given DAVE GROHL's reputation for being an affable, righteous dude i had some initial misgivings about reading the biography THIS IS A CALL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVE GROHL (DA CAPO, 2011) by former KERRANG! editor PAUL BRANNIGAN. i was worried it would veer towards hagiography, especially given author's decades-long relationship interviewing and covering the towering ALTERNATIVE ROCK musician. but i am glad to report that THIS IS A CALL is a pretty even-handed accounting of GROHL's sprawling career up to the point of the FOO FIGHTERS' WASTING LIGHT (ROSWELL RECORDS, 2011) record a decade ago. this book is unauthorized but includes interviews with past band members and the man himself, many culled from past publications and documentaries, but also from BRANNIGAN himself.
i should state that i have read numerous NIRVANA books at this point, but what makes this book interesting is obviously seeing it from GROHL's perspective. at this point in 2021 GROHL is effectively the flag-waving elder-statesman of ROCK AND ROLL writ large. this has only been further cemented given his actions over the past decade (since this book's publication) in connecting more and more musicians and their stories to a wider audience with his personal television (SONIC HIGHWAYS) and documentary projects (SOUND CITY, WHAT DRIVES US).
so it is interesting being taken along for the ride with GROHL, as his story in popular culture is so unavoidably intertwined with his time in NIRVANA and its doomed frontman KURT COBAIN. and that is unfortunate, because the sense you get from THIS IS A CALL is that for GROHL the defining relationship of his life is with music itself. time and time again you sense that for him music was a means of community, escape, passion and above all else, fun. like COBAIN, GROHL lived a childhood marked by divorce. unlike COBAIN, GROHL grew up in a nurturing, supportive environment. my sense is that PUNK ROCK to GROHL represented an extended family/community of like-minded individuals with a similar pragmatic DIY ethos towards life and art. i am not sure that was the case for COBAIN, who seemed to have boundless ambition maybe in hopes of proving his value. im playing armchair psychiatrist here, and i probably shouldnt, but it seems obvious from the get-go that GROHL never had the same hangups or guilt in following his musical ambitions, especially post-NIRVANA.
again, from the beginning GROHL's enthusiasm was all about chasing the fun of playing music. as a child he became aware of the neighboring DC HARDCORE scene and started teenage bands in his native VIRGINIA. from his first serious project in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE to his stints in other outfits like DAIN BRAMAGE and local PUNK legends SCREAM, you get the sense these experiences provided him a vocabulary about how to interact with others. and obviously the musical shorthand faired him well in his later career with outside projects (THEM CROOKED VULTURES, PROBOT, LATE!, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE), session work (GARBAGE, NINE INCH NAILS, SLASH, DAVID BOWIE, KILLING JOKE and TENACIOUS D) and soundtrack work (TOUCH, RISING SUN: THE LEGEND OF SKATEBOARDER CHRISTIAN HOSOI).
but a lot of this i already knew, what made this book interesting for me where the details about how if personal life affected his lyrical content in the first few records. there are several songs i didnt read as autobiographical that now i can plainly see were. i also appreciate the fact that BRANNIGAN didnt shy away from presenting GROHL at times as being highly opportunistic and unempathetic to the feelings of his "friends" like former FOO FIGHTERS WILLIAM GOLDSMITH and FRANZ STAHL, both unceremoniously booted with little patience or grace, just echos and silence.
if anything, this biography is a great primer for GROHL's upcoming memoir which will highlight stories from his career. make sense, the dude is about connecting people. it is what makes him, well, him.
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO that examines over 40 years of LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
seriously, how cool is it that someone finally made a documentary about the DESCENDENTS?
FILMAGE: THE STORY OF DESCENDENTS/ALL (ROGUE ELEPHANT, 2014) is basically a celebration of the music and legacy of legendary HARDCORE band DESCENDENTS and their fraternal twin band ALL. the common link between the two is drummer BILL STEVENSON who famously also was a member of BLACK FLAG in the early 1980s, as has also moonlighted as an in-demand producer over the past few years that has overseen albums by everyone from RISE AGAINST, THE LEMONHEADS and LAGWAGON to A DAY TO REMEMBER.
the film can be seen as a love letter from the PUNK ROCK community to a band largely credited with establishing the POP PUNK genre with its pummeling musicianship and anti-rock star frontman, the iconic MILO AUKERMAN, who sang songs that had melody and lovesick lyrics about not measuring up in high school. with peers like KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), MIKE WATT (MINUTEMEN), BRIAN BAKER (MINOR THREAT / BAD RELIGION), GREG GRAFFIN (BAD RELIGION), BRETT GUREWITZ (BAD RELIGION), KIM SHATTUCK (THE MUFFS), DAVE GROHL (NIRVANA / FOO FIGHTERS) and subsequent bands they influenced like MARK HOPPUS (BLINK 182), FAT MIKE (NOFX), JIM LINDBERG (PENNYWISE), MIKE HERRERA (MXPX), TIM MICIIRATH (RISE AGAINST), TREVER KEITH (FACE TO FACE) and JOEY CAPE (LAGWAGON) all making enthusiastic appearances and giving praise about this criminally underrated band, it feels almost like THE SMITHS-level adulation. its touching.
what i found most interesting in this documentary was how it covered the split personality of DESCENDENTS with their counterpart ALL, which was essentially the same band without MILO. this was amicable as MILO left to pursue a doctorate and career as a researcher in MOLECULAR BIOLOGY. how PUNK ROCK is that? but his departure left a void that couldnt be filled by subsequent gifted singers that played with ALL. the band never got the critical recognition or fan adulation as the DESCENDENTS. DAVE GROHL was the perfect person to speak about this dilemma. famously he lived through it when establishing FOO FIGHTERS in the wake of the swift and brutally public demise of NIRVANA. choosing to start a new band in the wake of a successful band can only be done for the love of the music he argues. FOO FIGHTERS were financially successful, ALL not so much. but their friendship and brotherhood is intact and the PUNK ROCK community has continued to support them.
