Bazillion Points Publishing, 576 pages, trade paperback, $15.95
Having read everything between the covers of Touch & Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine 1979-1983, collecting the entire 22-issue run of the highly influential Touch & Go fanzine, I feel uniquely qualified to report back from the front lines.
And the verdict is: it is good. No, I take that back — it’s great, but it’s also the good book of the indie community. Up until reading T&G I was under the mistaken impression that Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life was the indie bible, but T&G — fueled by the caffeinated adrenaline prose of hip spazzsters, DS (Dave Stimson) and TV (Tesco Vee), written as first-person meta-commentary — is alternatively uproarious, scabrous, iconoclastic, truthful, and full of great steers. This book has got me on a Misfits and Cramps bender. The editors/contributors are at their best when documenting the live shows of the time: the riotous, relentless energy of early hardcore, and the plague of locusts that followed in its swath: violent straight-edgers, cops who got their kicks from cudgeling young anarchists, bald-headed Neo-Nazis — its vestiges are evident on the fringes of a decent punk show today.
About halfway through the book, there’s a slight change of tone. More ads begin to pop up — this is actually a change for the better, since this zine is especially dense, primarily with lots and lots of record reviews of all sorts, the majority of them on independent labels. The number and quality of 45s reviewed in here assure the reader that both DS and TV must have made a fortune selling their priceless record collections on eBay.
But these guys are no mere collectors — they are active participants in the hardcore scene. Tesco Vee leads the recently reformed commentary-on-punk punk band, The Meatmen, and Dave Stimson is an active archivist, writer, and photographer of much obscure independent music. Corey Rusk, member of Ohio punkers The Necros, successfully helmed Touch & Go records and distribution for 25 years, and is also a contributor. You even get to read precocious fan mail and want-lists from modern-day critical heavyweights like Byron Coley, who was probably just a pimple-faced kid at the time.
In the latter issues, the editors move from Lansing, Michigan to Washington, DC — the best and worst place to be if you loved independent music. Many bands began there, but there were few venues for all ages gigs. Ian MacKaye and Dischord et al. form a close relationship with the editors. The zine includes healthy and vituperative accounts of the DC and New York City scenes of the time. There are some truly hilarious interviews with the aforementioned MacKaye, as well as the Misfits in their early ’80s prime, that must be read to be believed. Most of this book cannot be retold in any coherent sense; T&G must be experienced first-hand. The cover of the last issue says it all: in the foreground stands Henry Rollins, at the time the lead singer of Black Flag, staring at a pool ball in his hand — in the background, Minor Threat’s Ian Mackaye, an old friend of DC days, flips him the bird behind his back like a rebellious adolescent.
And that’s what this book is about: flipping the bird while listening to the radio on full blast and the windows down at 100 MPH. If you don’t know rare pleasures like that, don’t bother.