Jon Fine on His Rock Memoir 'Your Band Sucks': The Good Stories Come From 'the Schleppers of Any Scene'
Photo by Gary He
“Hopefully I’m much less of a flaming asshole than I was.” Jon Fine, the self-deprecating talking head, longtime Brooklynite, and author of the sprawling, shoot-from-the-hip, love/hate letter to his fiercely independent D.I.Y. upbringing he calls Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear), is making amends. Rock memoirs like his — Your Band Sucks traces his lineage from New Jersey music snob and Oberlin slacker geeking out on punk rock, zines, college radio, and record stores to co-founder of pioneering Eighties post-hardcore squelchers Bitch Magnet — tend to have that effect. Fine is feeling apologetic, kind of, for his dickish behavior back in the day.
While the guitarist turned Inc. Magazine executive editor takes no prisoners in his brutally candid tome as he (hilariously) trashes seminal and beloved bands like Beat Happening (“Not everyone shares those opinions or likes that but I don’t know what to say about that. ‘Sorry’? It is what it is”), it’s his stories of butting heads with bandmates, causing years-long rifts, with respect to which he now admits he could have gone about things differently.
“My basic feeling is adults don’t really change that radically, but if you are a decent adult, you can get better at being the person that you are,” Fine explains of growing up, even in his late forties. “I’m always going to be excitable; I’m always going to talk too fast and I’m always going to have a million opinions.” Fine admits he has “fucked up bad” in the past but says that, as the old adage goes, time heals all wounds. Or not. “I don’t know about that, actually,” he says, laughing. “I still have this enormous chip on my shoulder about high school.”
As Your Band Sucks reveals, Fine’s suburban Jerz upbringing in the Eighties was a teenage wasteland where cheeseball hair metal and MTV ruled the cultural landscape. Naturally, the specs-sporting outcast gravitated toward the anarchic D.I.Y. spectrum of punk, diving headlong into the Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, and New York Dolls. But it was at Oberlin where Fine honed his admittedly marginal guitar skills and met kindred spirit Sooyoung Park, who shared an affinity for Hüsker Dü. Orestes Morfín soon entered the fray, and Bitch Magnet was birthed. Three obscure slabs of Big Black–ish noise-rock heaviosity followed, and they were worshipped by a small but rabid fan base before fizzling out a quarter-century ago. That is, until their unlikely reunion in 2011, which, as Fine documents in Your Band Sucks, finally rid the bad taste that lingered in his mouth from how his band originally ended in 1990.
“I started the band with Sooyoung,” Fine recounts. “I was kicked out of my own band, and the way it ended was just kind of a drag. Here was a chance to do it again and do it better, and luckily that’s how it actually turned out.”
However feel-good a story the Bitch Magnet reunion turned out to be, Your Band Sucks wasn’t without its challenges. For one, Fine’s notoriety didn’t exactly stack up to the star power of memoirs offered up by the likes of Bob Mould, Kim Gordon, Dean Wareham, and Kristin Hersh. Fine, though, found his own niche. "To me, as with everything, the really interesting stories are often told by the schleppers of any scene," he says. “I wouldn’t want to read John Gotti’s memoir. I don’t care. But it turns out this low-level mobster in Brooklyn who saw some crazy shit talks about everything he knows, and it turned out that was Wiseguys, the book that became the movie Goodfellas. It’s fuckin’ unbelievable because the guy’s got nothin’ to lose. It comes back to that. I just wanted to bear witness to what felt true to me, true to the people that were there, and that really can tie open knots if you’re writing a memoir.”
Like his touring glory days with Bitch Magnet, Vineland, and Coptic Light, Fine is back on the road — not with guitar in hand, but his book. For the last several months, he’s taken to the van to plug his book, talking indie rock shop with fellow luminaries such as Clint Conley of Mission of Burma, Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, and Andrew Beaujon of Eggs. On September 9, Fine is in conversation with DFA bud and ex–Six Finger Satellite guitarist/keys dude John MacLea, a/k/a Juan MacLean, under the guise of musical reading series “Words and Guitars,” and he’s stoked. “I’m really psyched about it,” Fine says about the event at HiFi. “It’s going to be fuckin’ hard, because I don’t know if I’m going to get through many stages without falling off of my stool laughing. He’s hilarious. Juan has done this for years. He’s quoted in the book. He went through really dark and crazy shit. Speaking of bands who should have a book written about them: Six Finger Satellite. Whoa! Just a really strange and singular band.”
"Words And Guitars" presents Jon Fine and Juan MacLean in conversation September 9 at HiFi. For more information, click here.
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