when i first heard the DESCENDENTS in high school i was immediately taken with how raw and almost uncomfortably exposed the lyrics were and how that contrasted with the aggressive nature of the music. they were HARDCORE band that went against any macho posturing. they sang about food and bathroom humor as well as being dumped; all with a melody. very distinctive. i had NERF HERDER as well in high school but to me it seemed more a straightforward POP PUNK record in the vein of many other bands. there was no tension or angst, just competent songs sung well without much fanfare or identity.
the lesson of STEVENSON's example, and in essence he is the central figure in this film, is to be passionate about who you do and go for it. despite being awkward and overweight and dorky. use that to your advantage. be an outsider. be original. DESCENDENTS are originals and that is why they continue to be celebrated.
in the summer of 2001 i visited a childhood friend of mine in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA my hometown in ORANGE COUNTY. it was like a month before 9/11 and at that point i had spent my junior year of high school in KUWAIT. i didnt know at the time that within 2 months id be living with a relative in SACRAMENTO. anyway, this friend of mine was big into PUNK ROCK, specifically 80s HARDCORE. he basically opened my eyes to a whole scene of local ORANGE COUNTY and LOS ANGELES COUNTY bands id hitherto been unfamiliar with, bands like THE ADOLESCENTS (FULLERTON), T.S.O.L. (LONG BEACH), THE MIDDLE CLASS (SANTA ANA), FEAR (LOS ANGELES), THE DESCENDENTS (MANHATTAN BEACH), D.I. (FULLERTON), THE VANDALS (HUNTINGTON BEACH), CHANNEL 3 (CERRITOS), AGENT ORANGE (PLACENTIA) and, of course, SOCIAL DISTORTION (FULLERTON) among many others. it was a great trip, i got to see T.S.O.L. headline a show in POMONA with the NERVE AGENTS and saw a reunion show in SANTA ANA with THE ADOLESCENTS celebrating their iconic ADOLESCENTS (FRONTIER, 1981) with CHANNEL 3 opening. cant complain.
but i remember my friend really looked down on SOCIAL DISTORTION because they weren't a straight-up HARDCORE band, they wore their ROCKABILLY, BLUES and COUNTRY influences pretty prominently on their sleeve.
so obviously i gravitated towards them. to me they stood out because of those influences, because they werent a straight up HARDCORE band. they had depth.
maybe its because i spent a lot of time in NEW JERSEY, but when i listen to songs by MIKE NESS of SOCIAL DISTORTION i feel there is more than a passing resemblance to another songwriting icon: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. both are ROCK N ROLL lifers who are very much in the business of contextualizing the traditions of the genre through prism of their experiences and the ambtions of their respective communities. for SPRINGSTEEN that was the unfulfilled hopes and dreams of the working class greasers he grew up with in FREEHOLD and mingled with along the JERSEY SHORE. his music has an aspirational quality that is a through line with his lyrics, which often focuses on characters searching and seeking a better life for themselves and their loved ones. with NESS he may be speaking within the lexicon and iconography of FILM NOIR and the SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CAR CULTURE he witnessed in FULLERTON, but its very much the same thing: his songs tend to be about establishing an identity within a new community. one he initiated. both have differing aesthetics, but harbor a belief in the gospel of glory, sanctity and regenerative nature of ROCK N ROLL.
some who find fault in NESS argue that his lyrics come off a bit confessional or transparent, especially in songs like "STORY OF MY LIFE" or "BALL AND CHAIN" off of their SOCIAL DISTORTION (EPIC, 1990) album that leave little to interpretation, but for me that is the sign of someone straddling the edge. to me there is a danger in that vulnerability which is something i dont associate with 80s HARDCORE, i associate it more with classic COUNTRY ballads and DELTA BLUES dirges. i think my friend in a sense was absolutely correct in not deeming SOCIAL DISTORTION a "real" PUNK ROCK band, since to me they transcend that genre. to me they are just a great ROCK N ROLL band with all that comes with it.
i remember getting REPEATER (DISCHORD, 1990) by FUGAZI at the recommendation of a childhood when i was visiting ORANGE COUNTY during the summer before my senior year of high school back in 2001. i believe i bought it at RADIATION RECORDS in FULLERTON. regardless, to my ears this record was a revelation because of its aggression, experimentation and sense of melody. since i was uninitiated into the world of POST-HARDCORE, at the time the nearest analogue i could think of was NIRVANA's IN UTERO (DGC, 1993). this record felt like a progression from that.
it wasnt until a few years later that i became acquainted with other bands like RITES OF SPRING, GLASSJAW, THE REFUSED and other seminal POST-HARDCORE bands that REPEATER gained a more apt context.
i can only count a handful of times where my world changed when hearing something unique for the first time. that happened in NIGERIA when someone who worked for my parents played FELA KUTI nonstop, specifically the ITT (WRASSE, 1980) and CONFUSION BREAK BONES (WRASSE, 1989) cassette tapes. it happened when i first heard both NOTHING'S SHOCKING (WARNER BROS, 1988) and RITUAL DE LO HABITUAL (WARNER BROS, 1990) by JANE'S ADDICTION on the same trip in SOUTH AFRICA. it also happened when i discovered DEVO in high school or THE SMITHS and THE STRANGLERS from track meet trips with my dad during my elementary school years.
