Books - G

GAINESVILLE PUNK: A History Of Bands And Music - Matt Walker {164 pages, The History Press}
Gainesville, Florida is without a doubt one of the hubs of Punk in modern day America. It’s home to No Idea Records, plays host to The Fest and has born such notable bands as LESS THAN JAKE, HOT WATER MUSIC and, most notably, AGAINST ME! It wasn’t always like this though - and this engrossing and excellently researched book guides the reader through the town’s rich history from the days of 1981 to present.
Regular readers of Maximum Rocknroll will no doubt know George Tabb and it is he who could, arguably, be cited as kicking off the Punk scene in Gainesville thanks to his band, ROACH MOTEL, which featured Bob Fetz who was renowned for his vocal performances. The band also organised Gainesville’s first Punk festival, Florida Slamfest, in 1982. In their wake came MUTLEY CHIX, PSYCHIC VIOLENTS and the excellent DOLDRUMS. It was during this period also that No Idea zine started, with issue #6 featuring the first release by No Idea Records.
From there, we get all the details on how Gainesville became a Mecca for Punk Rock including the rise of RADON and SPOKE, venues such as the notable Hardback Cafe, Common Grounds, SPOKE’s own house shows and Wayward Council, the continuing success of No Idea Records and then onto a more current crop of bands including those previously mentioned and GRABASS CHARLESTONS, DISCOUNT, PANTHRO UK UNITED 13, PALATKA, YOUNG LIVERS, ASSHOLE PARADE and many more. Notable individuals are all mentioned, be it owners of venues, promoters, zinesters and scenesters.
Gainesville being a University town, it’s also apparent that many of those who reside in the town are frequently involved in more than one band/ project at any one time, while many others move on after creating something quite spectacular once their studies have been completed. What the book does emphasize however is the amount of people, including the members of HOT WATER MUSIC, who moved to Gainesville purely because it had such an active and open Punk scene.
Walker’s narrative has a great natural flow about it. He’s written the book very much in chronological order but, given the nature of these scenes, the occasional band name does get mentioned out of context and before they have been analyzed. He has also done his research, tracking down all the main players for interviews and quoting a number of other sources for supporting material. It’s concisely written, doesn’t branch off into ‘our scene is better than your scene’ egotism and, is in some way, quite a humble narrative. His writing certainly suggests he is thankful of the opportunity to write this history as there is an apparent deep respect for the town to which he moved to over a decade ago and its musical legacy.
The book, which is printed on lovely high quality, shiney pages is completed with a plethora of great photos (including a stunner from the last night at the Hardback Cafe where Danarchy {a notable local} is fire-breathing from the roof), flyers and locales. Patrick Hughes, who has written for No Idea and Thrasher among others writes a foreword and a comprehensive bibliograhy and index fill the book out.
I would have liked to have seen an appendix with the 100 most essential Gainesville Punk Records listed. Yes, that would be objective and only an opinion, but it would have added an extra sense of personality to the book.
I’m a big fan of these localised biographies and, while this is a bit low on page count, it does tell the story of Gainesville in a highly readable and informative way. It has a great continuity about its narrative, it welcomes each new era of Gainesville Punk without denigrating those previous and is clearly written by someone ‘there’ as opposed to a music journalist ‘looking in’.
If Gainesville only means The Fest, No Idea Records and HOT WATER MUSIC and AGAINST ME! to you, get this, read it and be educated. (06.05.17)

