One of the best books about Punk Rock, and American Punk/HC in particular, of recent years is George Hurchalla's magnificent 'Going Underground: American Punk 1979-1992'. Unlike many books of this genre, 'Going Underground' combines the music with an autobiographical narrative that is frequently humorous and informative. This interview with George took place in January 2006, shortly after the initial print run of the book.
..Did you come from a particularly musical background? Were your parents in any way musical? In what ways was George Hurchalla pre-Punk different to that after discovering Punk? And, obviously this is open to conjecture, but what kinda person do you think you would be now had you not discovered Punk Rock?
..George) I came from a hopelessly unmusical background. My extended family occasionally got together and bellowed folk songs drunkenly at the top of their lungs out of key, but that was the closest we came to music. A piano collected dust throughout my childhood in our house. I think that helped in my appreciation of Punk, if anything, caring more about the visceral part of music than the technical part. I had a better record collection after I discovered Punk, that's for sure. I was a middle class kid without immediate problems, and too isolated in a small town for Punk to have made a huge difference in my everyday life. It just made everything more exciting, though. It was fun discovering my exhibitionist side. I don't know that I would've been so different a person without Punk Rock, it fit my beliefs rather than destroying any old ones, but I would've just listened to much shittier music.
..You state in the book that Punk Rock came to you in 1980, via your brother's SEX PISTOLS records, at a time when you were wallowing in the sounds of early 70s Dinosaur Rock. Like anyone who discovered Punk in the early-mid 80s, it was a life-changing discovery. What specifically attracted you to the PISTOLS and what was your immediate reaction?
..George) I don't know. There's a quote in the new edition from Karen from the Tucson band CONFLICT, about a friend playing the PISTOLS for her in '78 and her going, "That's awful! Play it again!" Maybe there was some of the same thing with me. It just had all this energy and attitude that grabbed me right away. As soon it as it was done, you had to play it again. I hadn't ever heard anything like the NY DOLLS or IGGY at that point, so about the only thing maybe I had heard with attitude was something like the Mott the Hoople songs "Violence" or "Crash Street Kids". I didn't know that was what I really was looking for, but when I heard it, I knew. I went through a huge Stalinist purge of my record collection and got rid of most of my old stuff and replaced it all with Punk and New Wave.
..How much alienation did you and your brother feel growing up in the seemingly Punk Rock-ostracised confines of West Coast Florida? It's not an area that is instantly thought of as having a thriving Punk Rock community; did you face much adversity for your Punk Rock fandom? Is that area of the country any different today?
..George) We were on the East Coast of Florida, but my brother was going to college on the West Coast. On the Gulf side of Florida, being close to Tampa, he was near a city with a Punk Rock scene, which I didn't have anywhere near me. Plus he was at a really small, eclectic college with interesting people from other places with good musical exposure. Still, Punk was quickly latched onto by the surfers and skaters of Florida, and in fact the first I heard of the VIBRATORS I think was in a Florida surf magazine. So hanging out with surfers and skaters who got into it soon after me, there was never much sense of being ostracised. Like I said in the book, there was no one who even knew it was something they were supposed to hate. The area isn't much different today, just more developed, it's mainly a community of retired old people, like most of South Florida.
..Moving on to the book, where did the basic inspiration/ motivation come from for writing it? What made you feel the need document that era of Punk Rock and do you feel you achieved you goal?
..George) I had only seen one book at all on the subject when I first got the idea, and it had left me fairly disappointed. I thought I had a story to tell that needed to be told. It just amazed me that all the mainstream music media took great pains to avoid mentioning that era and that the bands I loved were responsible for the tremendous change in modern music. They would have had to admit they had their heads up their asses the whole decade of the 80s. It just got written out of history. I wanted to write it back in. Like a lot of people in this memoir-ridden age, I unfortunately suffered from the delusion that my experiences were all wonderful and important, and the first incarnation of my book was basically a memoir. I got some feedback pointing that out, and set out to change it into more of a history. By the time I was done I'd turned it into mainly a history, with my personal experiences reduced to the minimum required to link all the history together and tell a story. I think passion is a wonderful thing, and people relate to it in almost any field. It's what Punk Rock was about so much to me, the desperate passion of it. As long as you bring some thoughtfulness and good perspective and accuracy to match your passion, people tend to respond to it really well. It only came out now because I couldn't afford to start my own press and publish it until 2005. The basic book was done in 2001, though I did an enormous amount of work on it in the intervening years.
