KIDS OF THE BLACK HOLE: PUNK ROCK IN POSTSUBURBAN CALIFORNIA - Dewar MacLeod (180 pages, University of Oklahoma Press)
The LA Punk scene has always been one that is evolving - from the original Hollywood scene of WEIRDOS and X through to SOCIAL DISTORTION and T.S.O.L. This book offers an alternative telling of Punk’s progression within the City Of Angels. I say alternative because Macleod eschews writing directly about the musicians, labels and venues as many books do and instead focuses on the changing politics, social environs and exodus from the city to the suburbs altering the locale for what became Hardcore.
From MacLeod’s initial introduction, he is quick to point out that suburbia in the 70s was no longer a place to leave, due to the expanse of LA itself destroying suburbia per se - resulting in ‘Post-Suburbia’. He claims it was in this Post-Suburban morass that HC found its form, as it developed less out of musical circumstance than social ones, transforming its own environment rather than emigrating to live the fading Hollywood dream. His analysis progresses onto looking at how such a revolutionary and eclectic scene grew into a mass subculture, the advent (and importance of) DIY culture and many of the contradictions within all aspects of LA Punk and Hardcore.
As for the history of LA Punk that MacLeod does write about, it’s accurate and concise. We read of the importance of THE DAMNED playing in LA, the Masque, GERMS and BLACK FLAG. All the usual suspects are present but written from a perspective that includes what was happening socially and politically.
MacLeod points out that he missed the initial wave of LA Punk but saw both X and DEAD KENNEDYS in 1979 before becoming absorbed by Punk while at college in Berkeley. His text draws references and quotes from a sprawling array of sources (over 14 pages of source notes in fact) including the obvious like Slash and Flipside zines, books Hardcore California and We Got The Neutron Bomb through to less obvious but equally notable extracts from Time, LA Times and a number of socio-political thesis. I found a few comments rather one dimensional: "Hardcore was white music" (tell that to BAD BRAINS - a band totally over-looked in MacLeod’s text when he writes of the nationwide USHC boom) and was, "...stripped of nearly all rhythm and melody"? I’m not sure how a music based around energy and velocity could operate ‘without rhythm’ but that’s one of the sweeping generalisations.
This isn’t exactly ‘easy’ reading - parts frequently display MacLeod’s scholastic Professor Of History traits that could alienate some readers - but the extra effort it demands is ultimately rewarding. His telling of the rise of youth culture through films and music in the 50s, that progressed onto mass consumerism and its decline as the Hippie generation matured makes excellent reading and certainly gives some sense of historical placement to the dawning of the Punk era. This is a thought-provoking book that, while slightly over-analytical, ultimately succeeds in documenting youth culture and its ideals during a tumultuous and inspirational period of LA history. (28.02.11)