Posted January 17, 2003

The Barman's Rant
Occasional thoughts on Real Rock Action

 

JOE SAYS COMEDY OF ERRORS
IS NO LOW BLOW

This Bar opened four years ago. Its Mission Statement was to ventilate, to the wider world, the sort of music that a small but a relatively fanatical core of enthusiastic fans rejoices in. Some call it ‘Punk’, which is an inadequate pigeonhole, but if it conveys some sort of energy, that’s fine by us.

The music industry tastemeisters now label it ‘Garage’ and it’s like they just discovered the genre a few days ago. The irony is that half the people doing the labelling have their heads so far up their own arses that they don’t realise the authentic stuff has been around since the late 1950s and early ‘60s. Whatever.

If spreading the garage/punk gospel is self indulgent, we’ll wear that accusation. Of course the brief has spread itself a little wider these days. We’re catering to a diversity of tastes, but hopefully not taking the whole shiftfight too seriously. One of the things we are careful to do, however, is paying credit where it’s due. Where the source for something has been another publication, we’ve been clear about it.

Pity the same can't be said for a book written by one, Joe Ambrose.

Joe Ambrose is an Irish-born New Yorker-cum-Londoner who’s penned "Gimme Danger". On the face of it, it's a substantial tome about the careers of Iggy Pop and the Stooges. Now, a word of warning: There’s no conscious effort at the Bar to "not say anything unless you can say something nice". If we are generally positive in our reviews, it’s because we have a policy that goes along the lines of "We Don’t Review Shit". (You have no idea how dire some of the stuff is that never makes it to your screen).

Nevertheless, you’re not going to read a glowing critique of this one. For one simple reason:

This book uses unattributed material, lifted from the I-94 Bar and other sources, without permission or acknowledgement.

It's riddled with interview material that's second-hand.

While that, in itself, is not going to ruffle feathers, using someone else’s work without permission or, at the very least, attribution does.

No prizes for guessing where you might have read interviews with Ron Asheton, James Williamson and Garry Rasmussen. The bulk of the quotes appeared here, courtesy of Texas-based writer and good mate Ken Shimamoto. Before that, some of the material was printed in Black to Comm fanzine.

We can outline 46 examples where this book uses whole tracts of text from Ken’s interviews. They’re all listed here.

Ken put substantial time into those interviews and, in most cases, wore the cost of long distance phone calls or road trips to converse face-to-face with his subjects.

The galling thing is that this book doesn't make the same mistake with a number of other publications. "Please Kill Me" (the wonderfully entertaining McCain and McNeill book), "Neighbourhood Threat" (Alvin Gibbs' testimony to life on the road with Iggy) and Mr Pop's own "I Need More" are all referenced and acknowledged. All up, there are 16 sources listed. None are online, so maybe someone thought they only had to cite "legitimate" ones?

Attributing material is recognised not only as scholarly "best practice" but also common courtesy.

Ken and I have both gone looking for answers. On January 15, Mr Ambrose replied to Ken's e-mail seeking an explanation (mine initially went unanswered). Here's what he said:

"I took gravely ill during the preparation of the Iggy Pop book, and never gave the OK to the editor at the publishers before they sent the text to printing".

What's puzzling is why ALL sources weren't noted when the manuscript was written. Doing that as an author goes along certainly makes more sense and would have saved a lot of work.

Over a week-long exchange of e-mails, Mr Ambrose kept assuring both of us that there very good and complex reasons why attribution didn't happen. We delayed publication of this piece to let him spell them out. He asked that his lengthy answer not be published in full (even though an on-the-record reapply was sought). Out of courtesy we won't reproduce it but will say that it largely revolved around him suffering illness, undergoing a change of editor and having confusing proofs of the draft manuscript flying around.

With Mr Ambrose's indulgence, we will quote this much from him:

"I would be lying if I pretended that I know what happened to your acknowledgements. They disappeared sometime between when I sent them to the editor and when the book was printed...

"Yes you were thieved, but not deliberately by me. Or by anybody else for that matter."

Self indulgent Internet publishing might be, but it’s not a case of ego or wanting to see the I-94 Bar up in lights. The crux is that material was lifted from Ken Shimamoto. The end effect is it that it did make someone else's work look more substantial.

So there are the facts. A damage has been done, We draw no conclusions about the actions of Mr Ambrose or Omnibus. They've denied negligence. Mr Ambrose says he's not reckless or a plagiarist. As Ken is apt to say: YOU be the judge!

Both Joe Ambrose and Omnibus have promised to correct the sins against Ken and other people in the second edition (which apparently is going to press right now). We look forward to receiving copies but this column can sit here till then, at least righting a wrong.

And we can't help closing with a quote. Attributed, of course:

O villain, thou hast stol'n both mine office and my name!
The one ne'er got me credit, the other mickle blame.
- William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors
(Dromio of Ephesus at III, i)


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