..I believe the book took you six years to complete, yeah? You ever get to a stage where you said, "Ahhh fuck it," and thought about canning the whole project? During the book's writing, what was the biggest adversity you faced?
..George) I only came about my DIY passion belatedly, through experience. I did the mainstream route in 2001, got an agent, impressed clueless Editors that I was an authority, and nearly got a big publishing deal for it. Right at that time, Sept. 11 happened and the book industry was only interested in books called "I Salute the Flag and Piss on Osama" after that. I had already been unsure about promoting the DIY way of life while going with a major press, and my experience of the publishing industry only confirmed my suspicions that monkeys were now in positions as Editors at many major publishers, and that they would probably make my book much worse by the time they were done with it. I didn't know anything about publishing, so I put it aside in 2002 and thought it might be dead. I worked on other books for the next few years, and learned about publishing and put out a guide book by myself. Around 2004, I dusted the Punk book off and set to work on it again. The biggest problem was that I was a nobody with no credentials in the Punk world. That shouldn't have mattered, but so many Punks of that era had come to believe in typical hierarchies and status over time, that if I was a writer for some odious mag like Rolling Stone they would've been happy to talk to me, but as it was I was too often required to pass some kind of street cred test about whether I'd really been there or knew what I was talking about. It got tiring after awhile. I can understand people need to be careful about what gets credited to them, but it made my job that much harder. The earlier crew and the "icons" of the Punk world were the worst about it, whereas the 85-92 crowd were usually real cooperative.
..How did you research the book, besides having lived through the era documented? You use a mammoth amount of quotes dating from the late 70s to today. Obviously the older ones are taken - and credited - from the likes of MRR and Flipside. What about the more recent and uncredited ones? Did you obtain those from interviews you conducted yourself?
..George) Pretty much anything uncredited is from my own interviews. As time went on and I interviewed more people, I got contacts for other people and I could drop names of people that I'd already interviewed so they knew I was serious. Kenny Inouye from MARGINAL MAN got the ball rolling by sitting down with me in 1998, and I interviewed TSOL while they were touring in 2001, and John Stabb somewhere around then, and then started chasing down people via email ever after that. The Internet made the book possible. I logged ungodly hours scouring the Web for every ounce of info I could glean out of it for pre-existing information as well as how to find people. I found all my photographers on the Web, and they helped me an enormous amount with further contacts. Any photographer who had a website had heard from every band they had shot pictures of, because a lot of guys from old bands were nostalgically trolling the Web for some evidence they had ever existed. In the end, it was as much a product of the national Punk community as it was my own doing - so many people played key roles in making it the book it became. I inherited most of my great old zine collection from a good friend and Banned In DC photographer who lent the zines to me and later mysteriously decided I was Satan and wanted them back, but she owed me five thousand dollars so I held onto them. Could have gotten them cheaper on Ebay! She helped me with my interview with Stabb, too, which I did at her apartment in DC, cause they went way back together - GOVERNMENT ISSUE rehearsed in her loft back in 1981 and the Make An Effort 7" photos were shot in there. So I only lost one really good friend over the course of doing the book, which isn't too bad.
..Did anyone prove to be rather hesitant about being quoted in the book - or just prove to be totally uncooperative on any and every level? C'mon George - name the assholes!!
..George) Dischord acted a little like they were guarding Fort Knox when I tried to get ahold of Jeff Nelson through them. Falling James from the LEAVING TRAINS said he'd rather not be in it if I didn't tell the whole story as he saw fit, which he never allotted the time for, so I just used the little I had. Keith Morris was very suspicious at first, but that was because I cold-called him while he was giving himself his insulin shots, and he warmed up once I passed the street cred test. Most major guys, like Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, Steve Albini, etc, I didn't even bother with because almost every thought they'd ever uttered had been already recorded somewhere else. Almost everyone else, though, was tremendously cool. Because I was seeking out voices that hadn't been heard from too much before, they were usually real enthusiastic about participating. I rarely sought out people I thought might be a pain in the ass.
..There are certain people who you seem to continually return to throughout the book - John Stabb of GOVERNMENT ISSUE, Kenny Inouye of MARGINAL MAN and Jack Rabid of Big Takeover zine instantly spring to mind. Would the book have been possible without the support of characters such as these?
..George) I got the occasional bit of criticism for featuring those guys too heavily, but I thought it important to have some recurrent insightful and entertaining voices in the book. There's not quite as much of those three in the new edition, because I had a bunch of new voices to add, but they're still there throughout. Those three guys were indispensable to me doing the book properly. They were all real supportive, gave me a lot of their time and thoughts, and became great friends and remain so to this day.
