To this day the band names still bring to mind the sound of violence. Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Fear. They were a roarful lot - loud and proud and fast and furious. And their racket became the soundtrack for an entire generation of disaffected youth. More importantly perhaps, these bands proved that "Fuck You!" and "Can Do" were not mutually exclusive propositions, and that a heaping dose of both could work wild wonders. They, and those like them, were American Hardcore. And noted music scribe Steven Blush wrote the book on them. Now he's coming to town to tell their story.
Why hardcore? Punk Rock took place in New York and London in the late '70s with great bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash and The Ramones. By the early '80s arose a new generation of young punk fans across America who missed out the original movement and created a new musical subculture based on the speed and aggression of punk, which became known as hardcore punk or later hardcore. As I realized this to be a purely American movement, I called my book "American Hardcore." And as hardcore was a tribal movement of youth across the nation, each with their own distinguishing characteristics, I used the full title: American Hardcore: A Tribal History.
As a teen I experienced much of the punk and new wave scene in New York and then moved to DC for college. There I fell into a radically different scene with bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat. At that time I met Mike Vraney, the manager of the Dead Kennedys, and through him I booked the DKs in my school cafeteria three blocks from the White House and almost got expelled. Then I went on to book two dozen wild shows with the likes of Black Flag, Minor Threat and Circle Jerks. Flash forward to the '90s, the punk revival of Green Day and The Offspring started and everything people said about the scene seemed a bit askew. That inspired me to write a book; to set the record straight. Like for me in hardcore promoting shows with no experience, that's how I began the book, having never written one before.
How did hardcore differ from punk? Punk came out of urbane communities of artistic types [who were] into Warhol and Bowie; hardcore was the realm of alienated suburban white boys jacked on the most intense and dangerous aspects of punk. Hardcore also gave rise to today's DIY music scene - Black Flag founded SST Records, Minor Threat founded Dischord Records, Bad Religion began Epitaph Records and the Meatmen began Touch & Go Records. Those labels are the model for today's DIY indie rock.
Is there anyone out there still carrying the flag? There are plenty of hardcore bands and plenty of hardcore shows still going, but I see it less as a DIY social movement and more as just another cool musical form. I am very torn by kids today playing the music of my salad days: On one hand I love it and am honored to see the respect for the old school. On the other hand I feel like "get your own damn music!" But there's no doubt Murphy's Law, Agnostic Front, Sick of It All, et cetera still fly the flag. They are still excellent bands; probably better than ever.
You first booked the sub-genre back in 2001; then it became a flick in 2006. Now there's a 2nd edition. What gives? When I began the book in 1995, it was before the Internet as we knew it, and there was no published history of hardcore, so I really had to start from scratch. The 2001 book I compare to archaeology, digging into people's fading memories and dirty old boxes of relics and I created the framework of a history through all these interviews and artifacts.
Months later I began on the film with director Paul Rachman and revisited many of these people and more. The success of the film - at 2006 Sundance Film Fest and distributed theatrically by Sony Pictures Classics - opened many new doors and raised some new issues and many new facts for me. Plus a decade later I even had some new conclusions. So instead of most Second Editions including a new chapter or something - which mine does - I also basically rewrote the whole damn thing. So for people who bought the book first time around, there is tons more info, and for those who never heard of my work, you can see the book I always intended to write. A famous author friend told me that when it comes to any new subject, it often takes until the Second Edition to get the story completely straight. That was certainly my experience!
Will you be sharing some of that new material at Sweat tonight? I am really looking forward to coming to Sweat Records, and I thank Lolo for making it happen. I will be doing a multimedia presentation with music, footage and photos. There will also be discussion of the underground rock legacy of South Florida - although suffice it to say that will be a short discussion! For any fan of underground music though, this is something not to be missed.
In addition to American Hardcore you also wrote the book American Hair Metal. Which was more fun? I love American Hair Metal but I think it went over most peoples' heads. Most of my hardcore friends were pissed at me for writing about Guns N' Roses and Cinderella and the like, and most of the big haired dudes from back in the day didn't trust my motives as "the punk guy." Hardcore was my life, Hair Metal is a prurient interest. But I do feel like I was the right guy to write about Hair Metal because I was a scenester, never really part of it, and never embarrassed about how I once looked. So American Hair Metal was more fun, American Hardcore was an important part of my life to document.
You also wrote the book .45 Dangerous Minds. What was that all about? For over a dozen years I published an independent mag called Seconds Magazine. During that time, we did some of the deepest and darkest interviews ever published in the context of rock. So while Seconds was too far ahead of its time and most of its interviews confused the alt rock generation, editor George Petros and I assembled a book of 45 of the most intense of these interviews and called it ".45 Dangerous Minds: The Most Intense Interviews From Seconds Magazine." The book, like the mag itself, was a total labor of love. You all should read it!
What sub-genre are you thinkin' about tackling next? My next book is a history of New York Rock, with a not-so-surprising working title, New York Rock, which will tell the story, from the rise of the Velvet Underground, to the fall of CBGB. As a promoter and DJ in New York for years, it is a scene I have long been involved with, and as much as love all my work regarding the American Hardcore scene, I believe this will be my great work. Expect it out within a year or so - fingers crossed!
An evening with American Hardcore author Steven Blush. January 13, 8pm @ Sweat Records 5505 NE 2nd Ave Miami. 786-693-9309 The event is free and all ages are welcome.