i always wonder how much of your media diet is a reflection of your openness to new sounds, images and ideas during specific moments in your life. and who you surround yourself with. growing up moving all the time ive been around a lot of people with varying tastes and outlooks and i feel sometimes my exposure reflects such. in the case of FUGAZI, i was years late to that party. but i still find myself listening to this record especially standout tracks like "MERCHANDISE," "BLUEPRINT," "GREED," and of course "REPEATER" that all have a raw earnestness around them that is reflected in the lyrics and pummeling yet nuanced dynamism of the guitar assault.
now i hear their sound in other bands all the time, so it has dated a bit since i firts heard it, which of course was more than a decade after its release. great record i highly recommend checking out for fans of PUNK ROCK and HARDCORE.
my experience with having a radio show precede DEER GOD RADIO and go back all the way to high school. i was lucky in that the boarding school i attended had a radio station that they fully encouraged students to participate in. for me it was a game changer because 1) even back then i was always exploring music and this provided a platform to share such with 2) a new community that i inadvertently joined in the process. the more i got involved the more i listened to other shows and learned about new music. so in essence it was an all-around great vicious cycle to be a part of that i really enjoyed.
during that period of my underclass years in high (roughly 1998-2000) i discovered 1980s HARDCORE. bands like BLACK FLAG, MINOR THREAT, THE GERMS, REAGAN YOUTH, VOID, DESCENDENTS, MDC, YOUTH BRIGADE, THE MIDDLE CLASS, DOA, THE CIRCLE JERKS, and of course, DEAD KENNEDYS. believe me, that list goes on... and on. some of those bands i learned from classmates, but the majority of them were from the shows of upperclassman at the station.
for me, DEAD KENNEDYS stood out because of their musicality and the strident, confrontational nature of their rabidly political lyrics. frontman JELLO BIAFRA was also highly charismatic and funny, something i dont think he gets credit for. i think the lyrics of FRESH FRUIT FOR ROTTING VEGETABLES (ALTERNATIVE TENTACLES, 1980) songs like "KILL THE POOR" and "LET'S LYNCH THE LANDLORD" work because they are so hyperbolic yet earnest. it felt even two decades later like he was very much playing with fire with a smirk and a sense of mischief as well as purpose. its an interesting mix. undoubtedly the reference in his name to the NIGERIAN BIAFRAN WAR also drew my attention, given that i had recently relocated to my boarding school from a middle school in LAGOS. i cant say that association wasnt an initial detail that peaked my interest at the time.
in songs like "CALIFORNIA UBER ALLES," "HOLIDAY IN CAMBODIA" and even "VIVA LAS VEGAS" there is a sense of reducing AMERICAN MIDDLE CLASS VALUES of CONSPICUOUS CONSUMERISM and POLITICAL ACQUIESENCE to their end extremes. in an era of TRUMPISM and the efforts of extreme elements with the conservative movement actively corroding democracy itself, these songs seem more of a harbinger of things to come than silly pastiche. obviously BIAFRA saw something in RONALD REAGAN's AMERICA that portended things to come.
the last thing i'll mention is the guitar work of EAST BAY RAY, which at times delves into ROCKABILLY and even SURF MUSIC. despite the aura and charms of BIAFRA, the hidden ingredient are the decidedly tasty slap-back delayed, single-not soundscapes that mark much of the songs on this record and future DEAD KENNEDY records. much as BIAFRA infused his political screeds with humor, parodies and clever wordplay, the guitar work of EAST BAY RAY and its departure from the basic power chord monotony of HARDCORE really amplified and focused the attack and bite of the band. for me those are the two main ingredients that made their debut such a remarkable achievement.
aside from being a definitive album of the period, this record likewise reminds me of the power of keeping an open ear to new music, which is something i continued in college as well as more recently with the nonprofit, streaming radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC out of STATEN ISLAND of all places. like GEORGE CLINTON once said, "FREE YOUR MIND AND YOUR ASS WILL FOLLOW."
dedicated to his close friend since childhood, kindred spirit and deceased former bandmate D. BOON, WE JAM ECONO: THE STORY OF THE MINUTEMEN (ROCKET FUEL FILMS, 2005) is an intimate documentary largely narrated by MIKE WATT about his former band, the highly idiosyncratic and influential 1980s HARDCORE band THE MINUTEMEN.
hailing from SAN PEDRO just as the SOUTH BAY was taking over the LOS ANGELES music scene with a more volatile and aggressive wave of PUNK ROCK that included the likes of BLACK FLAG, CIRCLE JERKS and THE DESCENDENTS, THE MINUTEMEN represented the conceptual and artistic vanguard of the scene. their lyrics were opaque and their sound kinetic yet off-kilter, skittish and dare i say it, funky. in a scene where subtlety was not the norm, both sonically and in terms of lyrical content, THE MINUTEMEN effectively expanded the out realms of the genre in the same way HUSKER DU had done in their respective scene at the time.
the core of the band existed before HARDCORE emerged, but in that scene they saw a freedom and artistic opportunity. D. BOON was an accomplished visual artist and had a way with lyrics where he could evoke images with a minimum amount of words. this efficiency likewise found its way to his guitar playing, which borrowed from various genres and transcended the extreme buzzsaw tempos of his label-mate and fellow scene participants, BLACK FLAG. in essence they had a chemistry that came from years of camaraderie and basically exemplified the DIY ethos of PUNK ROCK. they were completely self-made and unique.
can't say the same for the construction of the documentary itself. it drags a bit and has a very uneven pacing throughout. it could use another edit, which is unfortunate as the band definitely deserves better. but where it lacks in professional sheen it makes up for in content. its rough appearance may even make the film a better conduit for information as it provides a sense of intimacy, especially with regards to its interview footage.