..The book is written partly as an autobiography, following US Punk with your own development and discovery. Was this always the plan or something that mutated as the book progressed? Personally, I think it provides a great narrative for the book and gives it a genuine, first-hand, personal feel - was that the aim? Has this semi-autobiographical direction of the book lead to any accusations of the book being self-centred or egotistical?
..George) Oddly, there's been nothing but kudos for the personal narrative. I tried to minimize that, thinking no one cared about most of my experiences, but people responded overwhelmingly well to that. I thought they wanted to read about the bands and the "important" people, but it proved the whole notion that came to be a central part of my book, the "ignore heroes" thing. In Punk there wasn't a division between the stage and the audience, and it worked out the same in the book. Fellow Punks related to my experiences, because I seemed to hit on a lot of universal issues. As I said earlier, it completely mutated over time from being a memoir into being a diligently researched history with an entertaining narrative. I hate the memoir genre for the most part, because it's so self-indulgent, but I think history is usually far more entertaining when you bring some personal touch and experiences to it to bring it to life. You just have to remember to use your experiences to embellish other material, not to dominate the whole thing.
..How do you personally feel your book stands up to the likes of American Hardcore? The book must have received comparisons; do you feel they are justified or unavoidable? What I didn't like about American Hardcore, and where Going Underground certainly wins out, is the aforementioned narrative rather than just a list of quotes - has that been a big selling point of the book?
..George) The narrative has been a big plus for the book, and telling a story is something I feel strongly about. I did a fair number of interviews while writing the book because I wanted to have my own first-source material, but I saw it as much more important to get the thoughts of what people were thinking at the time rather than their filtered impressions of it now. That's why I depended so heavily on old zine material, to get the spirit of Punk Rock as it was happening, rather than a jaded or nostalgic look back at it. When I was in touch with Steve Blush before his book came out, he was challenging me on why I was doing a book, and he said, "I've done 95 interviews, how many have you done?" Which just goes to show you can do all the oral history in the world and still put out a bad product if your small attempts to put them in context are horribly flawed. I saw the trend of oral histories with Please Kill Me and American Hardcore and the like and I got really cynical about them after awhile. I loved the idea of letting the participants do the talking, but I also saw it as a huge cop-out. People were calling themselves authors who were no more than editors. It's hard to even tell a history properly if you only do it through interviews, you have to know when to call bullshit on some accounts, and when to fill in more detail. Like Ian MacKaye said about being bummed at his portrayal in Gina Arnold's book Route 666 as some sort of DC spokesman, he might be as full of shit as the next person. And Ian is about some things as far as DC history; he'd be reticent to admit in a modern interview to some of the things he said and did back then, as well as the behavior of the rest of the early DCHC crew. I have a fair amount of confidence in my writing abilities as a story-teller and as a historian, and I thought it would be a nice change to tell a history as a somewhat cohesive story, rather than just a random collection of interviews.
..The book is published via your own publishing company, Zuo Press yeah? Did you try and push it to any already established publishers such as AK Press or Feral House - or did you want it to remain a 100% DIY project? How many copies did you originally get printed?
..George) Once I decided to go indie, there was no question - I was doing it myself. All the bitching that bands used to do against their indie labels not doing enough for them begged the question: why don't you do it yourself then? You don't get royally screwed by an indie the way you do by a major most of the time, but you don't make much money either. If I was going to bother to do the work, I thought I should see the profits. Plus I wanted complete artistic control to do the book exactly how I wanted, and be able to make changes at the last moment. I printed 1000 copies of the first edition. I thought if I ever sold all of them it would be a success. I didn't expect to sell them all in six months. I think my agent put out some feelers to a few indies like Feral House and Soft Skull after the major deals had all fallen through in 2001, but they had their own books they were touting as the gospel and weren't interested in any other Punk books. I'm kind of a stickler for good editing, and indie presses are often the same or worse than majors in that regard. Just the fact Blush's book was released with so many inaccuracies is the kind of thing that keeps giving indie press a bad name. I wanted to go about proving that publishing doesn't have to be in other people's hands, that one person can put out a more professional book than a vast amount of what's out there, major or indie. There were a few hiccups in the first edition, but I was pleasantly surprised that people found so few errors in it.
..How have you gone about getting the book distributed and advertised? Have you used a major distributor or has it been done entirely from your house? Has it received world-wide interest or has it been localised to America? How much has the Internet aided the success of your book?
