Wrapped Up in (Music) Books

The music bio bookcase in Spare Oom — I am actually in one of these! And yes, that is a Groot doll and Ezra Bridger’s light saber.

Over the last month or so, I’ve been making a significant dent in my music bookcase in Spare Oom, and I’m happy to say I’ve got it under much better control now. Only the bottom shelf is full of Books To Be Read now, and I’m being harsh in culling what I no longer want to keep. This of course will give me more room for newer purchases! And the circle goes round and round…

Right now I’m on a binge of punk and post-punk bios and histories, having just finished John Doe and Tom DeSavia’s Under the Big Black Sun, and I’m currently reading its sequel, More Fun in the New World. I’m probably going to dig through a bunch of the trades after that.

I love reading things like this because I’m such an obsessive music fan. I was never one to be part of any ‘scene’ (I was way too broke to be part of one anyway), but I always like learning about their histories. For instance, in the Doe/DeSavia books, I learned that the death of LA punk in the early 80s wasn’t just the encroachment of hard drugs like heroin, but also due to the arrival of frat bros and skinheads from Orange County wanting to start shit during Black Flag shows. [This second point is confirmed by multiple musicians in both books, who saw it firsthand.] The scene died because it wasn’t fun anymore and because outsiders appropriated it into something unlikeable.

It’s things like this that make me rethink my own musical history, Walk in Silence-style. Ian Underwood’s Smash! (about the 90s punk resurgence) made a good point about the fact that there were rarely any decent punk bands in the late 80s because the scene was so dead and/or dangerous. This would, in turn, explain why my experience with college radio at the time was almost exclusively post-punk, new wave, industrial, experimental and often Eurocentric, with a hefty cornucopia of unconventional hard-to-label bands in between. I do remember the punk bands of the time, but they were few and far between, and often super-local.

It would also explain the 90s in pretty much the same way: the resurgence of American punk with Nevermind and Dookie (among numerous other albums and bands) competing with the newly-minted Britpop/Madchester scenes. And moving further, the eventual mainstreaming of alternative rock by the mid 90s, mixing sounds from both sides of the Atlantic with a splash of easier-on-the-ears alt.rock like Collective Soul, Dishwalla and Third Eye Blind. And like the original LA punk scene, the early-to-mid 90s alt.rock scene was a lot more inclusive, from Bikini Kill and the riot grrl scene to the trip-hop sounds of Tricky and Portishead.

And even then, the frat bros entered the scene like cockroaches, injecting their testosterone into it all, thus Marilyn Manson, Korn and Limp Bizkit and so many other ‘alternative metal’ bands with down-tuned guitars and grinding bass riffs. (As someone who worked at a record store in the late 90s, I can definitely confirm that most of the purchasers of meathead metal were in fact the bros, with many of the alt.rock stations then following the money.)

Which, in response, brought in a wave of twee music from Belle and Sebastian, Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver. Inject the sounds of late 90s/early 00s techno into that and you’ve got chillwave. Inject reverbed guitars and you’ve got the next waves of shoegaze. Add a bit of proggy nerdiness and you’ve got post-rock.

Everything in circles. Everything influencing and inspiring everything else. Despite the ups and downs and the explosions and implosions of the music industry, there are influences and inspirations between bands, fans and musicians that feed the next waves. And the interesting thing is that often they aren’t aware of it happening; a lot of it really is all about ‘hey, this sounds kind of cool, I think I can play something like this.’

[Note: if you’re curious about which book I’m in, I donated a silly suggestion for Michael Azerrad’s Rock Critic Law. Look for the one featuring Joey Santiago.]

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