If you know me, and certainly if we’ve discussed music, you’ve suffered through me blithering about my favourite artist. If you follow this podcast, you’ve heard my fumbling attempts at sounding insightful. And if you are the man himself, you’ve offered me more time and thought than I deserve.
Yes of course, I am talking about renowned musician Devin Townsend. While primarily a guitarist and vocalist, Townsend’s recently-published autobiography, “Only Half There,” documents just how expansive his career has been. Possibly best-known as the frontman of extreme metal band, Strapping Young Lad, Townsend was chosen as the vocalist for Steve Vai’s band at the age of 19 in 1992. They recorded 1993’s Sex & Religion, toured the world, and shortly after, Townsend began his solo career in earnest, releasing approximately thirty records in the ensuing twenty years.
The title of the book itself comes from his wife, and is an accurate, literal and metaphorical title; addressing the literal lifespan and the themes the author delves into extensively. The book starts logically enough – at the beginning – covering Devin’s childhood in and around the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Canada. In this fairly chronological, linear account is where the seeds are sown for Devin’s interest and passion for music; decidedly less extreme influences like Andrew Lloyd Webber, Enya, and various other orchestral and new-age acts are detailed. Don’t assume, however, this book is only about music. While it obviously takes center stage, Devin describes his forays into puppetry, dirt bikes, and the usual experiences and pains of growing up.
Peppered throughout the book are long tangents; commentaries on sex, religion, art, life, death, family and spirituality. Rather than being distracting, however, these asides help to reinforce the themes being explored as they relate to Townsend’s career. Townsend’s voice makes an easy transition to the page. Listening to interviews, one will notice his propensity for long-winded, thorough explanations. I noticed a similarity to Penn Jillette’s (of Penn & Teller) writing, actually; a long tangent that initially makes you wonder how it relates, but brought back around to reiterate the point and theme, as mentioned above.
While fairly linear for the first quarter or half, the following chapters are divided into sections concerning different aspects or elements if Devin’s career; Strapping Young Lad, production, early solo work, Devin Townsend Project, etc. While you may obsessively try to piece everything together in exact chronological order if you’re like me, it’s probably best to enjoy it as it’s written. Included are several rare photos from Townsend’s personal life as well as various stages of his career, including the recently-released Z2 show at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England.
While this is certainly ideal for someone who is already a fan of Devin Townsend, anybody who has interest in the music industry, wants to become a musician, or simply enjoys stories about farting on guacamole to disperse a bunch of party crashers, will certainly enjoy “Only Half There.” Personally, I ordered the deluxe edition (because of course I did) and was lucky enough to have my name printed alongside many, many other die-hard fans. And as it’s become rather synonymous with Townsend’s releases, the packaging is beautiful. Included are prints of hand-drawn cartoons, an acoustic album, and even a cassette with material heretofore unheard by the public.
Released hot on the heels of the seventh DTP record, Transcendence, this unflinchingly honest autobiography examines a busy and eclectic life with an electron microscope and is equal parts personal stories, music industry primer, and meditation, littered with self-deprecating humour. But I’ll let Townsend himself sum up:
“But if there’s a conclusion to be had – and it might not be the one I originally imagined when I began this process – art might not be the panacea I hoped it would be. It may have no practical significance other than to illustrate the process of emotional transition […] The art is a generous by-product of that”
I give this book a solid:
I don’t have a rating system/10
All of Devin Townsend’s media, pertinent links, tour dates and merch can be found at: http://www.hevydevy.com/
“Only Half There” is published by Rocket 88 Books and can be purchased here: http://devintownsendbook.com/
Devin’s interview with the Taylor Moorey Show (me) can be listened to here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAo…