When I first picked this up and got a couple of chapters in I was pretty annoyed and confused. One would think a book called “The Story of Japanther” by a member of Japanther would give a play-by-play detail of the formation, career, and end of the wild art punk band that lasted nearly thirteen years. It’s not that.
Puppy Dog Ice Cream is a non-linear recollection of Vanek’s memories of his time during the band. Sure, it does start with an art college kid moving to New York and getting excited about the music scene in the early ’00s. But then it takes you all over the place—late night bike rides, spray painting, odd-sounding gallery events, giant puppets, meet ups with Penny Rimbaud, simple vegan food, and lots of trips in the van.
After my initial annoyance and confusion, I got real deep in this book. Once you get past the time jumps and the lack of trivial facts about the band, it’s a solid read. You’ve probably seen Japanther play in your city but had no idea what crazy-sounding events they had going on in New York. Some were shows decorated with razor wire and the aforementioned giant puppets. You get to read about the art freaks they rolled with, including a large section dedicated to the late Beau Velasco, the primary songwriter for the Death Set. It’s a nice document of that whole wave of art-synth-electronic acts that were popping up in the early ’00s.
The book is also sprinkled with little tidbits of wisdom. I especially like a bit that reads, “Making money and having success doesn’t always equate to happiness; happiness is something you have to strive for in addition to success. A childish spirit is the best armor against life’s trials.”
Vanek doesn’t claim to be a writer. Some stories are written in great detail while some are glazed over and sometimes repeated. He states that this isn’t supposed to be a history lesson, it’s a mostly selfish act to preserve his fading memories. If you want to read a boring, rock-solid history of Japanther, read the Wikipedia page. If you want to read a book that reads like the intensity of the way a Japanther album sounds, pick this up. –Rick V. (Outlandish Press, outlandish.press)