HAWAII PUNK - Raoul Vehill (399 pages)
Vehill was an active member in the Hawaii Punk Scene in the early 80s and, while a work of fiction, this book draws heavy influence from his time there.
The story pivots around Paul Cruz, AKA Pig Rock. He’s not a particularly likeable character, although Vehill’s text brings him to life and bestows a certain charm about him as the book progresses. Cruz is an intense and moderately self-centred young man. Some of his actions could even suggest an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Cruz spends his time doing three things: singing in his band Dog God, getting loaded on booze, and shagging. Politics are not on Pig Rock’s radar. While he does attend a march during the book, he’s more interested in one of the ladies rather than the politics behind the protest. Apolitical is a fitting description.
Without giving too much away, his band experiences line-up changes and becomes the talk of the Hawaii Punk Scene due to Cruz’s stage performance. The band supports THE VANDALS and AGENT ORANGE at the local Punk club, before peaking with a major-league support slot. Parallel to this story are the events in Paul’s social life, be it work, drinking and having casual sex with whatever young babe takes his eye. That he shows little regard for some of his underage sexual conquests doesn’t really make for pleasant reading. Ultimately he forms a mutually self-destructive relationship which leads to his addiction to and dealing of Cocaine and an ever increasing dependency on alcohol.
While the core of the story makes for rather depressing reading, the cataclysmic finale is gripping. Thankfully, Cruz’s final destiny is not hinted at during the course of the book. It’s only when the novel reaches its frighteningly convincing climax that you realise Vehill has dragged the reader into the scene. The reader sees the betrayal on Cruz’s face and senses the electricity in the air.
Surprisingly, as I finished the last page, I felt a sense of pity for old Pig Rock. He wasn’t a bad-to-the-bone fella; he just got caught up in the whole Punk thang (as anyone reading has also) and his compulsive nature drove him to consume all it offered. Unfortunately, due to a psychotic stripper, that compulsive nature lead to his downfall. Wisely, Vehill leaves the story hanging for a sequel.
And negatives? The most annoying aspect of the book are pages of explicit details on Pig Rock’s sexual exploits; a more in-depth exploration of the Hawaiian Punk Scene at the time would have been preferable. I would like to have seen some of the book’s minor characters explored with a little more depth also. In the absence of any parental figure in Cruz’s life, Ron, a builder who gives Cruz some temporary landscaping work, offers some voice-of-reason advice as he takes Cruz under his wing. He would have provided an interesting juxtaposition to the know-it-all youth.
Those are minor gripes though. Vehill’s strength as a writer lies in his eye for detail (although a little more attention to proof reading would be beneficial). His prose create vivid images while anyone who has ever played in a Punk Rock band will read of familiar scenarios in this book. This is a rollercoaster ride which may drift a little in the middle but compensates with the off-the-rails conclusion.
Think about the follow-up Raoul - I’m waiting! (08.06.09)
HUSKER DU: THE STORY OF THE NOISE-POP PIONEERS WHO LAUNCHED MODERN ROCK - Andrew Earles (290 pages, Voyageur Press)
It seems almost criminal that, with the exception of the chapter in Our Band Could Be Your Life, HUSKER DU - one of the most influential bands to explode out of the USHC boom and the only one to morph into a fully-fledged major label recording artist - has never previously been subject to any kind of in-depth analysis. Author, Earles, states he is too young to have seen the band live, has never lived in Minneapolis and had no prior association with the band bar 20 years of fandom. I’m always a little dubious of a book by someone who wasn’t there during the time of the subject matter but here, generally, Earles succeeds in honouring the band.
The book chronicles the lives of Mould, Hart and Norton from their earliest days and on through to the formation of the band. Each album is given an in-depth analysis, although ‘Warehouse’ seems to have been cold-shouldered a little - in fact the entire period the band was on a major label lacks the detail of the SST era. The band’s pivotal role in establishing a Midwest point on the DIY national touring circuit for their USHC contemporaries is also highlighted along with numerous tales of the ‘air-moving volume’ live experience. The book is filled out with some rarely seen photos, concluding with a look at each band member post-HUSKER DU and some rather fun appendixes that offer discographies, suggested listening, covers of HUSKER tracks and additional reading. Many of those involved with the band are frequently quoted, most notably Minneapolis local Terry Katzman who injects some much needed ‘on-the-spot’ observations.
The main strength of the book is in those album analyses and the chronological detailing of when songs first appeared in the band’s repertoire. To Earles’ credit, he did acquire new interviews with both Grant Hart and Greg Norton and both talk relatively openly about the band’s dynamic; and it’s Bob Mould’s rather tyrannical dynamic that is often the focus of the text. He comes off as a bit self-righteous, domineering and even spiteful where Hart is concerned. Unsurprisingly, Mould declined to be a part of this book as his own autobiography is in the works, but Earles has researched his subject well and provides enough quotes from other sources to make Mould’s stance clear at each specific juncture of the band’s career.
The book’s failing is in its conservatism. Early on, Earles makes a point of saying this is not going to focus on drug use, which seems ironic given that it was a contributing factor to the band members’ alienation and internal friction. I’m not saying I wanted a scandal-laden tome of drugs and depravity, just something a little more objective. Thankfully, Earles does not shy away from tackling Mould’s and Hart’s sexuality. Another rather annoying trait of Earles’ is his disjointed narrative where we get chapters recapping what has already been written about.
Ultimately, this is an extensively researched and engaging read of a groundbreaking band that fused velocity and volume. The aged HUSKERite will find something previously unknown here and for the relatively new obsessive fan, this will become a valuable resource to the DU pot of gold. (27.01.11)