this film includes archival live performances and then-recent interviews with the likes of peers such as IAN MCKAYE (MINOR THREAT), JELLO BIAFRA (DEAD KENNEDYS), MILO AUKERMAN (THE DESCENDENTS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), J MASCIS (DINOSAUR JR), MIKE MILLS (R.E.M.), DEZ CADENA, CHUCK DUKOWSKI & HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), KURT KIRKWOOD (MEAT PUPPETS), JOHN DOE (X), FLEA (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS / FEAR), THURSTON MOORE & LEE RANALDO (SONIC YOUTH), ROBERT HOLZMAN (SACCHARINE TRUST), RICHARD HELL (TELEVISION / THE VOIDOIDS) and COLIN NEWMAN (WIRE) among many others.
worth checking out only if you are a deep fan of the genre or the artist, but may be less interesting for those not familiar or eager to explore either. there are other documentaries that are arguably a better introduction to the scene in general like AMERICAN HARDCORE (AHC PRODUCTIONS, 2006) or PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005).
the no frills documentary MY CAREER AS A JERK (WE GOT POWER FILMS, 2012) is very much a basic run through of the career of HARDCORE legends THE CIRCLE JERKS with a focus on their wild, kinetic frontman KEITH MORRIS. included are grainy live performance footage from nearly every incarnation of the band as well as interviews with MORRIS and past CIRCLE JERKS bandmates GREG HETSON, LUCKY LEHRER, EARL LIBERTY and ZANDER SCHLOSS as well as contemporaries of the 80s HARDCORE scene like HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), J MASCIS (DEEP WOUND, DINOSAUR JR), BRIAN BAKER (MINOR THREAT, DAG NASTY) and GREG GRAFFIN (BAD RELIGION).
i dont want to say that this film was a cash grab, but in terms of its editing and overall narrative cohesion it is a bit uneven. at no point did i get a sense of what made them special relative to their peers or their contributions to the 80s HARDCORE scene other than that they existed. instead we are given a behind the scenes at tensions within the band and the immense risk involved in maintaining a HARDCORE band longterm. that was my big takeaway at least. in a fluid musical scene in which its members prided themselves on being spontaneous and in the moment, any type of longevity in such a combustible environment with their credibility still intact is an accomplishment in and of itself. maybe the point of this film was to answer fans why a CIRCLE JERKS reunion in the 2010s was not in the cards as MORRIS was very much pursuing his work in OFF!, which very much stands up to his catalogue with gusto.
if you are completist than this film is worth your time, otherwise i would implore you to consider reading MORRIS' stellar MY DAMAGE: THE STORY OF A PUNK ROCK SURVIVOR (DA CAPO, 2016) memoir instead (review linked HERE).
with the resurgence in interest in vinyl records that has been going on for the past two decades in the wake of streaming, the mp3 and the obliteration of the compact disc as viable format, HARDCORE icon and vinyl aficionado HENRY ROLLINS has been teaming up with online retailer THE SOUND OF VINYL and UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP's promotions and outreach website UDISCOVER MUSIC to create a series of videos about his love of vinyl and those artist that create it.
ROLLINS' curating efforts over the past few years on this accord have included tutorials, artist recommendations and interviews with artists, directors and independent label owners. basically everything a novice would like to know about starting a collection and where to start, but were afraid to ask. ROLLINS at his age is over the industry, so he comes off as a no-bullshit, straightforward guide with no pretensions. and thank god for that since lord knows that elitism is what drives people away from record stores.
i enjoy watching these and my hope is that both companies expand such with other noteworthy curators. my suggestions: CHUCK D, BRIAN ENO, GEORGE CLINTON, DAVID BYRNE, AFRIKA BAMBAATAA, RICHARD DAVID JAMES, NEIL YOUNG, Q-TIP, CORNELIUS and JOHNNY MARR. one can only dream.
below are ROLLINS' record recommendations. in the future i'll post further articles highlighting some of his interviews. this is still very much a current and developing endeavor.
this was an interesting one.
THE HEPATITIS BATHTUB AND OTHER STORIES (DA CAPO, 2016) by NOFX with JEFF ALULIS seems at heart to be a distant PUNK ROCK cousin of the similarly structured and similarly debauched legendary MOTLEY CRUE memoir THE DIRT (reviewed HERE). both spend the majority of their ink going on a bout drug addiction and various inventive forms of self abuse that saw a wake of emotional turmoil and human destruction in their wake.
call me a prude but tales of degradation, violence and selfish behavior in the extreme bores me. to me it just screams as a cry for attention and deep need for outside validation. in other words its very un-PUNK ROCK.
NOFX are the children of the LOS ANGELES HARDCORE scene in the 1980s when more aggressive bands from the SOUTH BAY and ORANGE COUNTY got involved and upped the violence quotient considerably. before that moment it was more of an inclusive art scene with eclectic musical approaches and a crowd that reflected such. NOFX is emblematic of a shift to a more streamlined, aggressive, less socially conscious brand of PUNK ROCK that decidedly had more to do with WHITE MALE AGGRESSION than the prior ethos of individuality, self-responsibility and empowering your community.
for me what made this book interesting were the times that NOFX shifted away from the sophomoric frat house routine they are renowned for and put their collective backbone into some type of cause. NOFX singer / main songwriter / bassist FAT MIKE put his name and independent record label FAT WRECK CHORDS as the muscle behind the PUNKVOTER website in order to get his fans out voting, specifically with the aim of getting GEORGE W. BUSH out of office. obviously it didn't work but that is the point, it marks FAT MIKE and the band as having an interesting in speaking truth to power and encouraging civic engagement and self-empowerment. in other words i'd argue the definition of PUNK ROCK.
