by Tommy Womack
Subtitled “The True Story of a Rock and Roll Band You’ve Never Heard Of,” the Cheese Chronicles is a rock and roll diary documenting the start, slight rise and depressing fall of Womack’s band, “Government Cheese,” Kentucky’s semi-punk semi-stars. More than just a “when/where” accounting, the book describes a dream, the rock and roll dream that grabs maybe one in a thousand people. When it hits you (usually at the crucial apex of a loud live album and puberty), nothing else matters. From then on, it’s guitars, gigs, and broken dreams. If you had a good head on your shoulders going in, you might come out okay. Otherwise, you go postal. Tommy Womack’s dream started with Kiss Alive in 1976, and is still going strong today — he recently released a solo record, Positively Na Na, on Checkered Past records, and it’s damn fine.
The Cheese Chronicles is damn fine as well. Womack has a keen sense of observation, a finely attuned “what stinks?” meter, and is brutally honest, primarily about himself. Anyone who spent any time in “the biz” will recognize the absolute dead-on portrayal of life in a rock and roll band. To outsiders, it will appear like some bizarre marriage of Wim Wenders and Edvard Munch — too extreme to be believed. Womack documents rock and roll the same way Hunter Thompson wrote about politics: raging, insane and full of awe.
It’s a depressing book, to be sure. It could scarcely be otherwise. The life described here is brutal, and watching what it does to a person wrapped up in it is sometimes painful to see. It’s also incredibly funny. Womack is able to laugh at himself, which is good. It’s pretty hard to recount playing a song called “Fish Stick Day” while someone tosses sofa cushions about without having some sense of the absurdity of it all.
Somewhere a kid is sitting in a room watching MTV with a guitar cradled against their chest, dreaming. I would hand them this book, along with I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol by Glen Matlock, and a copy of Spinal Tap. Nine out of 10 of them will put the guitar up, go outside and shoot hoops, the dream forgotten. The last kid, that’s the one you gotta watch. He might just grow up as talented as Tommy Womack.
Cheese Chronicles can be ordered by sending $16.00 to: Tommy Womack, P.O Box 41682, Nashville, TN 37204