Books about musicians are sometimes nicely written histories with insightful commentaries and logical structures. But more often they are written by superfans with more enthusiasm than writing ability and an insatiable appetite for every mundane detail about the object of their affection. When Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger by Dan Matovina (1997) came up on my random reading list, I suspected it might be in the later category. And I was pretty spot on with that assumption.
Matovina's title doesn't lie: The story of Badfinger, a band that was chained to the Beatles in the press, repeatedly and ridiculously screwed over by its management, and which lost two of its members to suicide, is definitely a tragic one. Matovina worked for decades on this book -- interviewing the surviving band members (to the extent that they let him), their families, girlfriends, roadies, producers, engineers, and anyone else connected with the band. The strength of the book lies in these interviews, and for the most part Matovina does a nice job of piecing together the chronology of the band. The book is also liberally sprinkled with personal and professional pictures of the band and their friends and family, and this really helps break up the sometimes dense details and give some life to the narrative.
The author is at his worst when trying to describe what the music sounds like. Like really pretty bad. It's not an easy task to talk about music, and I think that task is made even harder when you are such a superfan. If Matovina could have cut down on those sections, and gotten an editor that could shape up his sometimes runaway sentences, he would have ended up with a much more readable book.
I learned more than a few things (actually, maybe everything?) about the band while reading this book, and if you are interested in Badfinger or the shitty nature of the music business in general -- and you have a little patience -- then this might be the book for you.
Now we should probably watch a little Badfinger:
Here is a little "Baby Blue" (one of my favorites):
A little "Without You":
And a jammy and awesome live version of "Suitcase".