American Hardcore: Second Edition Stage-Dives Back Into the Seminal Music Scene

Minor Threat, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys get an encore

If the rise of global pop, underground dance, and reggae hadn't already demanded my attention in the early '80s, I'd have haunted mosh pits for political inspiration. Like many black mavericks, I recognized that punk rock's angry alienation mirrored mine. Yet watching the Clash struggle to unite multi-ethnic youth at Bonds on Broadway, I also recognized why most buzz-cut, stage-diving white boys still wanted (and needed) a riot of their own.

So while I backed away, young fans like Steven gave punk rock's edgy D.I.Y. aesthetic everything they had. Blush promoted concerts, hosted radio shows, ran a label, managed bands, and even founded a magazine central to this marginalized subculture. "It takes a Hardcore mind to write a Hardcore book," he proclaimed in 2001's American Hardcore: A Tribal History, adding: "Hipsters took one look at [Hardcore's] adolescent violence and dismissed the whole scene." Nine years later—after painstaking revisions and expansions—the author offers a new edition that's "less absolutist and more 'live and let live,' " admitting that, in his initial zeal to "set the record straight," his original criticisms may have been too harsh.

Paid to cum: Bad Brains play Irving Plaza, 1982
Karen O'Sullivan
Paid to cum: Bad Brains play Irving Plaza, 1982

Accordingly, Blush's refurbished account is a big, sloppy banquet of a book, showcasing vintage memorabilia, song lyrics, and interviews from Minor Threat, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, and dozens of other signature acts. It foregrounds "Straight Edge" philosophy (no drugs, no booze, virtually no sex) as the pivotal innovation it was, then discusses the effects of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and police harassment on the music and its regional constituencies in ways that reveal their similar impact on the concurrent rap movement. More interested in why authentic Hardcore differs from its Brit-punk, noise-rock, or heavy-metal cousins than in tooting his own horn, Blush never lets any participant's testimony—including his own—devolve into self-serving autobiography. That's why he created a juicier, more satisfying record of this particular cultural moment than professional critics or academics ever could.

 
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