Books - S

SAN FRANCISCO YEAR ZERO: Political Upheaval Punk Rock And A Third-Place Baseball Team - Lincoln A. Mitchell {302 pages, Rutgers University Press}
It’s hard to believe that just one period of 12 months can change a major city’s trajectory, mood and balance but 1978 was just one such year for the city of San Francisco. This book, written by a former New Yorker turned San Francisco local, reveals the uplifting positivity of sport, the forward-looking progressive politics which became damned by one of the city’s own, the cultural revolution of new music and the effect they all had on the residents of what was, and probably still is, America’s most liberated of cities.
The book kicks off on 31 December 1977 with the annual New Year’s Eve concert by what was the town’s favourite sons, the GRATEFUL DEAD. The cultural shift would be evident in two short weeks when the SEX PISTOLS, supported by locals AVENGERS and NUNS, implode on stage at the very same venue where the DEAD were seeing in 1978.
Early in ‘78, the city’s baseball team, The Giants, which had been perennial under-achievers it seems, provided the city with a new found energy as, for a short time, they were the best team in the country.
On the second Monday of 1978, the city’s new Board Of Supervisors was sworn-in by progressive Mayor, George Moscone. Among those supervisors was openly gay Harvey Milk, a Jewish New Yorker who had made San Fran home. Also on the Board was Right-leaning Conservative, Dan White.
Down in Guyana, Jim Jones, an American preacher, was building a jungle commune, which came to be known as Jonestown.
It is against the backdrop of these four pivotal events that Mitchell delivers this book. Obviously, the nature of San Fran and other aspects of the city feature, but ultimately it is about the politics, baseball and music of 1978 - a year that proved to be calamitous.
From a Punk perspective, Mitchell only really skims the surface, taking in DEAD KENNEDYS, AVENGERS, CRIME and some notable faces of the era while venues On Broadway and Mabuhay Gardens also get featured. He scores some new and decent interviews, but of all the book’s subject matter, it’s Punk that features the least.
The baseball side of things really didn’t connect for me.  I don’t understand the game, but Mitchell’s narrative of events and the apparent atmosphere at Candlestick Park kept me reading. Unfortunately, the team’s momentum from the early season didn’t continue, but it was enough to keep the team in San Fran itself.
The book really does succeed on the politics. Mayor Moscone had a progressive vision, which included restrictions placed on the Police Department, was community driven over capitalist ideals and supported diversity. In this environ, Milk flourished. Come the end of November, both had been assassinated by Supervisor White.
Also in November, down in Guyana, Jim Jones murdered over 900 of his followers.
Mitchell gets a perfect balance between the optimism that existed at the start of the year, juxtaposed against the omnipotent darkness the city found itself in in November. He also manages to balance the aging Hippies and the young Punks along with the progressive vision of Mascone that was so cruelly snuffed out and the more moderate politics of his successor, Dianne Feinstein. He is acutely aware of the city’s history, its multiculturalism, its suburbs and its nature - and it’s this innate knowledge that lays the foundation for the whole book.
The book is filled out with 16 pages of photos.
While I was let down by the Punk aspect of the book (it’s probably sufficient in this context - I mean - he could hardly go to the depths of analysis as Gimme Something Better), as a whole it is an informative and, in parts revelatory telling of one of the great cities of the world. Mitchell writes with clarity, effortlessly switching between the main parts of the narrative while simultaneously bringing in other peripheral observations and facts. I am sure San Fransicans will reveal in this, while those who have never ventured to the city should find the events of 1978 captivating. (09.05.20)
SMASH! The ‘90s Punk Explosion - Ian Winwood {326 pages, Da Capo Press}
The spiel for this states that “1994 was the second coming of Punk” - obviously Winwood missed the 80s revolution that was CRASS and Anarcho Punk, BLACK FLAG and US Hardcore, and RITES OF SPRING and Revolution Summer to name but three. And then there’s the ‘N’ word - NIRVANA that is. There’s no doubt that the commercial explosion that was GREEN DAY and OFFSPRING in particular (along with NOFX and BAD RELIGION both of whom also form a sub-title for the book) needs to be documented and that’s exactly what Winwood has attempted here. Has it worked? Only kinda.
To start,  Winwood takes us back to Woodstock 1994 and GREEN DAY’s performance there, before an introduction that sees Billie Joe saying the old bands had ‘sold out’. It’s also in this narrative that some of Winwood’s rather odd narrative traits appear - referencing SLAYER as ‘Swivel-eyed fury’ and CIRCLE JERKS ‘Wonderful’ album as ‘woeful’.
From there the book analyses what brought about the commercial acceptance of Punk in the early 90s, with much of the basic evidence directed back to, like we didn’t know, the BAD RELIGION classic ‘Suffer’. SOCIAL DISTORTION is cited as an early forebear too, being the first LA band to sign to a major and be successful (although, another oddity, Winwood states ‘Mummy’s Little Monster’ “...is not great.” Really?).
It progresses through Lookout Records and OPERATION IVY, both NOFX and GREEN DAY touring squats in Europe, BAD RELIGION signing to Atlantic (and the claim that Brian Baker turned down R.E.M. in preference to BR) and the pivotal releases of NOFX’s ‘Punk In Drublic’ and RANCID’s ‘Let’s Go’. It’s obvious that a lot of the book is taken up by GREEN DAY and OFFSPRING (who continually groan about lack of critical success when compared with their commercial success. Get over guys - you are NOT as good as most of the other bands in this book - so pipe down), and the author certainly seems to favour the latter.  The spectre of Brett Gurewitz is, quite rightly, shining throughout. Interestingly, one of the best records of the era - RANCID’s ‘Out Come The Wolves’ isn’t lauded like OFFSPRING’s stuff - but then they were the band that chose not to be involved with the book.
Winwood’s narrative is free flowing and easy to read, and he seems to have attended gigs by all of the bands - but there are a few inaccuracies such as Sean Forbes being the “frontman of WAT TYLER”, and Kim Shattuck being the bassist in THE MUFFS (maybe that’s a typo of PIXIES). Also, as hinted at early, some of the analogies and comparisons get a bit tiresome - you can barely turn a page without a statement like, “Epitaph was on its way to becoming the Tamla Motown of Punk.” Generally though, the book runs well chronologically, and while some bands are missed out completely (which Winwood makes no apologies for in his introduction; if more bands were included, the book could’ve been a behemoth), the main players are represented and represented accurately.
The book is filled out with a set of glossy pages featuring oft-seen monochrome photos and a postscript where the author plays pool with... OFFSPRING. And it was printed in Kerrang!
There’s no debate about whether this book should have been published; an accurate account of Punk’s ‘90s commercialization is most definitely needed. On the most part, this gets it right.
Will a better book be written? Quite probably yes. This may have been a stronger book had it followed the oral biography line of Gimme Something Better or Please Kill Me, allowing the bands to speak in-depth without being editted and with only connecting chapter introductions from Winwood, but as it is, it’s probably the best representation out at present - especially in terms of GREEN DAY and OFFSPRING. (29.03.19)