Steve Gorman’s book Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of The Black Crowes is bad news for fans of the band. Very, very bad news. It is one of the harshest, saddest, most frustrating —and utterly believable — accounts of a great band I’ve read in some time. It is also highly, highly readable.
Let me just state unequivocally that I’m a huge fan of the Black Crowes. Their first three albums stand amongst the top of their era. I caught one of their shows from the “Amorica or Bust” tour and it was jawdroppingly great. Chris is a grade-A frontman, and Rich his equal as the lead guitar player. But in Gorman’s account, the Brothers Robinson are not very good people. In fact, lead singer Chris Robinson is an asshole, and Rich Robinson is only a little brother’s step behind.
Steve Gorman was there from beginning, serving as the drummer for the early incarnation of Mr. Crowe’s Garden, the personnel which would basically serve as the core of the Black Crowes. He was behind the kit from 1987 to 2001 and to say he’s seen it all with the brothers Robinson would be a massive understatement. It ain’t pretty. There would be good times, bad times, high times and low, low times. Throughout it all, the Robinson’s followed the well-worn model of music brothers who fight — literally and figuratively — from The Everly Brothers to The Kinks, to the Jesus and Mary Chain and Oasis.
What starts out a pure and youthful musical diversion and obsession ends up in arguments, tantrums, screaming matches and fistfights. Friendships and alliances are made, broken, and renewed, almost inevitably to be broken again. There are good times to be sure — even great times — but one can rest assured these times will be dashed by the hopeless, juvenile and crazy antics of the Brothers Robinson, and the band would pay the price; physically, emotionally and financially.
And that’s what makes this tale frustrating. What makes this book so eminently readable is Steve Gorman, the great music, and the tales from a band on the road and on the rise. But the success and legacy of the band is torpedoed at every move. Shake you money maker, and shake your head as the Robinson’s make bad decisions at seemingly every turn. Treating the band as an ATM card, spending 100k a year on weed, and dissing the Best Buy music buyer and a European tour with Jimmy Page with equal aplomb, nothing seems off the table.
As Steve Gorman recounts: “I had to learn that Chris and Rich were always going to be who they were, and it would be up to me to manage my life accordingly. I didn’t know how to do that. It would be a long time coming.”
I plowed through this book in two days. It's hard to put down, and equally hard to square the nastiness within. Fans of the band should definitely read this, but beware: it's title is no lie.
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