Idaho – Emily Ruskovich

It’s almost impossible to think anything good could have come of life in this landscape, a judgement I cast with uncertainty. But this mountainside, twice filled with a man’s love for his family only ends in tears, with no one else to help absorb them nor the wave of sadness that is brought by death.


Emily Ruskovich
Random House

A small decision, made without thought of any possible repercussions, after all how could a song end in tragedy, haunts the life of Ann in Emily Ruskovich’s stunning debut, Idaho. Isolated with nothing but history, a deteriorating husband and the time to constantly be their prisoner, Ann struggles to find the truth, the meaning in her life that she is positive she loves but maybe isn’t so sure she signed up for. Equally imprisoned, both literally and figuratively is Jenny, Ann’s husband’s ex-wife, who scrubs floors for decades trying to escape a fleeting moment that resulted in a great tragedy she can never be forgiven for. This is the story we get, between these two women, their lives forever connected, one trying to understand, the other trying to forget.

Ruskovich’s Idaho (and Idaho) is an isolated  place, way up north, set on a mountain side where the lives of lovers tangle and untangle. It’s a place where two young girls never escape, suspended in small moments that lead up to unresolved timelines that capture everyone in the hills, surrounded by various creatures, never-ending forest and the occasional discarded objects. It seems unnavigable, hostile even and perhaps it is not the actions of the players that leads them to tragedy but the unforgiving earth that forces them to their end. It’s almost impossible to think anything good could have come of life in this landscape, a judgement I cast with uncertainty. But this mountainside, twice filled with a man’s love for his family only ends in tears, with no one else to help absorb them nor the wave of sadness that is brought by death. Despite its lush and fertile land, the mountain that keeps this family holds nothing but death.

What makes this book so stunning, so worth my short precious time before I run out the door this morning, exhausted from lack of sleep but invigorated none the less, is the turn of words, the phrases that pieced my heart, the small moments where I sighed and paused and whispered “damn” under my breath in coffee shops and classrooms, trying desperately not to be audible, but too moved not to express something. Many books are described as being so good you can’t put them down, but for Idaho it is so good, so chilling, so sad and moving that you have to put it down. You have to find space from these lives, the lives the characters must endure, in order to move forward. A reprieve is necessary from time to time so that through the long haul you will want to finish. Thankfully, Ruskovich unwraps the story slowly at first with long passages and heaps of memories before blasting away with smaller, more devastating fragments of memory and time.

Every moment in Idaho seems subdued, despite the rich language and exemplary detail. It feels that way because the violence and horror and heartbreak are all too well pronounced. They don’t just sit heavily over the lives entangled and undone in the story, the weigh in the heart of the reader with every turn of the page. The big moments are vivid only in that they break, for a small moment the despair and uncertainty that each player must carry through their lives. I would not have expected the shot in the arm American Literature needed would come from such a tame voice, but Ruskovich’s work here is a truly American novel, finding the small, isolated places we all live, no matter where we might be located. It knows that one instance can change everything, but the likelihood of having the foresight to see it coming is damn near impossible.

Cometbus #57

I hate New York


I am trying desperately to finish reading some of the half started books I have engaged in this year. It’s not going particularly well considering my frequent visits to the comic book shop, the unreal word count of the Atlantic article I am trying to get through, the fact that I have to leave me house every day for holiday stuff and general socialization which I am terrible at and the malaise of winter days in Albuquerque that are taking its toll on my body. But I am doing the best I can to feel well read and well-informed and even a little entertained (The Fix issue #7 pissed me off and I hope that dude who lost his dog just kills everyone).

I did manage to get through the latest Cometbus a few days ago. Aaron is a master at making topics and people who I could give fuck all about totally engaging and thought-provoking. In this issue he sits down with DIY comics in New York. DIY is a frustrating topic, I hate New York and comics, as he explores has a wide berth in its definition. But damn if this isn’t an insightful look at all of these subjects. I may never love New York and I will always wonder about the choices people make in their decisions to be microscopic and I will never read the New Yorker or find any of the cartoons in any magazines to be relative to my life, but I have a new perspective on the art process.

