Punk Planet, a bimonthly zine out of Chicago, has done an expert job documenting how the punk rock movement has progressed over the years and inspired all sorts of artists and activists outside of the musical sphere. So it’s no surprise that their first book, We Owe You Nothing, opts to cover the vital music and ideas that followed punk rather than rehashing the scene’s formative years.
On the music side, they chat with a mix of postpunk luminaries, activists, and cranks. Hyper-opinionated producer Steve Albini rails against his favorite target, major labels, concluding that bands that choose not to sign with majors usually last longer and sell more records. Offering a more jovial, major-label-tolerant p.o.v., Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore jokes that the reason his band is still on Geffen is “because nobody wanted to be the person who dropped Sonic Youth.” Usually guarded and defensive in interviews, Ian MacKaye of Fugazi offers a rare view of his own life, discussing his family, high school, skateboarding, and how Fugazi handles every aspect of its business. “One aspect of Do It Yourself is that you really have to do it yourself,” says MacKaye. “It’s work! We manage ourselves, we book ourselves, we do our own equipment upkeep, we do our own recording, we do our own taxes.”
As for punk history, We Owe You Nothing‘s interviews with seven key members of Black Flag give the reader a sense of the chaos, violence, work ethic, and drama of one of the angriest and most intense bands ever. Henry Rollins says of the band’s leader, Greg Ginn, “In Greg’s mind we were all lightweights.” In everyone’s interview (including his own), Ginn comes off like an impossible asshole genius who eventually ran the band like a stoner drill sergeant.
The “Punk & Politics” section includes an incisive Q&A with 72-year-old radical and social critic Noam Chomsky, who is by far the most articulate person in the book. Also included here is the Ruckus Society’s Han Shan, who has many insights about effective direct action, and a couple of activists from Voices in the Wilderness, who explain what life is like in Iraq under the U.S.-imposed sanctions.
Rather than getting stuck on the scene or the music, We Owe You Nothing advances the various causes and ideals behind punk rock. More riveting than chucking a bottle at a wall or diving into a sea of smelly kids, it’s the sort of book that could move you to finally do whatever it is you’ve always talked about.