Late in his new tour diary of his time with punk-rock party band the Smugglers, Grant Lawrence sums up their career thusly: "The Smugglers never had a breakthrough song or album that a mass of humanity associated with a particular time and place and had a nostalgic desire to hear again and again, year after year." Which raises the question: Why write the book in the first place?
Lawrence's book, based on diaries he kept throughout the band's 16-year run (some of which were published on the Mint Records website at one point) recounts the Vancouver group's on-the-road highs and lows as a mildly popular touring fixture throughout the '90s.
Enthralled with Montreal's the Gruesomes, the Smugglers were formed by high school friends Lawrence and Nick Thomas. They rose to semi-prominence thanks to grit and determination as well as the steady encouragement and help of Nardwuar the Human Serviette, with whom Lawrence and Thomas went to high school in West Vancouver. They released albums on hip labels like PopLlama, Mint and Lookout and toured with a rogues gallery of hip buzz bands like cub, the Donnas and the Hives. Yet their sound, a mix of garage rock and punk-pop, never quite fit in, even when those two genres broke through into the mainstream.
Lawrence keeps details on the band's day-to-day operations in Vancouver as well as the ins and outs of their writing and recording sessions to a minimum, presenting the band's story as less a pursuit of fame and fortune (it wasn't) and more as a wild adventure whose destination was always an indefinable goal somewhere in the distance. Through it all, he's able to convey the warmth and affection members shared for one another, even in dire situations — like when Lawrence loses the band's tour earnings playing three-card Monte in New York.
Told through a breezy writing style that favours obscure culture references, Lawrence manages to find the human element in the debauchery and drudgery of life on tour, making Dirty Windshields the rare kind of music memoir that manages to transcend immediate fanbases and appeal to music lovers of all stripes. (Douglas & McIntyre)