From what I gather, unlike many DIY creative cultures, the comics world of New York is very insular and private by the nature of the work. Unlike writers who are grand, ego maniacs with many things to say and express despite pouring over tomes thousands of words long, comics say big things in small spaces and spend time with the world that surrounds them, meticulously drawing on the page. In my investigations of comic books I am told it takes a day to draw an entire page, a process that would drive me quite mad, and I mean that in the emotional sense that I would be very angry and frustrated. Comics is the art of patience to which I have none.

So these interviews with creators, curators, artists and introverts gave me an even greater respect for the art form over all. My own journey into comic books over the last few years has been filled with great storytelling, but I can honestly say I haven’t stared at a piece of the art work. Certainly I will always appreciate David Lapham’s bold black and white pen and ink drawings he uses to tell his hyper-violent crime saga that is Stray Bullets. Of course Fiona Staples work has captured all our hearts with Saga. Since reading this latest issue of Cometbus though, I look deeper into the pictures to see what’s going on. The visuals of comics should and often do tell just as much of the story and speculating on the decisions the artists make has opened up deeper meaning into what I am reading.

So before I close this short review I would also be remiss if I did not mention the fantastic portraits by Nate Powell, an Eisner Award Winning comic in his own right. Cometbus’s long career see’s him rubbing up against the shoulders of people who may have more name recognition than he does, but as is unfolded in his interviews, people can have large impact from quiet places.

Jhumpa Lahiri – The Clothing of Books

Like any of us writers she wants the books she writes to be loved, to be cared for, to entice the magic we hope that they do

9780525432753 Jhumpa Lahiri
The Clothing of Books
Vintage Books

Before I was really obsessed with records I was obsessed with record covers. When I was a little tyke my dad owned his own store front business in a strip mall. On one side of his shop was a video store and on the other was a record store. I would thumb through records for hours looking at the covers. I fell in love with Slayer and Black Flag before I had ever heard them. The covers of those records were scary and mortifying, and to my ten-year old mind, totally awesome. By the time I was old enough to make my own way to the record stores I immediately bought and fell in love with these tapes. The idiom of never judging a book by its cover has rarely, if ever, sat well with me.

But reading this essay by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri has turned some screws in that practice. The art of the cover is an interesting one, and for books it’s a complicated one. Most records they have the same cover for life. But books, they change covers over time and, if you are so lucky to be published in multiple languages, change with countries and cultures.

Lahiri talks about the complex relationship we have with book covers, observing the phenomenon from both a bibliophile and an author. As an author the cover is a tumultuous aspect of the publishing process. After all it is a design made of someone else’s imagination and not necessarily connected to the words within. The book cover in modern America is made to entice readers, to compete on shelves and table tops and to entice buyers with blurbs from famous people we’re supposed to trust. The art of the cover in the United States is sadly nothing more than an advertisement these days. Just another product announcement in an over crowded market place (says the writer who is working on and hoping to get his first novel published).

However, in some cases, we do revere our novelists. Lahiri writes about the Penguin Classics with their classic looking, but often drab paintings (my description) countered with a black band at the bottom. They stick out like sore thumbs and they are designed to tell us that this book, cloaked as such, is cannon of the art of the English language. These covers are meant to insinuate that this is not just a book to read, but to know.

As an author, Lahiri has an even more tumultuous relationship with covers. Like any of us writers she wants the books she writes to be loved, to be cared for, to entice the magic we hope that they do. She understands the power of the cover, the readers relationship to the covers of their favorite books, even if they are horrible. And horrible they often are. So even when the outside misrepresents what is within, still we cling to our books.

So all this talk about book covers and what they convey, what is this really about? We could speculate that this is all just a metaphor for people and how we look and judge each other. We could argue that all this talk about books and how we dress them to either conform or stand out is just talk about ourselves. We could even speculate that the adage of yore we cling to be open to each other is more complicated than the simple words suggest.