another strain throughout FAT MIKE's narrative is his growing confidence to let his passion for fetishism and S&M to be expressed in his music more openly, not guarded behind the knowing wink of a joke. although originally introduced to us in the first few pages as a means of titillation and shock value, what transpires over the course of the story is how such for him is a means of identity with a correlating community supporting such endeavors. in a way, its as normal as a country club or a knitting circle, it is just another means at deriving a community and in a strange sense this book offers an insider's look at the appeal and benefits of such a non-mainstream community.
lastly i want to mention that for me the most compelling of the several individual narratives that made up each chapter (again, in similar fashion to THE DIRT), was that of NOFX drummer ERIK "SMELLY" SANDIN and his relationship with drugs. i feel that out of all the members, his story was the most depraved. the damage he did to himself and his surrounding community was insanely hardcore and fueled entirely by an intense sense of self-loathing rooted in a troubled childhood. the narcotics and the "friends" he picked up thereafter were just symptomatic of that need to belong. it sounds so simple, but his journey was one of discovery one's own self-worth, even through the haze of drug addiction. and he was a legendary degenerate junkie for that matter. COURTNEY LOVE referred to him as the worst junkie she'd ever seen due in part to his lack of ability to control his symptoms, puking and passing out with no regard for his surroundings. the idea that he can come out of that arguably present himself as one of the more responsible members of the band is a testament to his efforts.
i do want to also commend guitarist ERIC MELVIN for sharing his experience of being social abused as a child. its beyond courageous and should be celebrated as such. hopefully it will result in other victims feeling like there is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
that being said, as a fan of NOFX, my only gripe with this book is about how little of this book dealt with the actual music. as a band that has highly referential lyrics to specific people and places, there were only a few nuggets thrown out there to clarify such. maybe that was a conscious decision but in my mind it was an unfortunate one. most of the material in this book is beyond cliche, especially with regard to ROCK AND ROLL memoirs in general.
if debauched behavior by ROCK AND ROLL bands is what you are voyeuristically seeking to learn about then THE DIRT is the way to go. if you are interested in learning about the 1980s HARDCORE scene or the 90s POP PUNK explosion there are several other books more insightful than this one.
i wasn't disappointed, just underwhelmed with this book. i think if the tone was a little more somber at points, as well as axing that ridiculous cover, the utter depravity and bleakness of its content would be a bit easier to swallow. instead i am left with being sure how they feel about their band history, which is confusing as a fan.
seek this book out only if you are a committed fan of the group. otherwise there are arguably better books on the subject of LOS ANGELES HARDCORE scene and its transitions to the 90s and beyond.
HENRY ROLLINS GET IN THE VAN (review linked HERE), KEITH MORRIS' MY DAMAGE (review linked HERE) BAD RELIGION's DO WHAT YOU WANT (review linked HERE) and JON DOE's UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN (review linked HERE) all immediately come to mind. LEXICON DEVIL, AMERICAN HARDCORE, WE GOT THE NEUTRON BOMB and WE'RE NOT HERE TO ENTERTAIN are good options as well.
check out HERE a special episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC with a playlist dedicated to the music production career of BUTCH VIG, from his career recording DIY releases from obscure 80s midwestern HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK bands at his own SMART STUDIOS to his commercial breakthrough with 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK icons NIRVANA, SMASHING PUMPKINS and GARBAGE and beyond.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
as its pragmatic title entails, SALAD DAYS (NEW ROSE FILMS, 2014) is a comprehensive look back at the evolution and enduring cultural legacy of the WASHINGTON D.C. HARDCORE scene of the 1980s. utilizing interviews from both from members of countless participating bands as well as (interesting choice) scenesters of the period, you really get the sense about how an idea sparks a scene which sparks a movement and the implications of such. what blows my mind is that everything discussed was accomplished for the most part by a bunch of kids in their teens and early 20s. makes me wonder what ive accomplished.
at the essence of this whole scene is a strong DIY ethic. in the aftermath of the PUNK explosion of the late 1970s, there was a small group of like-minded teenagers in D.C. who listened to THE CRAMPS, IGGY POP and THE RAMONES and fought off redneck suburban kids attempting to beat them to a pulp for dressing different. this confrontational day-to-day existence manifested itself in a small scene of kids who picked up instruments and started bands. these bands developed to the point that a local record shop, in a very HIGH FIDELITY (TOUCHSTONE PICTURES, 2000) moment, helped them learn to record at a nearby studio with a producer and manufacture vinyl records. enter DISCHORD RECORDS.
at the hear to the scene is DISCHORD, which was essentially an excuse for IAN MCKAYE and JEFF NELSON to self-release and EP by their band THE TEEN IDLES. eventually the also released records by their friends and D.C. bands they thought people should hear. DISCHORD through MCKAYE's next band MINOR THREAT become well known and helps draw attention to the label's roster, which some complain sucks the oxygen out of non-DISCHORD affiliated INDIE and PUNK groups from the area. some of those bands even start their own labels like TEEN BEAT RECORDS and SIMPLE MACHINES.
as the scene gets bigger in the mid-80s through the increasing notoriety of the DISCHORD roster of bands (GOVERNMENT ISSUE, VOID, FAITH, S.O.A., etc), things begin to change. kids show up from the suburbs and shows become decidedly more violent. original bands grapple with the fact that these newcomers do not share their values. things get increasingly desperate as racist SKINHEADS and destitute DRUNK PUNK show up and reek havoc. all this while, again, most of the bands involved are barely in their 20s.
the scene begins to change as bands mature and get more introspective lyrically and experimental sonically. a new generation "emotional hardcore" bands become prominent like EMBRACE and RITES OF SPRING and which result in effectively challenging their audiences expectations. things also get more splintered as some bands get political as exemplified by the local outreach group POSITIVE FORCE who put on numerous shows as well as musical protests of the SOUTH AFRICAN embassy for its then-APARTHEID government. this came to be known as REVOLUTION SUMMER.