GOING UNDERGROUND: American Punk 1979-1989 - George Hurchalla {420 pages, PM Press}
If the title of this book sounds a bit familiar (with the exception of it being a song by THE JAM), it’s because this is actually the second edition of the book first published back in 2005 (my review HERE). In this edition, David Ensminger took on the role of editor, producing a narrative that is still gripping and first hand, but is now slightly more pointed and concise with some notable changes between the two editions.
If you are unfamiliar with the book, this is part-autobiography of Hurchalla, part historical documentation of American Punk and part reference guide to American Punk scenes of the 80s. It kicks off in 1980 with Hurchalla in his home state of Florida suddenly being exposed to Punk Rock via his brother with his introduction to the SEX PISTOLS. From there, it looks at the early scene in San Francisco and then progresses, just as Punk morphed into American Hardcore, through all the important US scenes of DC, Texas, LA, NYC, Boston, Minneapolis, Chicago and Philadelphia - a city in which Hurchalla lived for a number of years.
Rather than rely on the oral history style of writing that many books of this type do, Hurchalla writes with a full narrative infusing the writing with his own personal experience and opinion. Much of the quoted material is taken from fanzines of the day, giving those quotes a sense of historical placement and first hand documentation rather than any form of eulogizing the past with the added effects of hindsight.
For those who already own the original book, you will notice a few differences. First, the original tome went through to 1992. That doesn’t change a great deal of the actual content, just abbreviates some of the final part of the book without having a negative effect. What is most noticeable to me is the culling of the chapters about Hurchalla’s time in Australia. I appreciate why they were culled, but those chapters in the original were greatly enjoyable and gave an ingenious perspective on what was happening in American Punk when compared with the less-aggressive but equally volatile music going on Down Under at the time. Another chapter that has been cut is the Punks On Film chapter. Again, this hasn’t had any lasting negative effect to the book, but I think the hysteria around the episode of Quincy made valid reading given the era and subject matter.
It’s not all about cuts though; there are several new, riveting chapters, some updates to the original text, additional references and some new pictures that combine to make this not just a reprint of a great book, but a viable and estimable tome in its own right. The photo reproduction in the new volume also seems to be slightly better in terms of tone.
This book is filled out with a fresh preface and, like all good historical and referential books, a full index - something the original book lacked.
As I have said before, anyone who was involved in the 80s Punk scene (in any country) will relate to many of the stories here. The narrative defines the pre-internet era and the hostility and danger of attending shows at the time. Hurchalla also constantly refers to the term Hardcore being too restrictive, too macho. He can clearly see that both X and SSD are Punk bands and the Hardcore tag is alienating and detrimental.
Ultimately, this is a most welcome reprint that is different (not better, nor worse) from the original. It also stands as one of the best books written about its subject. It’s sincere, intelligent and insightful and is not written by some hackneyed music journalist looking back; Hurchalla was there, on the ground living and breathing American Punk Rock and all that came with it. It’s that genuine sensibility that puts Going Underground head and shoulders above most others. (27.06.16)

GOOD TROUBLE: Building A Successful Like And Business With Asperger’s - Joe Biel (228 pages, Microcosm}
For those that don’t know, Joe Biel is the founder of independent publisher Microcosm, which is now celebrating 20 years of existence. For much of this time, Biel also suffered health and social interaction issues - the result of undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. He was also active in the Punk scene, particularly the DIY side of things and, besides founding Microcosm, has played in bands, made films, co-founded the Portland Zine Symposium and has had work published in publications as disparate as Maximum Rocknroll and Time.
Biel takes us right back to when his parents moved to a ‘burb of Cleveland and onto a near-fatal stroke that his father suffered at work. His mother became mentally and physically abusive to the whole family and it’s torturous but brave writing on Biel’s part. From there it’s a rivetting account of Biel’s life through making zines, playing in bands, moving to Portland and the creation of Microcosm.
I mentioned above that this is a brave piece of writing from Biel and that flows throughout the book. He analyses closely his own failings, is brutally blunt about his own mistakes, details with dignity his failed marriage and the claims he was abusive (something his ex-wife surely could not claim in doing as she published a series of zines about the break-up), doesn’t dispute he had an alcohol problem and shoulders all the blame for the failings and near bankruptcy of Microcosm - but simultaneously takes the much-deserved kudos for rescuing the company (with the support of soul-mate Elly) and turning it into the current success it is.
There is a whole lot more going on within the narrative than just the story of Microcosm, or Biel’s battle with Asperger’s. This could, and should, be viewed as proof positive of the powers that the DIY ethic of Punk Rock can change and enhance a person for the better. That ideal where we can make a better world by eschewing binding contracts, managers, capitalism and the machinations of the corporate world. It demonstrates that an alternative business model can be attained even as gentrification occurs in the city of Portland. It could also be viewed as a simple autobiography of someone who has a great story to tell and of his own personal victory in the face of adversity. It could be an inspirational novel, showing how much can be achieved with dedication, passion and simple hard work. It could also be viewed as an educational, self-help document on how best to socially interact within society and understand one’s own emotions.
Ultimately though, this is simply a powerful memoir of Biel and his battle with Asperger’s. Right from the earliest parts of the story, the tell-tale signs of the condition are noticeable. Obviously, being written with a sense of hindsight it is easy to see those traits but at the time, it no doubt came over as a ‘difficult’ personality. It’s inspiring to read how Biel analysed himself, noticing his errors and correcting them as best as he could as he got older. His diagnosis didn’t occur until the age of 32 and the realisation that there was a reason for his social foibles is written with joy, revelation and relief.
The book is filled out with a series of photos from Biel’s bands, Microcosm stalls, offices and homes and various tours and symposiums. Two introductory pieces are provided, one from Joyce Brabner (co-author of Our Cancer Year with Harvey Pekar) and another from Sander Hicks, founder of Soft Skull Press.
However you view the core of this story, there can be no doubting that it’s an inspirational tale. Biel has been held up as a paragon of DIY Punk ethics and vilified (wrongly) as abusive, and comes through it all as a genuine, down-to-earth, ethical man who has made a life for himself using his own methods which pivot around trust and respect.
You think life has dealt you a few blows? Read this and turn it around. (20.05.16)