..George) I've used the usual radical press distributors, like Last Gasp and AK Press. Also Bob Suren at Sound Idea in Florida has been amazing. He's sold as many as anyone, and he's got far fewer distribution channels. In all the time he's been in business, he sold about 20 of any single Punk book put out before, including Get In the Van and the like. He didn't think anyone read books anymore. In six months he blew through 137 of mine. We were both astounded. I've done a lot of direct sales through my website, but that's tailed off a lot as time has gone on. I wanted to be like Dischord, and really have a lot of direct sales, but it's the kind of thing people find by chance more often than looking for it, and they find it in bookstores or on other websites or something like that. People don't necessarily realize that I am Zuo Press as well, and that they're directly supporting the artist by buying direct. I think it's great to support all indie efforts through buying at indie bookstores and through other indie catalogs, but it's still best to buy direct. It's the great thing about Punk Rock and running your own press, dealing with people directly, without layers in between. When they email the publisher, they're going right to the source, the guy that wrote the book. I've advertised in MRR and Big Takeover, and plan to advertise a lot more this year in zines. There's so much more value in advertising in Punk zines than in anything else, and I'm going right to my core audience. I'd like to get it out to people who dropped out of Punk long ago, who would still enjoy it, but that's more of a word of mouth thing to reach those folks. The Internet has been everything to the success of my book, through blogs like The Punk Vault - because lots of people respect Vinikour's opinions - and all kinds of other websites and blogs of my photographers like Marie and chicagopunkpix.com. Through MRR and the Internet, the book has gotten interest all over the world. I've sold to Germany, Sweden, the UK, Netherlands, Finland, Russia, Italy, Portugal, France, Poland, Japan, Australia, Denmark, and a few other countries.
..Did you do any form of promotional tour in support of the book? If so, tell us about that - where you went, the best and worst things of it, whether it was a success, some of the characters you met etc etc.
..George) I did a grand three city tour to Wilmington and Durham in NC, and Richmond, VA, described on my website. The cost of gas is too high to make book touring practical for the sales I'm doing. Plus not that many people actually buy the book at these things. I met some guys from the RUBBER CITY REBELS, which was great, because they were kind of elder underground legends to me when I was first a radio DJ, them being part of that early wave of Punk from Akron and Cleveland. I'd like to do more touring to support the new edition, but I'll see if it's practical.
..There are a few things in the book I would like you to expand on if you will. Firstly, being a Brit myself, I was interested in the chapter, "Emptying The Madhouse". It opens with the clear claim that early 80s UK Punk was, "in a sad state of affairs." Granted, shit like DISORDER, ANWL and EXPLOITED were no match for DEAD KENNEDYS, BIG BOYS and BAD BRAINS - but what did you make of DISCHARGE? Surely that band's influence and power has rarely - if ever - been equalled.
..George) Pardon my ignorance, I was speaking out of my ass. It was just one of my unsubstantiated biases based on hating all the weekend warrior Punks who only liked Punk if it was British. I know better now. I never listened to DISCHARGE much, but have come to realize internationally they were one of the most influential bands there was. I talk in the new edition about Finnish Hardcore surfacing independent of US influence, at the same time, because they listened to DISCHARGE and wanted to play even faster. Plenty of bands in the US were influenced some by DISCHARGE as well.
..It states a lot of the 'Fashion Punks' came out only when the UK bands came over. Could that not be the paradox of 'the grass is always greener on the other side'? To us Brits, the allure of a US band always seems greater than homegrown talent. Do you not think this is still the case?
..George) That's exactly the case. People always take their own talent for granted. I was terrible about it all too often when it came to out of town bands coming to Philly. They were who I most wanted to see. It took me a long time to appreciate just how staggeringly good bands like the ELECTRIC LOVE MUFFIN actually were. My friends were often more open-minded, and would tell me they thought ELM blew GOVERNMENT ISSUE or the VOLCANO SUNS off the stage, but I was such a huge fan of bands who had records out that I could listen to, that I lived for the visiting talent. I had no idea Punks all over the world would be reading my book, so I was a little provincial about some things in the first edition, like stupidly slagging off UK Punk. I've had to apologize to my UK readers ever since.