for some this new explicitly political focus through benefit shows and protests was pedantic at best and HIPPIE-ish at worst. it splintered the bands much as the STRAIGHT EDGE movement had done years before. STRAIGHT EDGE was a MINOR THREAT song about not needing intoxicants to have a good time, in fact not doing so gave them the "straight edge." people took MCKAYE's personal affirmation as dogma, as followers tend to do, and it created confusion amongst the scene about how people could act at shows. was drinking now bad?
through all the variations and misinterpretations of this scene, it seems the biggest impact was their intense DIY ethic and sense of community. in the end the idea of creating a scene from nothing showcases how empowering an idea such as PUNK ROCK can be. the democratizing of instruments to all levels of musician's most have been exhilarating when PUNK ROCK first came about.
my only grief is that the empowerment of the still relative dearth of prominent modern PUNK or INDIE bands that express the perspectives of minorities and those of the LGBTQIA community. watching this documentary cognizant of what came in its wake, it still feels like PUNK ROCK is a white boys club pissing on one another. the industry has changed but the players have not, no matter how woke they.
hopefully this next generation will take the cue from PUNK ROCK and empower themselves to advocate structural change moving forward. they'll have to do it themselves.
with the rise and proliferation of RUSSIAN DISINFORMATION, CLIMATE SCIENCE DENIALISM, the SOCIAL MEDIA BOTS, AMERICAN WHITE NATIONALISM and rampant cable news sanctioned XENOPHOBIA being experienced across the UNITED STATES, its likely that there has ever been a more prescient time for a book about SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HARDCORE PUNK ROCK legends BAD RELIGION than our current TRUMPIAN post-fact moment of existential peril. when i consider their influence and legacy, ironically what comes to mind is how throughout their career they seemed very much focused on the present. HARDCORE PUNK ROCK, especially those that descended on the original LOS ANGELES/HOLLYWOOD scene in the early 1980s once the SOUTH BAY, ORANGE COUNTY and the bland extended SUBURBAN wastelands of places like OXNARD and the SAN FERNANDO VALLEY (where the members of BAD RELIGION resided) joined the party all were inherently aggressively transgressive.
but BAD RELIGION was different. as pointed out repeatedly in their recently published autobiography DO WHAT YOU WANT: THE STORY OF BAD RELIGION (HATCHETTE BOOKS, 2020), written by current and past members of BAD RELIGION with help from scribe JIM RULAND (who also collaborated on KEITH MORRIS' 2016 memoir, review linked HERE), the band was focused on using the template of PUNK ROCK as palette to project their musings and observations about how the world works.
the two central figures in this narrative are singer GREG GRAFFIN and guitarist BRETT GUREWITZ, who met through a mutual friend in high school. their songs explore a strident philosophical strain that puts them in concert with the humanist tradition dating back to the enlightenment. again, its beyond timely that their songs as treatises about issues both political and personal are being presented again in an era where lies and untruths have smothered both our political dialogue and our self-conception as AMERICANS.
but i should back up. the book covers their origins, development and ability to move forward despite constantly revolving line-up shifts, music industry cycles and regressive political climates. their independence and longevity is largely due to the relationship of GRAFFIN and GUREWITZ. famously GRAFFIN pursued a side academic career as an EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST, receiving his doctorate from CORNELL UNIVERSITY no less, and his availability based on these pursuits both determined the schedule of the band and provided GUREWITZ the time and space to both run his independent label EPITAPH RECORDS and write songs for the band. as fan, i always wondered how that arrangement worked. through this book i learned that when the band jumped to ATLANTIC RECORDS it disrupted both GRAFFIN's academic schedule (as he made himself more available for extensive touring) and GUREWITZ' ability to pull double duty with the band and label, leading to his departure.
eventually the band came to a balance after fulfilling their major label contract after four albums to return to EPITAPH and allow GUREWITZ the freedom to produce and write songs, but not tour. this arrangement has been going on now for the better part of twenty years and counting and no doubt has resulted in their longevity and current status as elder statesmen.
for me they are the LENNON/MCCARTNEY of PUNK ROCK. i also feel that what JOE STRUMMER attempted to convey with limited success is what they both actually achieved as songwriters. this is partly due to their songwriting prowess and production abilities, but i also feel it is due to their creativity and profoundly inquisitive nature. i think longtime fans will be pleasantly surprised to learn how many songs were written by GUREWITZ that most no doubt assumed were GRAFFIN compositions. GRAFFIN is renowned as the PUNK ROCK professor but GUREWITZ is very much his equal and this book sets the record straight on that accord.
great autobiography the presents them and their message of bringing intelligence and intellectual rigor to PUNK ROCK lyricism that is often maligned and derided, especially during the HARDCORE scene that birthed them. if you are interested in PUNK ROCK or meaningful music that asks its listener to think for themselves, then definitely check out this book.
otherwise just go listen to KID ROCK. or KANYE.
PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005) by legendary DJ / MUSICIAN / DIRECTOR and original PUNK ROCK scenester DON LETTS is probably the most comprehensive documentary about the beginnings and evolution of PUNK ROCK, both stateside and in ENGLAND. it includes an exhaustive yet entirely impressive cast of participants, many now deceased, whose insights provide an appreciation for the wide array of interests and backgrounds that led to the formation of the genre. this includes, but not limited to, musicians such as JOHN CALE (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), JELLO BIAFRA (THE DEAD KENNEDYS), MARTIN REV (SUICIDE), CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), DAVID JOHANSEN, SYLVAIN SYLVAIN & ARTHUR KANE (THE NEW YORK DOLLS), MICK JONES & PAUL SIMON (THE CLASH), DARYL JENIFER (BAD BRAINS), POLY STYRENE (X-RAY SPEX), HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), WAYNE KRAMER (MC5), PAT SMEAR (THE GERMS), SIOUXSIE SIOUX (SIOUXSIE SIOUX & THE BANSHEES), TOMMY RAMONE (THE RAMONES), CAPTAIN SENSIBLE (THE DAMNED), ARI UP (THE SLITS), STEVE JONES & GLEN MATLOCK (THE SEX PISTOLS), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), K.K. BARRETT (THE SCREAMERS), RAY CAPO (YOUTH OF TODAY), GLENN BRANCA (THEORETICAL GIRLS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), ROGER MIRET (AGNOSTIC FRONT), PETE SHELLEY & HOWARD DEVOTO (THE BUZZCOCKS), DEE POP (THE BUSH TETRAS), ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), RICHARD MANITOBA (THE DICTATORS), JAMES CHANCE (JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS) and film director JIM JARMUSCH, CBGBs owner HILLY KRISTAL and various managers, writers, artists and photographers.
i think one strong suit of this documentary is its ability to elucidate the long line of influence that followed one band to another over time. how bands like THE DOORS influenced THE STOOGES who influenced THE SEX PISTOLS and BLACK FLAG and NIRVANA and so on. in essence you see how bands such as THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, SUICIDE, THE DEAD KENNEDYS, PATTI SMITH, THE DAMNED and THE RAMONES (among many others) are all linked and part of a greater movement towards challenging, complicating, questioning and, in turn, revitalizing the form of ROCK AND ROLL.
examples provided included the concurrent POST PUNK and NO WAVE that came about after the first wave of PUNK ROCK. both took the ethos of originality and freedom and applied such to the music, creating new takes on song structures and experimented with expanded palette of instruments.
the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s was the opposite of such in that songs got condensed and sped up even faster. scenes that began with first wave PUNK adherents more interested in art and originality were taken over by HARDCORE bands that were largely aggressive and violent. part of that anger was political at the REAGAN administration as well as a feeling that their lives were set to be disrupted by economic uncertainty. that scene begat the ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene of the 1990s, or as JELLO BIAFRA puts it "punk inspired rock bands." as the 1990s dragged on you get bands like KORN and LIMP BIZKIT with their dumbed down break down sections and shocking lack of social consciousness.
there was nothing revelatory about this documentary, but it serves as a welcome definitive statement about a genre for anyone new or interested in the place of PUNK ROCK in music history. it really gets at the core idea of the genre in spite of its many permutations: that being the value being an individual. finding your voice, whatever that may be, and speaking your truth vociferously with an almost disregard for the opposition. thats a healthy sentiment for anyone to learn.
my only gripe with this film is that they spends way too much time talking about THE CLASH and JOE STRUMMER, but that is my own personal bias making itself apparent. i still find that band, despite their influence, to be full of themselves. just my opinion.
THE SMART STUDIOS STORY (CONEY ISLAND STUDIOS, 2016) is documentary about the outwardly unassuming yet highly influential recording studio in MADISON, WISCONSIN, that was founded and run by STEVE MARKER and BUTCH VIG. the creation of the studio was at an interesting inflection point in american culture as there was a definite influx of underground HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK bands that were supported in earnest by college radio and a nationwide network of bars, VFW halls and small clubs not to mention independent promoters and independent record labels and record stores. what connected all these stakeholders in the scene was a sense of self-reliance and DIY ETHIC. maybe its simplistic to say that the puritan ethic of the midwest played a role in this community, but essentially this mindset led to an era of experimentation in music that was free of financial considerations, because none of this was supposed to go commercial. given that VIG was a musician (drummer in local bad SPOONER with future GARBAGE collaborator DOUG ERIKSON) he also had the added benefit of being able to listen and suss out the needs of a band, how to bring out their sound in a fun, experimental atmosphere. he was also able to know firsthand what worked and didn't work from a musician's perspective in "professional" studios. i think his versatility is underrated and part of his work ethic and gets lost in the shuffle when success for his production duties gained global notoriety.
enter NIRVANA and THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, the two bands whose albums NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993) altered the landscape for VIG and the underground scene seemingly overnight with the inception of a financially viable ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene that was supported by commercial radio, promoters and the commercial infrastructure of corporate AMERICA. this allowed VIG freedom in choosing projects since SMART STUDIOS was now a destination studio and his services a known commodity.
i think given that sea change it is to his credit that VIG along with MARKER and ERIKSON expanded their craft by utilizing technology and incorporating new techniques in their band GARBAGE. for me their incorporation of HIP HOP and ELECTRONICA elements into a new hybrid style are one of the defining sounds of the 1990s. the fusion of such is only that much more impressive given the cultural impact of his celebrated yet sonically more straightforward catalogue of ALTERNATIVE ROCK production work.
its ironic that this embrace of technology is also what brought down the studio, as digital recording software on personal computers made this DIY ETHIC spread to a new prosumer base of musicians. the time had come to move on.
my takeaway from this documentary is that good music can come from anywhere, no matter how far off the beaten path. SEATTLE, MINNEAPOLIS, PORTLAND. in this case WISCONSIN. innovation is a personal pursuit and must be met on its own merits. in many ways BUTCH VIG's career as an established producer was entirely a fluke of circumstance. on the other hand he was talented and was prepared to take advantage of opportunities when presented.
makes me wonder what other crevices of the UNITED STATES or even the golbal scene have i not considered researching. where should i look next? because i'm always searching.
one reason i love having a radio show is that it gives me an excuse to investigate unfamiliar music genres really take a deep dive. not being from NEW YORK and having most of my musical education take place outside the country, NYHC was something i was tangentially aware of given the influence of the scene on other bands (BEASTIE BOYS, RANCID, METALCORE groups). around the time of the airing of this episode i had finished TONY RETTMAN's book (review linked HERE) on the subject NEW YORK HARDCORE 1980-90 (BAZILLION POINTS, 2014), which i highly recommend.
