GIMME AN R! – THE STORY OF BRIAN VOLLMER, LEAD VOCALIST OF HELIX

gimme an r

Book review by Kevin Stewart-Panko

As you might have gathered by the title’s lack of succinctness, this autobiography by the vocalist of one of Canada’s most recognizable hard rock/heavy metal bands was written without the help of a ghost writer. Or a proof reader. Or an editor. Or anyone who has any idea how to write. Gimme An R! follows our man Vollmer’s voice as he relates his life story from birth to the mid-‘00s. He writes about his childhood in rural south western Ontario and about his discovery of music. He recalls days spent in pre-Helix bar bands and the reckless time Helix spent wasted and wasting the Canadian bar/residency circuit during the 70s. There are fond and not-so fond recollections of Helix’s rise to, and fall from, international fame and success (fortune never really came, though if it did, the surviving band member’s livers are probably still processing the profits) and Vollmer’s subsequent brush with poverty, his continued battles in and with the music business and how Helix has been responsible for all the good and bad in his life.

Gimme an R!
is one of those books that’s so bad, it’s awesome. Everyone I know who’s read it – okay, Sean and I – has concurred on the fact that despite the egregiously flimsy story telling, abysmal spelling and prose that would probably crash and burn Google Docs (the program that tells you the grade level of a written work), once you start reading this, you can’t put it down.

Point: Being from Canada, much less Ontario, you’d think someone would know how to spell ‘Yonge’ Street. Doing it once, okay maybe I can cut some slack. Do it throughout the course of a a couple-hundred pages, and you start to question the factual credibility of the rest of the book, if not throw it out the fucking window.

Point: I haven’t had the opportunity to travel across much of this glorious nation of ours in the last few years, so how am I to know that Vollmer’s getting other oddly spelt street names and towns throughout British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan are correct? Expand upon that little chestnut and consider how much validity are we to give the rest of his recollections? Did these dudes really get laid that much? Is he even spelling his fellow band mates’ names properly?

Point: As most autobiographies are wont to do, there are mentions of when the author met this-and-that person and so-and-so while here-there-and-everywhere. Included in Gimme An R! is the time Helix appeared on the Much Music video award show in the early 90s where Vollmer met and had his photo taken with then-rising teen pop/dance kiddie, Alanis Morissette, whom he continually refers to as “Atlantis Morissette,” even in the caption of the reproduced photo. In an amazing and mysterious dichotomous turn of events, Vollmer mentions that in writing this book, he was trying to recall the name of some crotchety old owner of a hotel/bar/club at which Helix used to play during their grueling days on the Can-rock club circuit. He went out of his way to call the place and speak to whoever the new owners were in order to nail down buddy’s name and spelling. And still Yonge St. is spelt ‘Young’ St. and he’s rechristened Alanis as a waterlogged denizen of the lost city. Additionally, there are many, many, many instances where Vollmer writes with the assumption that the reader is old enough, knowledgeable enough about Canadian rock and/or understands how the music business worked in the 70s to follow his tales of woe, women and wine. This assumption doesn’t bother myself (and, again, Sean) and others familiar with how the bar circuit used to work, southern Ontario’s 70s rock idolatry and stupid tidbits like how there used to be a revolving stage at Ontario Place, who Darby Mills is and what the fuck a CHUM-FM simulcast concert refers to. In addition to wanting to go back over and re-read this and tabulate errors and inconsistencies, I’d love to give Gimme An R! to someone in their teens and watch their eyes glaze over in incomprehension and witness confusion knot their forehead lines with extreme prejudice.

Still, this book is a total page turner, but for reasons that’d give real literary types and real book reviewers a coronary: thirty years of debauched tales of sex, drugs, booze, rock ‘n’ roll, bikers, biker bars, fights, fights in biker bars, touring, travel, tragedy and triumph. It’s a true story of rags to riches and back again with the prototypical realisation that comes with adulthood and the milquetoast pulling up of one’s bootstraps where the protagonist comes out the other end in one piece. The story gets a bit more heavy-hearted when Vollmer talks of his bouts of couch-surfing and near-homelessness and his wife’s multiple battles with life threatening ailments, but overall this is to the book world what Helix’s music was to serious music and musicianship. If someone had never heard of Helix and read this, they wouldn’t be wrong in thinking this story was pure fiction spit out from Hollywood’s conveyor belt.

The author says it himself on numerous occasions in recanting his dealings with the industry, fans and other bands that Helix was never meant to be anything more than a good time, party, hard rock band; granted, they were groomed for success by a particularly regimented (and by all account) supremely patient manager, so going into this expecting Shakespeare or Bret Easton Ellis ain’t gonna get you nothing but disappointed, baby.

(Ball Media)

As a literary piece of work: 2.0

As a book that allows old-school Can-rock fans to turn their brains off for a day or two: 8.0

http://www.planethelix.com

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.