review: american hardcore

title: American Hardcore: A Tribal History
author: Steven Blush
other shit: 2010, Feral House. 2nd edition. 354 pages + discography
soundtrack: 24 hours of hardcore, compiled by the author
rating: 1.5/5 safety pins

cover of american hardcore. it's a young man with a shaved head and a microphone, covered in blood.

There are good things about this book. The discography in the back is nice. I always appreciate a juicy bit of gossip or a good story, and this book has a few of both.

And man, check out that cover! The colorized photo, enhanced so the blood is extra red. Plus the tagline, proclaiming that this book is “The definitive work on one of rock’s most important eras.” In the foreword, it says that the first edition of this book “set the record straight on American Hardcore Punk music.” These claims — that the book is definitive, that it sets the record straight — are repeated on the back cover.

I do enjoy a good definitive history. A nice, straight record.

I also enjoy a totally biased first-hand account of a given person’s experiences. Really, I do. I like autobiographies, ghost-written or no (usually yes; the people with the best lives are not necessarily the best writers). There’s courage in that, in saying, “This is my life, and I lived it the way I lived it, and maybe I fucked it up, but at least I fucking lived.”

What I do not particularly enjoy is something that pretends to be one thing (definitive and objective), is actually something else (biased and personal), and yet refuses to admit it. It drives me absolutely batshit.

Guess which category this book falls into. Mmm-hmm.

(And for the record, I don’t like it the other way, either. I don’t like autobiographies that are devoid of opinion and spin. What the hell’s the point of that?)

But whatever. This book is divided into four sections, each of which is subdivided into chapters. The first section is basically an overview, with short chapters on the scene/lifestyle. The second section is by far the longest; it’s divided more or less geographically, with chapters on the LA, OC, SF, DC, Boston, NY, midwest and Texas scenes. Smaller scenes are lumped together into an end chapter; and Black Flag, the Misfits and the Bad Brains are each given their own chapter.

Within each chapter, Blush will exposit for a while, in bold-text Authoritative Voice, and then there will be a few source quotes discussing the topic at hand. Here are some things he says in Authoritative Voice:

  • [H.R.]’s also a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, mentally ill loser who disappointed virtually everyone he touched.
  • …and the late Toni Young, who died of “pneumonia” in the late 80s.
  • [MRR] deserves major credit for fostering and radicalizing the scene, but in doing so, a 30-something pack of Marxists manipulated kids to serve their own narrow self-interests.
  • Jello’s low point came on May 7, 1994, after suffering a vicious beating at The 924 Gilman Street Project, from Skinheads linked to Maximum RockNRoll. Though Biafra “made” MRR, editor Tim Yohannon’s crew shielded the goons. If you ever needed evidence that scene unity was a total crock, there it is.

I can’t even deal with it, you guys. Why is “pneumonia” in scare quotes? Did he mean “HIV/AIDS”? Maybe “the gay plague”? I also enjoy the blanket accusation that Tim Yo had some kind of pack of Marxist goons that he sent after Biafra because he was a sell-out. I love me some DKs, but Biafra is perhaps not the most super reliable of sources, and maybe, people writing history books, you should talk to at least one other person before you start talking about Marxist brute squads. Just an idea.

I’ve already complained about the misogyny. What else can I complain about? Where to begin.

I can start small, with the editing. Names are incorrectly or inconsistently spelled. Chunks of the book were clearly moved around without regard for whether the info makes sense in its new context (in the Misfits chapter, for example, he starts talking about two members of the band leaving, but those two people were not even in the band yet, according to the larger timeline, so it’s like, wait, what? Who? What?). I also found the book physically difficult to read; there is page after page of bold text that is not very easy on the eyes. It’s fine when it’s maybe a paragraph at a time, but each chapter tends to end with a giant list-like info-dump of bands from that scene, the records they made, and what the members are doing now. That stuff is nice to have but it doesn’t make for riveting reading, and the formatting doesn’t help its case any.

I could overlook that shit, but wow, I am totally over dudes who think that punk rock died in 1977, or 1981, or 1986, or 1991, or whenever it died for them. This has been covered elsewhere, and covered well, but for fuck’s sake. There wasn’t one punk rock that was exactly the same for everyone, that was experienced by all and sundry the same way at the same time. There was not some kind of punk rock meteor that wiped it out in a planetary event like the one that took out the dinosaurs.

I’m sorry, sad dudes who lost your scene, that you are sad and you lost your scene, but it didn’t happen to everyone, and this is the shit that makes me really mad: when you assume that your experience is the only one that counts. This moment, right now, it’s happening to you in a certain way, and you interpret it the way you interpret it based on your background and your experiences and all the moments that came before. Fine. No problem. The problem is when you go and assume that everyone else feels and understands and experiences this moment or this song or this painting or this scene the same way you do. And if they do not happen to agree with your interpretation, well, they’re not even worth listening to. Your experience is the only experience, and everyone else is doing it wrong.

No. Actually, asshole, YOU are doing it wrong.

…what was I talking about? Oh, right. Punk rock.

Except, fuck it, I have been thinking about this book and re-reading it and complaining about it for MONTHS. Literally for months, and now I am just exhausted. I have a lot of ~feelings~ about hardcore, apparently, and this book pushed like 127 of my 133 buttons, and I’m done. So I apologize for the half-assed review, but I cannot give this book any more energy than I already have. Seriously, every time I even think about it, I start ranting. (I have, over the course of this review, started and stopped and deleted and re-written and re-deleted rants about homophobia, racism, the editorial process, Jello Biafra, Ian MacKaye, John Joseph, the state of Texas, the city of Chicago, basketball, Revolution Summer, riot grrrl, and Glenn Danzig. I am not even kidding.)

So. There is good information in this book — there’s a lot of it, actually — and there are a lot of stories that I liked reading. But I had to wade through so much infuriating bullshit to get to that information that I really don’t think anyone else should do the same.


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2 Responses to review: american hardcore

  1. Joe Stumble 2011-04-21 at 2206 #

    I love everything about this review except where you apologise for it being half-assed. This is a great review and I agree totally with you about American Hardcore, a kinda cool but also completely FUCKED up book.

    • pam 2011-04-22 at 1124 #

      Well, I did sort of give up on the review part and just started ranting. And I could have ranted for so many more thousands of words! But fuck this book. AAAAAARGH. Argh!

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