full disclosure: i am an admire of the NYHC scene from afar but by no means am i an expert or a participant. if you are looking for that, i highly suggest you seek out the WORLD ENRAGE SHOW on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC and specifically the memorable EPISODE with special guest LOU of SICK OF IT ALL.
i had fun doing the show and the prep work for it. enjoy.
with a rhythm section that includes former members of RETOX, THE LOCUST and the almighty SLAYER, DEAD CROSS would be worth the price of admission alone before any mention of vocalist MIKE PATTON. obviously PATTON is a gifted talent whose depth and range precede him, but what makes this project standout among his discography is its undiluted aggression and utter lack of subtlety.
this is a straight-up, confrontational spit-in-your-eye HARDCORE record in the best tradition of the genre. it holds up with the discography of all members involved.
definitely worth diving into a check out. love this band.
thanks to DEAD CROSS for sharing our IG story promoting this entry!
easily one of my favorite DEER GOD RADIO shows since its inception, this episode dedicated to 1980s HARDCORE is a topic i have further explored in book reviews for the likes of GET IN THE VAN (HENRY ROLLINS), MY DAMAGE (KEITH MORRIS) and UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN (JOHN DOE) as well as other related episodes concerning the concurrent scene in INDIE ROCK as well as '77 FIRST-WAVE PUNK ROCK, NEW YORK HARDCORE, POST-HARDCORE, and later 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK.
it is seemingly the topic that will never die and continues to be of interest to me, largely because it was the palette cleanser that served to further distill PUNK ROCK to its absolute core essentials, of which we have been building back up around ever since. it is the foundation for any decent ROCK music that has sprung up in its wake.
so check out this show that originally aired around CHRISTMAS 2018. hasn't gotten old yet.
i havent attempted to hide my contempt on this platform for all things SACRAMENTO. having lived in that area for my senior year of high school i was convinced that nothing relevant ever came out of there with one exception: DEFTONES. that changed over the years to include both CHELSEA WOLFE and DEATH GRIPS.
DEATH GRIPS when they came out roughly 10 years ago had that whole HARDCORE, DIY ethic and a sound that split the difference between grating INDUSTRIAL production with dissonant layered distorted guitars and an almost post-modern, unpredictably kinetic HIP HOP sense of production.
to my ears it seemed like they took the most abrasive sounds out of all those traditions and cooked them up into an uncomfortable, unfolding concoction that was absolutely abrasive yet, strangely, entirely listenable.
probably the most revolutionary rock(?) band in terms of sonics of the last ten years. like next level RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE.
definitely check them out. but stay please stay away from SACRAMENTO. redneck country.
it has been said that the lasting cultural impact of 1980s HARDCORE was the touring circuit they networked one city at a time. this circuit of VFW halls, LIONS CLUBS and basements across the nation was the common proving ground for INDIE bands of that same era and underground ALTERNATIVE bands of the 90s. this self-published printing (now long out of print) of his tour journal finds BLACK FLAG frontman HENRY ROLLINS in GET IN THE VAN ( 2.13.61, 1995) giving the reader a first-hand account of the hardship and endurance it took to get out the message.
in ROLLINS we see a guy that knows his place. he appreciates his good fortune in being asked to join his favorite band at a moment when they sought to reshuffle roles within the band. one theme carried on throughout journal is this theme of isolation and alienation from the straight world he so passionately wished to escape from. the longer he is on the road, the more severe that estrangement becomes, for his former peers (exception being friend IAN MCKAYE) can't appreciate his position. they see a rock star on tour where his actual reality is sleeping in vans, moving equipment, fighting skinheads, fighting concert promoters, lack of food, lack of sleep and lack of money. on top of that they are blazing through under-appreciated markets that don't have a frame of reference for their version of PUNK ROCK quite yet. they are very much the pioneers that got scalped to borrow horrible offensive and culturally antiquated turn of phrase.
ROLLINS attitude throughout is one of defiance. he talks about hating his audience, his bandmates and the straight world in general. his misanthropy seems rooted in a deep-seated internal fortitude to bear any burden, carry any cross for his band. what seems interesting in retrospect is how much he has transitioned since the myopia of his early 20s, when much of these entries were written. he is the very embodiment now of adventurousness, traveling tirelessly and choosing to use any of his various platforms (spoken-word albums, documentaries, podcasts, tv shows) to promote the understanding of culture across borders and inclusivity. it is basically the opposite trajectory of MORRISSEY, once the embodiment of transgressive gender politics and now just a sad mouthpiece for the extreme-right in ENGLAND (sighhh). as someone who traveled a lot growing up as a THIRD CULTURE KID, i definite sympathize with his misanthropy and retreat into himself when confounded with radical change and senseless violence during what amounts to his formative years. its comforting to know he transcended such self-destructive ideations.
one of my favorite aspects of this book is the friction between AMERICAN HARDCORE bands and their BRITISH counterparts. at the time it had only been a handful of years, but the chasm culturally between these two cousins was pretty wide and ROLLINS spares no quarter in taking on what he considered shitty bands that couldn't play their instruments. i take this as a grain of salt given the fact BLACK FLAG were the tip of the spear for a new more potent wave of PUNK ROCK and for them there was a definite "us vs. the world" mentality, but it is interesting nonetheless on purely sociological grounds.
the journal is a bit hard to get through and is quite repetitive but at its most potent you get a real sense of the absurdity of touring life, fan adoration and the unique hardships of being a trailblazer. true, ROLLINS was the 4th singer of BLACK FLAG, but none of the others toured like his version of the band, which makes them the de facto committed to popular memory.