..Another paradox the book clearly states is that Punk Rock is/ was for those who felt alienated and wanted something different from mainstream society, yet ended up conforming to the 'popular' or 'cool' persona of Punk Rock. At the start of the "Thank You America" chapter, it's quite clear you went the way of the 'individual' wearing - and I quote - "..black leather panties that belonged to an adventurous bisexual acquaintance, a plastic grocery bag, the GUTLESS MEANIES symbol painted on my chest and 'Fuck Me Hard' painted on my shiny bald head." Do you think this form of exhibitionism has been lost as Punk Rockers themselves have grown more narrow minded and conservative?
..George) Exhibitionism has definitely been lost a lot. Guys like Randy "Biscuit" Turner of the BIG BOYS were what Punk was meant to be about, just outrageous beyond belief. Gary Floyd, too. The change came with the idiotic notion that Hardcore meant toughness, and all these mini-Marines signed up for Punk Rock. Colour and outrageous fashion came to be derided as New Wave or not "Hardcore". Everything Stabb said in my book about what the MISFITS thought of him and a lot of the other DC crew thought is an example of that. It's a double-edged sword, though, I know there were a lot of people of the 77-79 era of Punk who were into the outrageous Punk look who didn't care at all about the music. But there was a conformity of dressing down that came to be accepted with Hardcore, sometimes out of lack of imagination or conservatism and other times because people couldn't be bothered making the effort. I certainly became a little more conscious of where I wore my wild clothing after the CBGB skinhead incident.
..As with any book or even compilation album that attempts a broad, sweeping analysis of any genre, there are obviously omissions. How much of your original vision of the book had to be omitted due to space? There are bands that I can instantly think of that barely merited a mention, let alone any kind of in-depth scrutiny: DRI, JAWBREAKER, POISON IDEA (almost inexcusable in my eyes!), SCREECHING WEASEL. Did you leave anything out of the book that, in hindsight, you feel should have been included?
..George) I'm confused. You're saying I should have included those bands? You phrase it as if I did include them and shouldn't have…
..No, it's intended to suggest that those bands should have received much more space than they did.
..George) There's a little more about DRI in the new edition, but just as part of the Vats scene in San Francisco. DRI deserves much more, truly, they lost me with the speed metal though and it made me forget how into them I originally was. So much of it came down to what I knew. When something caught my attention that I thought was fascinating, that I'd known nothing about, I worked hard on learning about it. The BIG BOYS and DICKS are examples, I never listened to either band back then, but they both had great characters and stories. I learned how much Punk I was ignorant about doing the book, that there was far more I didn't know than there was that I knew. I got a lot of, "you can't write about such and such if you don't mention such and such" in doing the book, but there were a lot of bands that I just couldn't fit in or have any angle to fit in. If they weren't part of my experience, or part of a scene I was writing about, or fit into some important aspect of the DIY culture, they didn't necessarily make the cut. Or I just knew nothing about the bands. I left out tons of deserving bands. SCREECHING WEASEL was a band I never listened to, who I thought had a part in it, but Ben had his own book out and there seemed to be nothing much I could say about them that hadn't been said. POISON IDEA and JAWBREAKER, again, I know their reputations but they just never crossed my radar. I've asked for help making up for those kind of deficiencies in the new edition, but few people offered me any suggestions or contacts. I have the makings of a good section on the South as far as Raleigh and Richmond with CORROSION OF CONFORMITY, WHITE CROSS, HONOR ROLE, the beginnings of AVAIL, etc. But it didn't make it in this edition because I just didn't know enough to make it interesting and relevant within the context of the rest of the book. I liked the music of some of the bands, but there wasn't anything especially unique about their stories or anything I could grab onto.
..From recollection, and a quick re-reading of your book, it fails to explain why you went to college at Pennsylvania. What did you study and why did you choose PA over one of the more recognised Punk hot spots - NYC, DC or LA for example?
..George) I didn't mention it because the reasoning was very un-Punk and lame. I was set on going to a small college in Oregon, but ended up going to the college I did because my parents had gone there and my sister was there. And it seemed the easier thing to do. Punk Rock was not an over-riding enough thing in my life to determine where I went to college. I was still half in the Punk world and half in the normal career track world when I left high school. I studied engineering, which I never used after college but seemed practical. I've never been a big-city person, so none of the hot spots held any allure.
..The book makes some comments about how Punk Rock today has become so compartmentalised - Pop Punk, Emo, Ska Punk, Hardcore, Metalcore, Gutter Punk, Garage Punk, Street Punk… the list is endless. What to you defines Punk Rock? Can a Punk band exist on a major label - GREEN DAY for example?