Books do feel like people sometimes. They have personalities and lives of their own that seem to live both beyond their pages and our purview. So while it is unfortunate that we try to frame their personalities with these external images, at the same time we cannot contain them in our image. Whatever we want to make of the books we read, publish, collect and cherish, it is to be sure they make much more of us.

Book Burning

Gone Baby Gone? Really America? This is your go to for reading? Fuck you.

Once upon a time in a Barnes and Nobel just down the street from my house I was wandering around like a lost soul as I am want to do from time to time. On this particular visit I did not have an agenda or a specific collection of words by a particular author in mind to purchase. I was, at that moment, free to discover without prejudice some new reading to enlighten my soul.

I do not remember what else I purchased that day. It may have been The Corpse Exhibition, which is in my not so humble estimation the greatest collection of short stories in the history of writing to date. If this is in fact the case, the following share is even more embarrassing. But I did, wandering around the tables they have that I find particularly annoying, pick up actress Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (spoiler: yes, for good goddamn reason too). I was all like she’s kinda funny. That’s why I bought this book. I know I was actively trying to read more female authors and was curious what this new found TV star who I’d seen in exactly one movie and a handful of terrible episodes of The Office USA where she had stood out. This was a mistake.

The book is fucking awful. I mean like it’s up there with Joyce in how much I disliked it. I never even finished the book. I threw it in the back of my hatchback and it kicked around my car for years until I finally tossed it in a box of crap that I put in my garage where it stays, cold and alone and away from the books I revere stacked nicely on my shelves. Fuck Mindy Kaling’s life of vacant, absent, lackluster interest. She sucks and I hate her now.

Today, I was once again in B&N wanting a copy of The Atlantic so I could read Ta-Nehesi Coates’s My President Was Black. I read his open letter to his son, Between the World and Me this year. It is a crucial piece of American writing, even more poignant in our collapse. For whatever reason the magazine was not with the others and I didn’t find it until checking out and it was up at the registers. Why? I can only surmise so I would buy two books, an essay by Jhumpa Lahiri and a copy of another magazine.

In my wanderings amongst the working man buying 2017 calendars of cars and girls and other shit, I saw a book by Rainn Wilson, another one of Kaling’s co-stars on that insufferable show. I know this to be at least the third member of the cast of that derivative telenovela who has weaseled their way into the publishing world. Again, I ask in desperation, why?

America is a stupid country. A very, very, very stupid country filled with lots of very stupid people. We don’t read good stories. We don’t read well written stories. We do not read things of substance. Clearly. When some asshole brings a riffle into a pizza parlor because he believes it may be a front for a child sex ring and when kids can’t distinguish reputable news with the god damn click bait that splatters the internet hole of human repugnance (to which I am adding to gleefully but without financial gain, sadly) it is not hyperbolic to insist that America is stupid.

And when we do actually read something by someone who isn’t on TV, it’s often pathological crap, usually about white people doing boring white people shit or killing each other is ways that are methodically psychotic. Gone Baby Gone? Really America? This is your go to for reading? Fuck you. I’ll never make it as a writer (by my e-book at Amazon or at Barnes and Nobel).

So, the following is a list of people no longer allowed to write books. After that is a list of authors America is no longer allowed to read because I said so. Because people listen to me.

People Who Are Not Allowed to Write Books Any More

  1. Mindy Kailing
  2. Rainn Wilson
  3. BJ Novak
  4. Anyone who had anything to do with The Office US at all even if you were just an intern and had the unfortunate luck of ending up there post-grad.
  5. Nicholas Sparks
  6. Tony Hillerman
  7. Steven King
  8. Stephanie Meyers
  9. Rush Limbaugh
  10. That other angry white guy on Fox who keeps writing about presidents
  11. And the other angry white guy too
  12. Ann Coulter
  13. John Grisham
  14. Amy Schumar
  15. Any cast member of Saturday Night live ever but especially those two white women everyone thinks are funny but are actually incredibly racist and classist
  16. Anderson Cooper ( I don’t know if he has actually written a book before but he should not start).
  17. Either of the Deschanel sisters (again if they haven’t yet they should not start)
  18. Anne Rice
  19. Danielle Steele (is this even a real person)
  20. That fat guy who writes Game of Thrones who thinks he’s JRR Tolkien
  21. Fucking Elizabeth Gilbert the tourist
  22. David Sedaris
  23. Dan Savage
  24. Richard Dawkins
  25. Dan Brown
  26. The lady who wrote 50 Shades of Grey and the other shit she wrote
  27. Anyone who wants to write a second memoir
  28. Anybody else I remember and deem terrible at a later date

