Rough but entertaining story of the life of Brian Vollmer.
Helix (along with Great White) are among the world’s greatest bar bands. Helix started small in the 70’s had a blip of success which almost crippled them and returned back to where they belong, slogging it out in the trenches, playing rock and metal for the love of the music. When a band like Helix has been through the wars for 30+ years, how does one document such an epic adventure? With a biography, naturally.
Brain Vollmer, founder, leader and vocalist of Helix took the time to pull together the stories and publish them in late 2005. Gimme an R! essentially is Vollmer’s life story documenting his life and times, up and down’s of his long and prolific career.
Gimme an R! is a standard paperback almost 400 pages long with lots and lots of black and white photos, flyers and letters are scattered amongst the text. There is also a forward, intro, discography and a timeline of the band, documenting people who have come and gone over the years.
I have a real connection with Helix having seen them well over half a dozen times (and probably never twice with the same line-up) from at the height of their power to shall we say…intimate… gigs at my local pub. I’ve enjoyed their music for decades now and was pleased to buy a copy of Brian’s book directly from him at a gig in Calgary. However, that favourable bias towards the band doesn’t exempt them from the fact that this book is really poorly done in some aspects.
Vollmer needed to hire an editor. Badly. There were so many painful grammatical and spelling errors it was hard to read. Sure, it’s rock ‘n’ roll and not a spelling bee or grammar rodeo but there has to be some quality control. There are a number of technical errors, at times Vollmer can’t even get his own discography correct! Apparently IT’S A PLEASURE DOING BUSINESS was released in 1982! This book was very poorly done. We all know that at times rock and rollers are not brain scientists or rocket surgeons, but for cryin’ out loud…Vollmer could have got a friend with a degree in English to read the book first or hire an editor. It’s a real mess.
Aside from that major gripe, Vollmer is a natural born story-teller. The book leans heavily on the early years of the band. Again, a common complaint I have is that this book, like so many rock/Metal bios that have come before are steeped in misty-eyed nostalgia. Tales about the good ol’ days are always fun but to virtually ignore the last 15 years is a disservice to the readers and fans who stuck with the band, past the ‘glory days’. We want to hear those post 1990 stories. To spend just a few pages on 15 years of recent history is disappointing. However, the tales of the early days really give the reader an idea of how hard Brian, his friends and business partners worked to ‘make it’.
Naturally for some readers many of the high-points of the book are the stories of the good life in the 80’s. For example stories about hanging out with Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P. which resulted in Brian quitting drinking for years after that tour. I don’t say I blame him! The tours with Kiss, visiting Sweden, Iceland, Weird Al, Trailer Park Boys, awards shows, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, it’s all here in glorious, vivid detail, and names are named!
There are times when as a reader I questioned the judgment of the band. For example, to fly over a personal hairdresser from Canada to London, England for a video shoot…it must have cost a fortune! Of course back then, living large, the long-term consequences of such decisions weren’t felt until the lean years when Brian is working at a convenience store to make ends meet (having squandered perhaps millions) and getting beaten up on the night shift. The stories of the crash are painful to read.
I don’t think you could find a more intimate, sincere, honest portrayal of a man, his band, his life, for all the good times and bad times, as in this book. Unflinching, honest and gritty, this is as close to the truth as you will get with a rock bio. As a book it’s painfully flawed on many levels, but the stories, the memories and my love for the band balance out those problems, to make it ultimately an average book. I really hope Brian revisits this book (now half-a-decade and several albums later) finds a publisher, expands it, edits it, cleans it up, fixes all the mistakes and turn it into the monumental, essential rock bio it deserves to be.