If ever there were a band that encouraged rabid fandom, it was Guided by Voices. That's partly because being a fan necessitated being an active participant in the creative process. Robert Pollard, GBV's central figure and songwriter, wrote over eight hundred songs before the longstanding indie-rock act finally disbanded last year, after some twenty years of making music (their first album was released in 1993, but the group itself dates from 1985). You couldn't just be a listener—you had to be an editor of his voluminous output. So sorting the signal from the noise could be a full-time job; in James Greer's mostly tedious biography, discographies and set lists take up almost a hundred pages. "Noise" is a term used deliberately here, because vast swaths of Pollard's releases were recorded in extreme lo-fi fashion (think The Who as played through rusty tin cans). Stumbling across a sweet guitar hook, a memorable melody, a hilariously poignant lyric—or sometimes, all three at once—amid mountains of sonic rubble felt like a cosmic gift for all those hours of dogged dedication.
Pollard's extraordinarily ordinary life story also inspired obsession. That a thirty-six-year-old schoolteacher from Dayton with a penchant for public drunkenness could achieve a worldwide cult following and count R.E.M., The Cars, and Cheap Trick as admirers—this is the stuff indie-rock dreams are made of. Pollard was and still is an Everyman, a person a fan can relate to. He's the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with.
But the problem with writing a biography about an Everyman is that it takes a lot of extra work to make the story interesting to the uninitiated. Pollard is no Madonna or David Bowie, someone with a flashy, chameleonic rock-star presence and a gripping backstory. Greer, a rock journalist and former editor of Spin who became so captivated by the band that he eventually joined it as the bass player, has zero critical distance when talking about his favorite group. His book reads like an inside-baseball account by an obsessed fan, written for other obsessed fans. It includes plenty of trivia about the band's finances, Pollard's personal life, revolving band lineups, arguments with labels, marathon beer-drinking sessions, and other such day-to-day minutiae that's difficult to chew on unless you've already been baptized into the Church of Pollard. The only thing missing from the book is what the rock god ate for breakfast. But perhaps we have the answer to that, too: In the words of Pollard's antecedents, The Replacements, "All I wanna do is drink beer for breakfast." Amen.