..George) I think Jimmy Alvarado from Razorcake put it pretty well to me - he said it came down to five words for him: "question everything, blindly accept nothing". Punk photographer Geoff Cordner also got me thinking a lot about it, and some of the themes are talked about in the new edition. Cordner suggested Punk was an ethos and attitude that created an aesthetic, which is a fancy way of saying that the beliefs created the external representations of Punk Rock - weird fashion and abrasive music. You have to separate being a Punk and "Punk Rock", because there's often a large disconnect these days. Being a Punk is an individual thing, a set of choices about how you live your life. I think what the guys from NOMEANSNO said in the last chapter of the book reflect my views about it in the Nineties and in this decade. Punk Rock has come to be a tag for so many different kinds of music, and the term so institutionalised, that it often has nothing to do with the ethos and attitude anymore, and hasn't for the past 20-25 years, for that matter. It's kind of a useless term now, because it's been appropriated by so many people, so all these sub-labels keep getting used to try to restore meaning to it. GREEN DAY readily admits that calling themselves Punk is ridiculous, Mike Dirnt said something about using "Punk Rock" and "hockey arena" in the same breath is an oxymoron. Musically American Idiot is just as good a "Punk Rock" song as a lot of stuff, and there's even a fair bit of attitude in their criticism of Bush's America, but there's not much ethos in how they lead their lives; it's the life of a conventional rock band. When being a Punk was a thumb in the eye of society, like in the 70's, bands could be on major labels and it was more accepted, because Punks on the street were hated so much. Now that it's no longer any kind of active revolution, you can play "Punk Rock" on a major label, but it's awful hard to honestly call yourself Punks.
..The book is a resolutely DIY project - and you espouse the virtues of Punk Rock and its DIY nature throughout its pages. Following on from above, where do you stand on Punk bands signing to a major label? Do you feel they cease to deserve the title of 'Punk' when this occurs? And what do you think of Punk bands that have crossed over into the mainstream? Opportunism by the corporates or natural progression? Where, in your eyes, is the line of 'selling-out' drawn?
..George) I pretty much answered this above… It all depends on how they go about things. If you retain total control of your lives at every level, it's feasible to call themselves Punks. But there is no way to do that on a major label. When you sign those contracts, you sign on to a corporate way of doing things where most choices beyond the type of music you make are out of your control. You can play great "Punk Rock" on a major label, because who knows what that term means anymore, it just usually refers to a style of loud, fast music. If the BUZZCOCKS latest album in 2003 had been on a major instead of Merge, it still would've been a fantastic Punk Rock album. But I don't know that the BUZZCOCKS would call themselves Punks anymore either way. You've got to recognize that even in the underground, and this has always been the case, there are vast numbers of people playing Punk Rock who aren't Punks. So in that regard, the major/indie differentiation is meaningless. It all comes down to how you live your life. Selling-out is simply where you abdicate control over your life. It's like the KRAUT song Sell Out - "what's the point in thinking, if someone does it for you?"
..I understand the original print of the book has already sold out and the new version will be amended slightly. In what way will the book change from the original print?
..George) The new version has more focus on women in Punk - Karen from CONFLICT, who was one of the only female Hardcore singers of her era who wrote her own lyrics, and Sue from SCRAWL, who most people wouldn't call a Punk band musically but were Punk in the sense the MINUTEMEN were. They subscribed to the ethos and attitude. A lot of people were turned off by Blush's misogyny in American Hardcore. Though Hardcore has often been painted a big sausage-fest, and it was in places, there were plenty of gals all over the country who were doing zines, putting on shows, and showing more DIY spirit than the boys getting the credit for it. There's also a way more positive tone taken toward the future of the Punk underground, since I'm a lot more educated now than I was when the book first came out. I did a lot of moving around of material to chronologically fit better, so it didn't seem like I was jumping around so much, edited a lot of the excess like most of the aside into Australia, and pared down any material that seemed gratuitous. Plus there's an index, so people can reference it better. I also added a variety of new material in the way of photos and stories.
..Why did you feel it necessary to make these cuts? I particularly enjoyed the Australian chapter; it gave the book and you as the writer a more authoritative perspective as it compared what was going on in the US with that in a culturally similar yet geographically and socially different country.
