs



Unruly and antagonistic, the Washington State rock trio Modest Mouse would seem like one of the least likely candidates for mainstream stardom: Their often brilliant live performances sometimes collapsed into utter chaos. Their highly original, highly off-center songs ran as long as eleven minutes. And their leader managed to raise eyebrows among music writers, law officials . . . and sometimes even his fans.

But Modest Mouse persevered. They didn't compromise their original, compelling musical style, nor did they lighten up on the attitude. They just waited for the world at large to catch up.

In 2004, with the release of their smash single "Float On," it finally happened. And it was worth the wait. For everybody.

Journalist Alan Goldsher uncovers the strange, little-known details of Modest Mouse's rise from DIY indie heroes to platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated international superstars. Goldsher also reveals the troubled background and fractured history of frontman Isaac Brock, a charismatic, cantankerous singer/songwriter who has spent as much time avoiding the media as he has attempting to control it.

Thoroughly researched, sharply funny, and filled with more than thirty rare photos, this unauthorized biography shows how Modest Mouse trashed the Behind the Music mold and created their own unique version of the rock 'n' roll, rags-to-expensive-rags success story.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bassist and journalist Goldsher chronicles the unexpected rise of Modest Mouse, the Washington State indie-rock band behind the infectiously upbeat 2004 single, "Float On." Like the previously published interviews from which this unauthorized biography was culled, this work spotlights sailor-mouthed, media-loathing front man Isaac Brock, whose songwriting knew much darker beginnings. A decade ago, the trio first built a healthy subgenre following with catchy, morbid and often nonsensical anthems. Brock later struggled with alcohol abuse, rape allegations that ultimately proved false and an assault that left him broken-jawed in the middle of a recording session. In a true-to-form darkest-before-dawn story, Brock served jail time for a DUI; drummer Jeremiah Green left the band for a mental hospital; and both coproducers walked away before Modest Mouse emerged with their most widely appealing album to date. Evoking the lore of Robert Johnson and Kurt Cobain, Goldsher attributes MM's allure partly to a "mythical" reputation Brock designed for himself as a notorious jerk to his fans as well as a starving-artist martyr. Goldsher cuts to the quick of the indie-rock scenester's antisellout, "hipper-than-thou" ethos in a style that's accessible and downright funny. While his reliance on secondhand sources and long-winded ruminations on individual songs may frustrate fans eager for new insight into the band member, Goldsher's book is an aptly titled jaunt through the MM story. (Dec.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Modest Mouse is an okay rock band with an unpleasant frontman. Intrigued?Music journalist Goldsher (Hard Bop Academy, not reviewed, etc.) delivers an enthusiastic and somewhat unorthodox unauthorized biography of the indie-rock combo Modest Mouse; the book's subtitle is a good indication of Goldsher's off-the-cuff, digressive style, which finds room for lengthy asides on the personality flaws of jazz great Charlie Parker, the history and anatomy of the rock "side project" and the challenges and rewards of writing unauthorized rock biographies. These digressions, and Goldsher's breezy, conversational tone, are most welcome, as the story of Modest Mouse's uneventful climb to the middle is less than gripping for those not already in the fan club. Goldsher understandably places most of the focus on singer/guitarist/songwriter Isaac Brock, who possesses a grating sort of anti-charisma. A foul-mouthed, belligerent curmudgeon, Brock is presumably the voice of some generation or other, but excerpts from interviews prove him an inarticulate one, and the lyrics quoted fail to create an impression of poetic significance. Accounts of Brock's seedy legal problems, which include a DUI conviction and rape allegation, do little to endear the man. Even the many photos included of the somewhat bloated and sullen-looking musician are off-putting. Goldsher, who is also a musician, effectively describes Modest Mouse's off-kilter sound, and his song-by-song analysis is insightful and pointed. But such erudition seems misplaced-is a middling lo-fi band with a single hit to their credit (the yelping "Float On") worth such careful attention? And who but the most fanatical of Brock's following could thrill to alengthy discussion of the bandleader's side project Ugly Casanova, an obscurity even within the rarified confines of the indie rock scene? As well-written and researched as this material is, it is more naturally the stuff of fanzines. A likely entertaining read for fans, but nothing to entice the general reader. Agent: Adam Chromy/Artists & Artisans, Inc.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.47(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Modest Mouse


There's this city, this tiny city, this unabashedly American city, a city that feels it is a special place where people care. How do we know that's how this place views itself? Because it says so word for word on their Web site: "A special place where people care."