People on Notice

  1. Chuck Palahniukk
  2. Anyone writing a memoir. Is your life story really that interesting or are you just a white person?
  3. Nick Hornby

People No One Needs to Read Ever Again Ever for Any Reason

  1. James Joyce
  2. Edgar Allen Poe
  3. Shakespeare
  4. JD Salinger
  5. John Steinbeck
  6. Herman Melville

These are not exhaustive lists. They will be updated as needed as my brain decides to work more. I will leave comments open on this post. If you disagree with me or argue with this list your post will be deleted because I am a literary fascist and I will not accept decent on my page.

Shit I Actually Liked in 2016 – Part Two

redemption and self-love that are not always easy and proof that we are all much more complex than we let on.

It’s 9:03 on a Monday morning. I don’t have work for a while. The bank account is quickly draining. I should pay bills this week too. The world is literally a mess and it’s not just in Exene Cervenka’s kiss, though we should all be so lucky. Right? Whatever. America is a failure and all we have left is escapism, which is probably going to be abandoned en mass is we don’t all want to live in a fascist regime. Shit. We’re so fucked.

As such, I am truly afraid that enjoyment of making and in taking art for the sake of art is now gone. 2016 is the last gasp of a trend we’ve been on since World War II in terms of consumption for consumptions sake and production for production sake. Which isn’t to say people should stop creating what they feel and believe or tell the stories they want to tell no matter how cosmetic they may be. But who’s really going to have time for the superficial when the fuck heads are shouting everything down with fear tactics?

Which is hard because for someone who likes sadness music more than the battle hymns of revolution, I really enjoyed the depressed adults making music arc that 2016 was. Maybe it was all these people tapping into a darker fear and bleak reality lying under the surface, but a lot of sad shit came out this year and I was way into.

Creative Adult is one of the most Joy Division bands out there that doesn’t really sound like Joy Divison. There Fear of Life LP is simply brilliant. It’s also British as fuck with out feeling derivative. The classic Marshall tones, the distinct, mournful bass lines and drums that sound like they were taken from a Lush album make Fear of Life perhaps one of the best albums to sink into before the end of the world comes. Singer Scott Williams haunting voice, buried just at the perfect Steve Albini levels and nearly indistinguishable are the perfect cry for help.

As a Washington DC expat I am always pleased when new bands from there tickle my fancy. I’m totally stoked that there is a great burgeoning hardcore scene once again in the nation’s capital but it’s old friends who really blew me away. I had the pleasure of hosting Big Hush this summer and our little dusty town was not disappointed. Also washed out in fuzz their new EP Whose Your Smoking Spirit is aptly titled and beautifully executed. All of the instruments and vocals sound like they are being played behind a wall with the occasional wailing guitar. Vocals and harmonies are so fragmented and well placed as to sound almost accidental but heavenly at the same time. Bad Moves has also won my heart with their self titled 4 song endeavor. Both bands have left me wanting more. DC’s never been a town known for its singing, but the harmonies and supplemental vocals on this enrich the great pop song writing. I can’t stop listening to “The Verge”. Four songs is just not enough, but these two EP’s together makes for an enjoyable and extended listening experience.

It pains me how much of a fan of Self Defense Family I am. But it’s true. Patrick Kindlon has been one of my favorite lyricists over the last few years and on the last several singles and EP’s he’s been exceptional in his personal, confessional narratives. On Colicky, their final offering of the year, he gets supper into letting himself loose on the wax and behind him is a band unhinged from their past. The repetitiveness and Lungfish worship is still present, but form and exploration have also taken over. And fuck if the epic ender “Brittany Murphy in 8 Mile” isn’t about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. Benny and Chris are both dicks though.

