Mutations: Twenty Years Embedded in Hardcore Punk
Rare Bird Publications
Sam McPheeters first entered my life via Born Against during my formative years as a juvenile delinquent and left an indelible mark, which continued with his other emissions and involvements, e.g. his writings, other bands and his excellent label Vermiform Records. Now, for anyone who has been remotely involved with Sam’s oeuvre or inspired thereby, chances are that you will be hard pressed to put this book down as it is an excellently written tour de force full of anecdotes not only detailing what happened behind the scenes during his years as a hardcore punk activist but also musings on what punk meant for him and his comrades and how it evolved as they grew older.
I’ve reviewed Sam’s foray into fiction before and while both The Loom of Ruin and Exploded View were at times disturbingly entertaining, unpredictable and plastered with dark social commentary, Mutations presents McPheeters as a writer that has honed his craft as he examines the hardcore punk phenomenon with surgical precision.
Over the years many books have crossed my desk with the objective to define what punk is its essence. Some were of academic nature; others border lined revisionism as self-proclaimed luminaries shared a view that was solely channelled through their lens and a lot of the elaborations were futile attempts at infusing something with significance that per se has no fixed identity.
What makes Sam’s viewpoint appealing and accessible is his honesty with which he approaches each of the profiles, essays, interviews and most importantly his personal history, which adds depth to the many different versions of hardcore punk that he incarnated in.
Needless to say that those who are more familiar with Sam McPheeters’ bands, writings and actions, will be able to read in between the lines and connect the dots, which exposes the reasons and background stories that spurned some of his more controversial undertakings.
For the ones that have never heard of Sam McPheeters, Mutations offers insights into a genre that is unlike any other within the realms of underground music, written in an illuminating style that in a subtle manner effortlessly plays the claviature of the facets that inform human behaviour and which from your humble narrator in equal measure elicited laughter, consternation, bewilderment or alternatively the feeling that one could not agree more.
Live at the Safari Club: A History of Hardcore Punk in the Nation's Capital 1988–1998
Shawna Kenney and Rich Dolinger
Now, reviewing Live at the Safari Club after having read Sam McPheeters’ Mutations is quite a trip as it is being touted as the “uncensored oral history” of an underground punk venue and reading the contributions from bands, fans, writers, promoters and scenesters is in parts diametrically opposed to the angle of Mutations, then again in many aspects an extension in a “quod erat demonstrandum” way, i.e. each protagonist has his or her unique interpretation. The book is comprised of over two hundred interviews of bands that have shaped hardcore punk for decades to come, e.g. New York Hardcore stalwarts Sick of it All and Gorilla Biscuits, bands that gained mainstream success like Bad Religion, Nirvana and Danzig and bands that started out and emerged from the hardcore punk scene to then evolve to other musical scenes or create their very own lanes, e.g. Tom Waits’ band or My Morning Jacket.
Needless to say that the photos that opulently illustrate and accompany the interviews are eye candy, depicting and encapsulating the energy and passion that made hardcore punk a genre unlike any other, which make this beautiful tome an ode to the golden era of the genre as it raged within the idiosyncratic confines of a club in Washington D.C. – a city that spawned activists whose emissions planted the seeds for a network of underground bands that formed the 1980s indie-rock scene and whose ethics effectively changed the way music could be made accessible and created.
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