Populated by approximately fifteen thousand people and a handful of malls, this Special Place Where People Care offers a boatload of engaging activities for those seeking engagement: you can join the Braves & Square Dance Club, or the Alps Trails Club, or the city Chorale (where you'll share "the power of chorale music." And we all know how powerful chorale music can be.). You can pick up a case of homebrewed 2001 Red Mountain Reserve—a superb Cabernet, dense with aromas of ripe blackberry, cassis, and a hint of plum, which are all perfectly balanced by aromas of vanilla, cola, licorice, spice, and cocoa, with just a hint of earthiness—at the Hedges Cellars Winery for fifty dollars a bottle, well worth the price. And for those ecologically minded, sea-loving types, you can visit F. I. S. H. (boldface type courtesy of Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery). And you don't want to mess around with F. I. S. H., believe you me—they used their weight with the city to ratify a chinook salmon conservation plan, a plan that protects this almost endangered species. Tread lightly around them, especially if you're a lox lover.

So where, you might ask, is this place, this utopian place, this magical place, this special place where people care? It's in the Great Northwest, in the great state of Washington, in the great county of King.

Welcome to Issaquah.


Historians know that the word issaquah is Indian in origin, but they have no idea of the definition—some have theorized that it's a bird, or a snake, or a river, or a microchip, or a blender. White families began settling in the region at some point in the 1860s. James and Martha Bush—possibly related to the forty-first and forty-third United States presidents, possibly not—are considered the founding father and mother of Issaquah.

In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed William Pickering the fifth territorial governor of Washington. Pickering settled in Issaquah four years later and purchased three hundred and twenty acres of land, land that is now covered by I-90 and a shopping center. After World War II, Issaquah evolved into a community; the town's population hovered around one thousand until the late 1940s, when the first bridge was built over Lake Washington. That passage brought Seattle within easy driving distance—making the drive from Issaquah to, say, the Showbox Theater, a breeze.

When Seattle become SEATTLE—java heaven, alterna-rock central, home of Major League Baseball's Mariners—local workers began to search for an alternative area to live, a place where the rents weren't obscene, where traffic wasn't a mess each and every day, where people care.

Welcome, once again, to Issaquah.


Here's another line of text you'll find over at http://www.ci.issaquah.wa.us: "Issaquah is committed to quality living through preservation and enhancement of the community's unique human and natural resources."

The irony about this statement is that the man who is arguably Issaquah's best-known human resource—probably Issaquah's biggest celebrity—definitely Issaquah's best-known rock star—spent a lot of time and energy not caring about this special place. At times, he seemingly didn't care much about anything at all. Except making music. And getting wasted.


Oh, here's a final interesting Issaquah factoid: In the mid and late 1800s, Issaquah's dominant crop was hops, which was picked by Asian and Indian laborers and used to make beer in the breweries of nearby Seattle.

Ah. That explains a lot about our man, Issaquah's own Isaac Brock.


Brock has a love/hate—or, more accurately, a tolerates/annoyed by—relationship with his hometown. Back in the day, there was much for him to love, despite Issaquah's relative quaintness. "It was a nice small town, with close proximity to Seattle," he says. "It was still beautiful nature and [it had] the small town thing going on. [But] when you're alone in the middle of a nowhere hick town, you drink a lot." That being the case, it's a good thing that Issaquah's dominant crop was hops.

But as an adult Isaac became less than enamored with the area. "The Internet boom and all that shit turned [Issaquah] into a California mall," he complains. "It's not the place I liked when I was a kid. It's kind of a bummer now. It's lost all of its charm. It now has five grocery stores, all within a few blocks of each other. What do you need that for? I guess competition keeps prices down. The Targets and all that shit, I mean, that shit's everywhere and it's killing America, really. I like living in cities."

Thanks to Issaquah's distinctly Northwestern climate (read: crappy), Brock also has an interesting relationship with weather in general. "Overcast, rain clouds, that's how we do up here," he says. "I get paranoid without the clouds. Seriously, I don't need to be reminded that the sun's there. I'll visit it in tropical places or whatever, but shit, [the sun] will be there. It'll be there long, long, long after me, and you know what? [The sun and I] don't need to get too familiar."


"I got my religious fix when I was pretty young," says Isaac Brock, who was born on July 9, 1975, and shares a birthday with Courtney Love, O. J. Simpson, and Jack White. Following either God's word or their own personal whims, Isaac's working-class Christian family was somewhat transitory; the entire family lived on a hippie commune in Oregon, and eventually joined an unconventional church in Montana that had, according to Brock, ties with the Branch Davidians. (The Branch Davidians were a fanatical religious group offshot from the Seventh Day Adventist church, and in 1993 the so-called cult became international news when federal agents sieged their headquarters in Waco, Texas. Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, along with eighty of the church's members, were killed in the fire.) "The Branch Davidians were a crazier branch," Isaac explains. "The one [church] we were part of was crazy—but not psychopathic." Little is known about the sect, other than that their doctrine is apparently one predicated on fear of hell and damnation, and is out of step with mainstream Protestant groups. (Much of Isaac's songwriting is laden with religions imagery—he's especially fixated on the devil—but he can't avoid this, because, for better or worse, God—or at least the God he was introduced to as a child—is in him.)