On the heavier side of things veterans Darkthrone released another banger in Arctic Thunder. Black Metal as a genre was rather humorous and never really reached the levels artistically and aesthetically that it should have. But the duo from Norway, one of the early progenies of the scene are still making great records. They have largely abandoned tenants and rules of the Black Metal Coven and instead just tried to make great metal albums. This year’s work is no different and it even has traces of their original sound.

The return of Planes Mistaken for Stars is one that also personally warmed my heart. The Denver quartet remains one of the most haunting bands I listen to. So when Prey finally emerged this year, I could not have been more pleased. The band hasn’t skipped a beat in their ten-year hiatus. Prey stacks up to their legacy and in many ways even exceeds some of it. Gared sounds just as desperate and broken as always and the songs are punishing to fatal degrees. Bands who reunite or reemerge for a second go rarely capture their former glory, but hopefully this is the beginning of another trip back to hell that we can all be dragged along with.

My final entry for music in 2016 is of course the great voice of Canada, John K. Samson. His Winter Wheat album is the perfect soundtrack for these cold mornings as fall descends into winter and the world crumbles underneath us. But don’t listen to “Virtue at Rest” because you will cry. But thanks John for another album to give me some sense of comfort that sadness doesn’t always have to be a struggle and we can do beautiful things to get by.

In terms of books, I did a piss poor job of reading this year. I didn’t read a single piece of fiction all the way through, though I started plenty of classics. But Baldwin and Rushdie and Fitzgerald just didn’t really do it for me. But it was a good year to read about music. I found a few memoirs disappointing in their execution but two tales I was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed considering I was skeptical of both. Larry Livermore, the once bright and quirky king of pop punk relived his experiences of the rise and fall of Lookout! Records in How to Ru(i)n A Record Label. Once being a young, suburban punk, Lookout! played an central role in my love for the poppier sides of punk. Green Day and Operation Ivy and those damn Crimpshrine records were on constant rotation in my various Sony Walkmen. Reading the story of their simple rise and unfortunate and greedy downfall (despite putting out great Ted Leo and Pretty Girls Make Graves albums) was heartbreaking. Something that did not have to be was and pop punk suffered as a result. On another part of that spectrum is the band NOFX and their tell all The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories was easily the best book on music I’ve ever read and perhaps one of the most punctuated stories about success that’s ever been written. The California Quartet are not known for being anything other than dick head goofballs, but this biography characterizes the real people behind this band. It’s hard to have respect for Fat Mike and crew sometimes because his songs and antics are childish at best, but after reading this book I can honestly say that I am on his side, even if I can’t defend all of his choices. This is a book about hurt and pain and the attempts at redemption and self-love that are not always easy and proof that we are all much more complex than we let on.

So, that’s my 2016 in quick narrative form. There was more great shit, but this is what stood out for me. Uh, yeah, whatever. This is a terrible ending and I am going to jump ship now before I cause more damage. Peace.

Spray-Paint The Walls: The Story(?) of Black Flag

Spray-Paint the Walls: The Story of Black Flag
Stevie Chick
Omnibus Press

I still remember pretty vividly the first time I heard Black Flag. It was the summer of 1991, I was getting ready to go into high school and Perry Farrel had some Lollapalooza tour. I read about it in Spin magazine and remember clearly a photo of a muscle and tattoo clad angry dude named Henry Rollins, sweating profusely and screaming into a microphone. The side article mentioned that he was a former member of Black Flag.

Here is the catch, when I was eight, my dad used to own his own business. A few storefronts down from his was a record store. For years, when I would accompany my father to work, I would spend HOURS in that record store, flipping through all the vinyl covers. Before I heard the music, Black Flag, Slayer, King Diamond and many others really effected me with fantastic, frightening cover art. I really wanted to hear what was inside (or sometimes I was too scared, I still don’t own King Diamond), but being relatively small, I knew there was no way this shit was going to get past the mom filter. Poison, Warrant, even Metallica seemed on the surface harmless. But no way was “the hard stuff” gonna get in.

