WHITE RIOT: PUNK ROCK AND THE POLITICS OF RACE - Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay (400 pages, Verso)
Punk Rock and race have always been awkward bedfellows. Right from Ron Asheton’s fetish for Nazi memorabilia, through to Sid and Siouxsie toying with the swastika for shock value and on to today’s hard-line polemic divides between a no tolerance anti-racist stance and Neanderthal extreme right racist bigotry, which leave no room for middle ground. This book collects essays, lyrics, interviews and analyses on the history of race and its impact on Punk Rock.
Compilers Duncombe and Tremblay have made this much more than a simple collection of writings though. They both offer wordy introductions in the first chapter and in succeeding chapters write an introductory piece to the ideas behind that chapter. Not only that, they also write introductions to each individual piece printed.
The book is split into eight chapters with contributions dating back to the late 50s as issues of race and racial discrimination in a pre-Punk world are considered. What follows is a look at racism through songs such as ‘Guilty Of Being White’ (MINOR THREAT), ‘White Minority’ (BLACK FLAG) and onto issues of White Power, Punk/Reggae unity, Asian and Hispanic influence and finally an interesting chapter than takes a look at Punk in such disparate climes as Toronto, Indonesia and Mexico.
The book’s contributors are a mixed back of extremes too, be it the likes of leading critics such as Dick Hebdige, Lester Bangs and Jon Savage through to musicians such as Jimmy Pursey, Paul Simonon, Los Crudos, Darryl Jenifer and Black Flag and, ultimately, some noxious Right Wing opinions on the White Power chapter. It’s actually good to see that, unlike many publications that refuse to air the voice of the racist extreme, Duncombe and Tremblay give page space to their ideals and render such ideals even more repulsive in reality.
It should be made clear though, this is a scholarly collection of writings - as is the writing of both Ducombe (author of Notes From The Underground and teacher of History and Politics of Media and Culture at NYU) and Tremblay (MRR writer and drummer of SLEEPiES). While this may be a definitive appraisal of Punk and race issues, I’m a little perplexed at exactly what audience is going to find this essential. In that sense, it could be considered overly scholarly - the average Punk will surely enjoy the words of Martin Sorrondeguy and the infamous round-table discussion between Vic Bondi, Ian MacKaye and Dave Dictor but may just find many other texts as convoluted and analytical in the extreme (I had to chuckle at Steven Lee Beeber’s theory that without experiencing the Holocaust, Punk would not have happened in the way it did). Conversely, those who may use this as a serious study companion on any thesis that involves race and popular culture may well find confused Punk reasoning of Bob Noxious or the MRR letter exchange rather blasé.
Issues of audience aside, this is a massively rewarding book looking at one of the most contentious subjects in society. If the reader is prepared to work at some of the writings it contains and actually put a bit of thought and consideration into what they are reading, they’ll not only be a more informed individual for doing so, but will also realise that this stands as the most authorative and in-depth appraisal of those awkward bedfellows that are Punk Rock and race that we are likely to read. (07.11.11)
WHY BE SOMETHING THAT YOU’RE NOT - Tony Rettman (260 pages, Revelation)
Detroit. Home to MC5, IGGY AND THE STOOGES, ALICE COOPER, Motown... And one of the most underrated and volatile Hardcore scenes in America. This book documents that early Detroit scene, and specifically the years between 1979-1985.
The story kicks off with a brief look at mid-late 70s Detroit and the influence that Cleveland’s THE PAGANS had on some of those who would become early pioneers of the Detroit Hardcore scene. From there, we get chapters on the formation of Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson’s zine, the infamous Touch And Go, and then onto the formation of the two early name bands - THE FIX and NECROS. The book highlights the friction between the two bands: THE FIX were older with a more decadent Punk Rock ‘n’ Roll view while NECROS were more militant Straight Edgers who had no regard for the old regime THE FIX represented. Of course, John Brannon and NEGATIVE APPROACH feature heavily, becoming the focal point of the whole scene. The other name bands would include Tesco Vee’s own MEATMEN and CRUCIFUCKS. Then there is coverage of a slew of lesser known, but equally important bands - L-SEVEN, VIOLENT APATHY, THE ALLIED, BORED YOUTH and more.
Besides the bands, this looks also at the venues, Russ Gibb’s cable TV show of the same name as the book, zines and of the violence (some of which does appear to have occurred due to too much testosterone) that often permeated the scene.
The story culminates with the arrival of, and I quote, "neo-Nazi neophytes" on the scene, the split of NEGATIVE APPROACH and a general disillusionment with Hardcore as the likes of Brannon and the NECROS (who had gone on to tour with Megadeth by this time!) discovered the sound that they had helped create was being adopted and regurgitated in a generic format by a new breed.
The book is presented in the oral history format, although Rettman does provide some linking paragraphs of background information. The narrative is easy to follow and filled out with an array of rare photos and flyers. Tesco Vee provides a brief and typically verbose foreword while a number of excellent appendixes provide additional, quick-reference information: a list of characters involved, a near complete gig list, the main bands and their releases and a yet more flyers and cuttings.
If anyone questions whether Detroit had a notable HC scene - let alone something that could challenge Boston or DC in its intensity - then they should read this book. The American Hardcore book totally over-looked what was happening here - maybe fortunately as now the unabridged story can be told and by those who were actually there. Highly recommended for USHC historians and those who only have a passing interest. (28.09.10)