An impressionable child, Isaac fell under the church's sway—or at least he pretended to. "I was speaking in tongues and shit when I was a kid, and all that jazz," he says. "I remember all their deacons laid their hands on me and started speaking in tongues. That's when the spirit of the Lord is supposed to come into me and I was supposed to find my tongue. I robbed lyrics from goddamn 'Mary Poppins'—lukididltle lungila lukididtle lungila. And they just all kind of looked away."

Isaac is tight-lipped about the practices of the sect, but he speaks freely about one of the church's more odious preachers—a preacher who allegedly stole boatloads of money from his parishioners—tersely describing him as "an evil fuck."

"We were dirt ass poor," Brock says. "We lived in the preacher's basement [for a while], but he was way too creepy. [Once] my sister came upstairs in her nightgown and the preacher was like, 'Oh, kiddie porn.' I think that is when we moved out of his house."

Unfortunately, they weren't able to completely break ties with the evil fuck. "We were getting most of our food donated in boxes, and it quit showing up for quite a while. So one day [after we moved out of the basement], my dad is up in the preacher's office and he sees all of these boxes with 'Brock' written on it. The only thing left in them is string beans, which the preacher didn't like [to eat]." The good news is that should the sect's gospel be on target—hell, damnation, all that kind of junk—the preacher is, right at this very moment, bonding with Isaac's beloved devil. "He died a while back. When he died our whole family was so excited—and I am sure we were not the only ones."

Isaac and his family moved to Issaquah in 1986. Soon after they hit town, the house Isaac shared with his mother Kris, his aunt, his siblings, and his stepfather Mike Adair flooded, so the family was forced to find new lodgings. "We used to live in a trailer park," Brock says, "although it wasn't a place that I would say I would have liked to have grown up. There's not much pride in saying that you grew up eating government cheese and food that came in boxes, [delivered] by hillbillies."

This living situation wasn't ideal, but as is the case with much of his personal history, the truth about his level of destitution was likely somewhat exaggerated. His mother Kris Adair notes that the family trailer wasn't a stereotypical get-blown-away-in-a-tornado Winnebago, but rather a mobile home resembling a one-story ranch house, homey and tastefully decorated. (Among the trailer's many knickknacks is what Kris calls a "whatsit," a half-painted clay something-or-other that Isaac made in high school. One might speculate it's an unrecognized bong.) A landscaper by trade, Mike turned the area surrounding the "mome" into a miniature Japanese garden loaded with flowers, bushes, and various sorts of greenery. All that said, the trailer wasn't equipped to house a full family, so Isaac was forced to live in neighbors' basements, and then eventually in a shed next to the trailer. "One of the reasons I moved around so much is because there was never really room for me at home."

The Adairs both worked at City Lights, a local video store that doubled as a coffee bar, and money was tight, so if Isaac wanted something—like, say, a round of gymnastics classes—he had to figure out how to pay for it himself, an early lesson in the D. I. Y, lo-fi lifestyle that would eventually serve him well. "When he was eleven," Kris says, "he wanted to be a Jedi Knight or some such thing, [so he] spent every Saturday cleaning the Gymnastics East gym in Bellevue to help pay for his [gymnastics] classes."

He never made it onto the U.S. Men's Olympic Gymnastic Team, and light sabers were tough to come by in Washington State, so Isaac went back to work. "I've had a shitload of [jobs]," he says. "I sold oil changes for Firestone door-to-door, {during which} I had people threaten to shoot me and shit. It was a freaky job. Going from door-to-door, you realize how bleak it is, what people are doing. It's like, everyone's watching the same program on the television set. Everyone. No matter what house you go to, [people are} watching TV, doing absolutely nothing. It was, like, depressing, you know? It's the poor people you'd all be having to sell this shit to, because the rich people don't give a shit whether they save money or not." Brock seems almost proud that he wasn't the best worker to ever grace the Firestone payroll. "They paid me by the hour, not the sale, which was a dumb move."


Isaac was once asked if he had a happy childhood. Yes, he told the interviewer, but added, "I was so neurotic I'd pull all my hair out and wake up every morning in a pool of blood. But I was happy nonetheless."

Meet the Author

Alan Goldsher has contributed to such music magazines as Bass Player and Drum. He is the author of the music-themed novels Jam and The Record Haüs and a history of the jazz legend Art Blakey.

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Modest Mouse: A Pretty Good Read 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I sat next to my cousin James (I'm Nute) and his best Serios Black jhe lives with James and me now.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Goldsher's writing is captivating! It is literally impossible to put this book down. Quick read and perfect for music fans. Gives great insight to the band and their inspirations.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This biography of Modest Mouse is long overdue, and quite excellent (funny, informative, etc.), and I can't figure out why Isaac Brock threatened to beat up Alan Goldsher. I wonder if he's actually read the thing...