..George) I was only responding to grumblings here about it taking up space in a book about American Punk. I don't get rid of all that totally, I talk about going over there and reflecting on Punk Rock some, just briefly mention seeing the HARD ONS and the RIFLES and a bit about them, and mention the influence of American Hardcore on the HAPPY HATE ME NOTS. I leave in the Australia material that reflects on what it meant to be a Punk at that stage and what Punk Rock was like elsewhere in the world, I just cut out much of the second hand information on Australian bands of the time, and what my brother referred to as the "what I did on my summer vacation" aspect. I merge it with the Punks On Film chapter, since I start that by talking about seeing Another State of Mind in Sydney. As one chapter, it works, when it was two chapters back to back it lost the flow of the narrative. I simply wanted to tighten up the book a lot, and I may have gone overboard in some cases, but there's enough added material and so much more material I want to add in the future that it will more than make up for it.
..Prior to the book, you had already written several books, mainly about travelling and skating/boarding yeah? Are you still involved in this form of writing? Did you ever have any formal journalism/writing training? Were you ever involved in fanzine writing? Ever written any fiction?
..George) I'm not writing any more guide books at the moment, but may do more travel writing in the future, especially if I can get paid to travel. I'm a restless sort, and I pretty much live to experience new things. I have no formal background in writing, just a very good college education where I was able to take many more courses where writing was required than most engineering programs offer. I never did any zines. I have written a lot of fiction, both short stories and a novel, none of which have ever been published. I've honed my craft simply by writing and writing and writing over the years, and endlessly editing and rewriting. Plus I get outside feedback every so often from very bright people who I respect to see if I'm doing a good job.
..Do you make a living from writing - or do you have a 'day-job' also?
..George) I eke out a living at the moment from writing, but just barely. I'm concentrating all my time on writing and video projects for the next year to try to make it unnecessary to go back to being a wage slave. I also do some creative financial stuff I call "plastic gangsterism" which has helped me get by the last few years. It all started when I won $5000 from a credit card company by writing a 250-word story on how they had helped my business grow. My business was a name only, but I'm a good enough writer and knew my downhill skating video project I was filming at the time would sound exciting, so I won the grand prize. I then figured out ways to get zero percent loans and advances off of credit cards, and started juggling those loans and investing it on a grand scale. It all went completely against the grain of what you're told to do regarding credit cards, but it was kinda the contrarian Punk Rock approach. Make the system work for you. It's so stupid because they can care less if you have a real job or not, it's all in your credit rating. The more I borrowed, the more offers I got.
..While writing Going Underground, did you have any routine that you adhered to? Did you spend a set amount of time per day working on it? When I interviewed Winston Smith and Charles Romalotti, they both had preferred times of the day during which to work - is that the same case yourself?
..George) No set routine at all. Months of inactivity, then periods of working 24/7. Completely random. I got the entire Cincinnati chapter done while in Panama for a couple of weeks living in a cheap hostel. There was free wireless floating through the air from neighbouring businesses, so I could do research and email people any time of day or night.
..You were also in a band, GUTLESS MEANIES. Tell us a bit about the band. What gave you greater satisfaction - playing in a band or completing a (any) book/ article? From my time in bands, I always felt more of a fan than a performer, getting much more pleasure from seeing/ writing about a band than performing in one. Is this something that you agree with?
..George) I was in two bands, both of which largely got written out of the final version of the book because I thought we were just another couple of bands that never played out much at all and were not worthy of talking about. The first, the GUTLESS MEANIES, was a straight-up Punk band, and the second, the STOMPING YOBBOS, was an eclectic Punk-based band that veered off into folk, industrial, reggae, pop, and whatever else caught our fancy at a moment's notice. I actually think both bands had a lot of good songs and regret that we never recorded any of them very well. I loved writing a good song and getting it right for the first time in practice. I loved putting on a show, and disturbing people, and dressing up as oddly as possible. There was always a lot of satisfaction in that, a lot of catharsis. But none of being in a band ever compared to seeing my favourite bands. I was always foremost a fan. Completing a book on my own press has a huge amount of satisfaction when I get the finished product from the printer. Just to be able to stare at it and say, wow, I did all that, me. It's such a different feeling from being in a band, though, I don't know how to compare the two. Being in a band was so much more emotional, the human relationships involved. I put so much more of my emotions into being in a band than I usually do with anything else.
..You're also the force behind www.bushistorture.com I've read and heard from a lot of people who lived through the Reagan years say that Bush is worse than Reagan was. You obviously agree and even state that in your book - which also states your almost pathological hatred of Reagan. Where do you intend taking that website; at present it seems quite basic. Are you planning on putting articles and more information on it?
