American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush
It was very hard to get started reading American Hardcore: A Tribal History without a series of expectations already built in. I had read so many reviews of the book and heard so much complaining from a number of people that it seemed like I would get nothing but disappointment out of my reading experience. But, I tried to keep an open mind. I really wanted to enjoy the book. I mean, it’s the first comprehensive look at early 80’s hardcore punk, and I was hoping to find at least a minimum of excitement within those pages.
Steven Blush starts the book with a series of claims that he never follows through on. Most notably, he claims - “American Hardcore ain’t no revisionist history based on what I personally think happened.” (pg. 10) In so many words, he also claims to be writing the book from an objective viewpoint- “I tried to purge myself of all the punditry, stereotyping, sloganeering, gut feelings, and knee jerk reactions developed over the years, and I’ve quit trying to defend my personal tastes.” (pgs. 9-10) But, in actuality, “American Hardcore” is nothing but a series of subjective observations delivered through a series of snippets taken from interviews of the people who lived it, Blush included.
To be fair, I wouldn’t expect anyone to write a book about something they lived and went through with an objective slant. For one, it’s completely impossible to separate your own experiences and ideas from the confines of the “real” truth. Those moments and memories are going to sink in somewhere and root themselves in your material consciously or subconsciously. Second, it makes absolutely no sense from a writer’s perspective to take yourself out of the picture. It would be far more interesting not only to write, but also for the readers, to put your own unique viewpoint into the material and present it with a personal touch. At times, Blush slips into this method, telling stories about life on the road with No Trend, as well as, his experiences booking shows. But, he does it to substantiate points he is trying to make about the atmosphere at the time, and it completely destroys the stance he took in his introduction, not to mention some of his credibility.
The other thing that made me lose faith in Blush’s research was the complete lack of credit to any of the sources he used to put the book together. There is no Works Cited page, no footnotes, nothing resembling a bibliography. In fact, Blush even states “… I’ve done extensive fact-checking wherever possible.” (pg. 10) Really? You sure didn’t provide any proof in your book. He also claims, in the first line of the book, that “I’m documenting the american hardcore punk music scene because it’s being forgotten.” (pg. 9) But, in essence, Blush isn’t doing anything to preserve the legacy of the scene he was involved in. Sure, he did some interviews. But, what about all that source material you used to help “research” the book? That isn’t important? It’s hard to believe that he didn’t take a look back at some of the fanzines released at the time to put things into a context. All those sources should have been included and given credit because they are the actual history, not a book compiled 20 years after the fact.
So, on to the content… “American Hardcore: A Tribal History” covers American hardcore punk music from 1981-1986. All the major players - Black Flag, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, etc - are covered, and Blush actually does a pretty good job of giving all the individual scenes a fair amount of coverage. The interview snips are all pretty short, and Blush breaks them all up with small amounts of commentary printed in bold type. As I read through the book, I started to notice that I was skipping over all of the bold type. Blush’s observations are, for the most part, unnecessary and irritating.
Like Henry Rollins’ Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag, the majority of “American Hardcore” focuses on the violent side of the scene. It’s interesting to a point to hear these people retell those stories with a bit of maturity behind them, but it’s so heavy handed that the average reader with no knowledge of the history would easily come to the conclusion that it was nothing but a bunch of kids causing trouble and beating the shit out of each other. Granted, that was probably a major factor at the time, but by ignoring the more positive aspects and accomplishments of that era, Blush has turned it into nothing more than the same biased focus that the major media portrayed it as at the time. Of course, there is a section of the book dealing with the mainstream media’s coverage of hardcore punk on television shows like CHIPs and Quincy, and while Blush is quick to bash that coverage as exploitative, he hasn’t done much to change that perspective.
I have a really hard time recommending this book to anyone merely because of the poor research and subjective viewpoints presented. But, at the same time, there is a lot of good, entertaining information in “American Hardcore”. Of course, it doesn’t come from Blush, but a lot of the interviews are really interesting. There are also a ton of great scans of flyers, record covers, and photos to make the book something interesting to flip through, as well as, a decent discography at the end of the book.
If you can read with a careful eye towards sorting out the bias, “American Hardcore” could be a good read for you.
Buy American Hardcore: A Tribal History here!