This is a new set of weekly posts inspired by some facebook chat with our very own Ben “The BBT” Tan. Every week we’ll discuss one subversive book, from the obvious to the obscure, doesn’t matter. Don’t panic there will be dick jokes!!! and Hicks jokes and Chomsky and all sorts of incendiary material just waiting to explode!!! This week we will begin with a book I have already reviewed from nearly two years ago on the Etudiant. Next week, it will be Catcher in the Rye or A People’s History, I haven’t decided yet. Enjoy!
Musicians, Read this Book!
Title: Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991
Author: Michael Azerrad
Review: OBCBYL is a study of 13 independent, underground rock bands that stampeded the music industry during the Reagan Conservative decade we call the 80’s. These are the bands that grew right under the nose of mainstream America; these self- made musicians took the musical influence of their punk predecessors and said “Fuck It! I’m not playing New Wave, Who cares if we never make any money or appear on MTV, let’s just Jam!” And so they hopped in the van with their companions and toured the nation non stop, founded their own independent labels, and began issuing fanzines. This was music run by kids (teens- early twenties), played by kids, and for kids; existing entirely outside the music industry. DIY (Do It Yourself) at its finest!
First off, this book details some of the greatest artists in the history of music. Despite the fact that few of these bands broke into the mainstream, their influence is immense. Without Sonic Youth there’s no Nirvana, without Black Flag there’s no hardcore, and so on. Okay, here’s the bands:
Mission of Burma
Of these bands, Sonic Youth is definitely my favorite, with Fugazi being a close second. If I were you I would go out and buy a SY album immediately! I highly recommend Goo (1990). If you don’t feel like spending dough, then download their shit, they have a huge, plethora of works. For those of you Étudiant Radio listeners, which should be all of you! you will hear at some point or another all of these artists, in fact Glen and I already played Fugazi and Beat Happening.
Warning!: If you plan to read this book (Do It Now, it’s at Newbury Comics, Barnes and Noble, hell you can order it online, you won’t even have to get off your ass!) please do not read this criticism section and rather go into the novel with an open mind, you will discover an insightful analysis of underground culture and possibly the greatest chronicle of music in history.
Though this book is amazing, it is not 100% free of foibles. My main criticism is its lack of numerous, other, troubadours from that era, chief amongst these artists are: The Pixies, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, Misfits, Daniel Johnston, Descendants, Melvins, Meat Puppets, Bad Religion, Social Distortion, and who could forget The Smiths? Now of course the biggest flaw in my complaint is the fact that if Azerrad had included all these artists it would have been over a thousand pages (I would read em’!) and also it’s most likely he tried to contact these artists, but they wanted nothing to do with the novel. Who Knows? Maybe we’ll see a Volume 2, hopefully! Another criticism is the author’s gratuitous use of the word “indie.” I showed one chapter to Glen and he pointed this out, without even my mention of it. A final criticism is the way the author leaves out certain info or uses his opinion as if it is fact to build a story, for example in the Mudhoney chapter, he makes it sound like “Touch Me I’m Sick” was the only great song the band recorded… my favorite album of theirs is My Brother The Cow (1995) , where the song does not appear, and in fact there is no mention of this album or any other album by them on Reprise (major label) records. Sorry Azerrad.
My Rating: 4 and a half out of 5 stars. A must for those who think punk stopped in 1978 and then resurfaced with Nirvana in 1991.
Here are some (but certainly not all) other works I recommend you check out if you like this novel:
American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush
Get In The Van by Henry Rollins
American Hardcore (film, 2006)
We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen (film, 2005)
P.S. that was not a knock at Nirvana above.
Comment it up and let’s start the discussion now!