..George) It's kind of faded into the background. I wanted to sell shirts and raise some money for some causes with it, but it's never caught anyone's attention. I just give away stickers now for the most part. The funniest thing about it is I got offers to be in Iran's "Golden Key" book of business listings. I don't know if someone in Iran does searches for businesses with names that included "Bush" and "torture" in the title or what. Bush is worse than Reagan was, because he's far more of a dunce, yet has succeeded against all logic in his ability to sell himself to the American people. You just wonder how long he can keep telling outrageous lies and remain in power, but half of America's ability to delude themselves into believing "night is day" keeps him there.
..The Zuo Press website mentions the floods in New Orleans - albeit via one of your friends who is now rendered homeless. What did you think of the slow reaction of the Bush Administration in providing any form of aid? In Florida, being brother Jeb's state, did you notice any quicker or more efficient aid-response in the wake of the state's hurricane damage?
..George) Florida has not had as calamitous a hurricane affecting as many people, but on a smaller scale things are the same. Poor black communities in some cities have seen virtually nothing of FEMA, whereas people in Miami collected tens of millions of dollars for a hurricane that didn't even come close to them. Bureaucracies jump when they're told to, and no one tells them to jump for poor people or regions considered politically/financially unimportant.
..As a writer, what are your views on censorship? Is censorship something that is required once a certain extreme has been reached or does it have no place in an art that should not be compromised?
..George) I'm not as impassioned as I probably should be about censorship as a writer, but I certainly loathe it. I'm not sure Jello Biafra should have spent so much time fighting the Parental Music Resource Council and their attempts to label albums with ratings, because all the PMRC succeeded in doing was clue people in to who the controversial artists were and make kids buy more of their albums than ever. But it is sick what the FCC is doing to radio across the country. Howard Stern has a good point that Oprah is talking about sex acts like "tossing the salad" and doesn't get fined but he does for way more innocuous stuff. The greatest problem in America has always been self-censorship, though, far more than government censorship. Journalists put their fingers to the wind to see whether they dare buck the trend of what people want to hear. After Sept.11, it was repulsive.
..The book states you moved to Oakland in 1991. What took you there? You are now back living in Florida also yeah? Why did you return to your home-state? Would George Hurchalla have been a different man had he grown up in the Punk Rock hotbeds of LA, DC or NYC?
..George) I started trying to work my way around the world in 1990, spent most of 1991 in Australia, and came back to the US in the fall of '91 and started living in Oakland cause it was the first place I ended up on the mainland. I couldn't find a decent job, so when a friend told me he was moving to the mountains to Lake Tahoe, I joined him. That pretty much isolated me from going to shows much anymore, though I went down to San Francisco a fair bit for the next couple of years to see bands. Eventually I stopped leaving the mountains that much anymore, though, and lost track of what was going on in the underground scene. I ended up in Florida with my folks after I got sick of struggling as a photographer in Tahoe and wanted to get back to writing again. I live in North Carolina now, where I moved to last year. I'm sure I'd be different in some ways if I'd lived in those cities, just because the environment would have shaped me differently. But I've always had this overwhelmingly strong sense of who I am, so as a person I probably wouldn't be too much different.
..What are the future plans for George Hurchalla? Are you going to do a follow-up to Going Underground? The foreword of the book suggests that this is just Vol. I of a work in progress - is that correct? Where do you intend taking the series from here?
..George) There will be other books by me, but I don't know whether I'll write any more on Punk Rock. Going Underground will probably keep growing as a book, but the personal narrative dictates that it has to remain as one book. I don't plan to do a series expounding on that material. I'd like to release a series of Punk photo books, like Banned in DC, but for some of the great, less-known scenes like Texas and elsewhere. There's also a book of my own black and white photography planned for the future. With Zuo Press, I'd also like to release autobiographies of some real interesting icons like Gary Floyd, Jack Grisham, and John Stabb.
..Lastly, what are your predictions for, and what would you like to see happen to, Punk Rock as we progress through the 21st Century?
..George) I've got no predictions. It's up to the kids of each generation to make it happen. I'd like to see people continue to be radical and creative and unpredictable, regardless of what it's called.
..Anything you want to add?
..George) I'd like to see young Punks not dwell much on the past, take what was great about it and build something new. Live your life with total commitment and passion, and originality will flow out of that. I was just a fan who decided one day I wanted to write a book. I didn't know anyone from back then or have access to them, I didn't know anything about publishing, but I wanted to set an example that others could follow. We can control our own media, and like the BIG BOYS said, if you don't like us, start your own band. Or do your own zine. Or write your own book
To contact George, write or hit the website below
705 Market St, #1
Wilmington, NC 28401