Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Little Squares of History

I've been reading a book by Jane's Addiction and ex-RHCP guitarist, Dave Navarro and, well, it's a little odd.

Titled 'Don't Try This At Home: A Year in the Life of Dave Navarro', the book follows him, month by month, as he allows unmetered access to his life at a time when he was conducting a unique, artistic experiment. In some down-time between bands, he'd bought an antique phone-booth and made everyone - yes, everyone, including various prostitutes, drug dealers and west-coast layabouts - who entered his house to submit a strip of photos.

The pictures are interspersed in pages of the book, woven around odd little stories and everyday explaination of Navarro's chaotic life: he yo-yo's between rampant and dangerous drug use - at one point, while high, he shoots a hole in the floor with his shotgun - and concerted attempts to get clean without using the traditional routes of rehab or a talented PR person.

Some of this takes place in straight narrative, with the action being fed to us by Neil, the book's co-author. Some more is presented in scripts, written by Navarro, detailing conversations he's had. Others are abstract little pages, snippets from his life.

Even though it gets incredibly far-fetched - on a normal day, Chad Smith comes over and bums around the house in a drugged-up stupor for an entire night before leaving at daybreak - you never doubt that this happened. As well as using the photo booth to document little squares of history, Navarro taped recorders to the undersides of tables and chairs, and secreted cameras in fake clocks and ornaments. None of the visual material that emerged from those recordings is present in the book - he often alludes to an accompanying website which is always being updated. I can only assume that it's now offline. Some of the aural material would have formed the basis of the conversations in the book, certainly. Some of the stuff that isn't in the tome must be dynamite.

I'm nearing the end now, and it's been an odd journey: on one hand, Navarro is constantly unsure of himself and his future: one minute he's optomistic about getting clean and settling down with on/off girlfriend Adria, and the next he's sure that a drugged-up death is but around the corner. Then again, I couldn't help but notice that I had a fair few pages to go, and Navarro seemed to have attacked the documentation project with such a tenacity that you don't believe that something as insignificant as an overdose will stop him completing his annual of oddities.

And he's still alive today, which is something of a clue.

But, rather than giving away the (somewhat inevitable) ending, it fascinates and throws up more questions in equal measure: how on earth did someone survive this and, more importantly, how did Navarro get through it, with the state of mind he had at the time? Or, perhaps, his neurotic behaviour helped. Answers to these questions are, like the man himself for much of the book, something of a mystery.

But it's good to know that it's been unravelled slightly, at least. Maybe I'll stick a webcam on my desk and record everything as a modest tribute. But I daresay that talking about printer reviews, benchmark tests and football gossip won't be nearly as exciting as a constant parade of musicians, movie stars, freaks and dealers.

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