AMERICAN HARDCORE: A TRIBAL HISTORY by Steven Blush; Feral House, 2001

I have little respect for someone who uses a literary opportunity for an ulterior motive, which is what author Blush does here. The former music promoter makes a disingenuous attempt to document the history of the “hardcore” punk movement while pimping his third generation band, No Trend, which had absolutely nothing to do with any of it.

And that's the least of our worries, even though the damn thing sold out its first printing of 5,000, equally worrisome.

The history of anything is generally a mine-filled literary excursion, a venture that requires astute observation (being there, for example) and a vast and varied network of accounts and sources. Perhaps most egregious in this case is Blush's reliance on dubious sources, which is knotted together with his inept reasoning skills, an inability to convey thought via the written word, and a disregard for accuracy.

Other than that, though, knock yourself out. But be warned that while somewhat entertaining, the book fails to capture the mood of the era. The entertainment value, though, is delightful, like People magazine meets the local college newspaper, where the inane is heralded.

Shining example of dubious sources: this non-sequiter from Jello Biafra on page 206? “You know me? There's nothing I like less than intolerant people...” A statement like that from an intolerant, myopic man like Biafra is mind numbing, but almost makes sense when taken in context.

At certain points, though, the unbridled idiocy that passes for thought—from both subjects and author—will make the reader want to give up. In the opening chapter, Blush asserts that late 70s movements calling for the scrapping of disco were displays of intolerance rather than simply spirited gimmicks. He states, “Rock stations even staged socially sanctioned disco record burnings. If this wasn't racism and homophobia, I don't know what was.”

Perhaps he was more encouraged by his subjects who admitted to beating up people who had long hair or who came from different areas of the country. Blush's politically correct shortsightedness, coupled with his failure to rely on heresy, is a fatal flaw.

While he does manage to maintain a pedestrian grip on what “hardcore” was, his gossipy tone fails to convey the passion and the prevailing sense of mission that drove pioneers like Toxic Reasons (a band that opened many doors and do not appear in this book, save for a paragraph and a disparaging quote from a Butthole Surfer) to live on $5 a day.

The DIY ethic is inevitably delved into, and with some degree of cultural perspective. Still, key omissions and the tentative tone make it apparent that the author is an outsider, despite his promise in the forward that “it takes a hardcore mind to write a hardcore book.”

He now pushes his book while wearing a Germs t-shirt, the same shirt he likely wore as a college kid in the early 80s, all a-twitter over this music form he so lovingly praises.

Meanwhile, there are more shady sources than a Washington Post story. Barry Henssler, a gossipy pissant who is capable of stupidity to match his girth, injects cartoonish, juvenile perspective that has little to do with reality. In fact, I recall the humor in watching those Ohio kids (Necros) cringe at the women who populated the early scene, truly terrified of any female who would dare return their slack-jawed stares.

At one point Hennsler attempts to shed the herd mentality he and his cronies so readily embraced when they returned to the Midwest from DC with black Xs on their hands and shorn locks, quickly adopting the style of their new hardcore brethren. He's even hypocritical enough to deny it in these pages.

The numerous inaccuracies in American Hardcore fall into the category of amateurish and humorous rather than harmful. The author's referral to “...Peter Marwick, one of America's most prestigious accounting firms” when speaking of Gibby Haynes's (Butthole Surfers) past job is actually Peat Marwick, the internationally renowned and esteemed company. Blush also lovingly refers to Houston's Mydolls as an all female band but Jorge, the drummer, was a male. Fear's legendary appearance on Saturday Night Live on Oct. 31, 1981, is reported to be in November. John Belushi is reported to have died several weeks later but his death date was March 5, 1982, four months later.

These are such rudimentary details that any journalist or author should catch, details that undermine credibility. Blush also manages to lump No Trend in with Flipper at one point.

It is an amazing stretch to equate almost anyone with Flipper, who defied and defined the hardcore ethic. Besides being historically opportunist and audacious in a most childish manner, the omission of Flipper as a pioneer of the movement, despite the fact that their music didn't conform, is a glaring deficit.

Blush's over reliance on third hand information renders his book an inaccurate tome on one of music's defining moments as well as society's. In the early 80s, in a Detroit newspaper, John Brannon called hardcore “blues music for the suburbs,” a smart and succinct starting point for such an exposé.

Better than that, the people who could have provided more insight were either never contacted or refused to talk about the era.

The words from Poison Idea's Jerry A are the smartest thing anyone in the book said: “I never gave a shit about the scene or unity or whatever. We made our own fuckin' music and hung with our friends. There were some great hardcore bands and some really shitty ones. But I didn't hang out on the scene. I thought it all got very stupid very fast.” Hardcore, indeed.

-Steve Miller


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