So it’s 1991, my friend Keith and I go to the Waxie Maxie’s in town to flip through tapes. He buys Jesus Jones or EMF or some other big name group at the time. I buy Black Flag’s “The First Four Years”. We get back to his house and I put on my tape at some point, and Keith looks at me funny. He is not into this tape at all. Me, I fucking love it. It’s the most violent, fierce, balls out music I have ever heard. The three singers all sound different wave lengths of deranged, the guitar sounds like it’s going to shoot electricity out. Everything just sounds chaotic and fucked up and desperate, just like I felt at 14.

Weeks into high school, Keith and I went our separate ways. We didn’t have a falling out or anything and at the core we were still the same kids who liked rock music and skateboarding. But Keith was into Zepplin and AC/DC and those bands seemed like a bunch of pansies to me. And they still do. Black Flag changed the direction my life would take permanently. It dictated who my friends would be, what I would read, how I would view fine art and the way in which I would play music and create art.

Having said all this, when I first saw Spray-Paint the Walls: The Story of Black Flag at Smash Records a few months ago, I pretty much had to read it. Sure, most of the story is pretty well-known. Henry Rollins did a good job with Get In the Van and releasing Planet Joe by Joe Cole. The former is Rollins’ account of much of what occurred during his tenure with the band. The later is a tour journal from the last tour written by the ultimate roadie. And there have been a few essential interviews and book chapters on the group. But nothing defining on the band. Spray-Paint The Walls is a first attempt at tackling this band.

However I wish I had done some research before buying this product. I’m not saying that I was dissatisfied with Spray-Paint The Walls as a story. It’s fairly well written and pretty thorough and covers a part of the Black Flag story that I’ve wanted to read more about, IE the first four years. The interviews with Keith Morris and Ron Reyes are essential reading, parts of the story that are rarely heard. It was a total pleasure to find out more about the earliest, most formidable years with the band.

There are some major problems with this book. Those problems would be the fact that Greg Ginn, Henry Rollins and Bill Stevenson were not interviewed for this book. Now, I don’t blame Stevie Chick for this at all. All three of those guys have pretty much said that the story of Flag is in the past and thus closed. None of those guys are talking about the history of the band. Nothing Chick could do about that, but the source material used barely scratches the surface and in the case of Rollins and Ginn are pretty well read and well-known. Chick uses a great deal of reference from  Get In the Van to add Rollins perspective.  More often than not these passages feel forced and is better used for historical points rather than interjection. And Greg Ginn basically comes off looking like an asshole, which I am sure he is in a way, but the man isn’t given an opportunity to defend himself. Further, Dez Caden and Raymond Pettitbon are also absent and only scant effort is made to include them. For me and many others, Pettitbon, whether he likes it or not, is essential to the Black Flag experience.

Further depth and analysis into later Black Flag releases are also pretty sparse. Chick does a phenomenal job with the Flag up to the Damaged LP, but after that, details about and even mention of later albums falls off. Granted, it seems most of the albums after this were recorded during marathon sessions, but jesus they are so awesome. Chick has the vocabulary to cover this material, but it feels, like many, that after Chuck Dukowski exited the band, so did interest. Of course, in my opinion, the best music today influenced by Black Flag is born from the later period, rather than people coping from the early stuff.

All in all though, I was sad when the book ended. It didn’t have everything I was looking for, but it does a really strong job of capturing the early history of punk through the eyes of one of its quintessential bands. It also tells some of the story that hasn’t been totally there. Mike Watt and Kira Rossler both contributed interviews to the story that are invaluable. If punk rock history is important to you, and it should very well be or you wouldn’t be reading this nonsense now, then it might behoove you to pick this sucker up and turn the pages while the chaos of Black Flag rages around your head.

On Riot Grrrl Books and White Male Privalege and Getting Older And Not Going to Punk Shows

Girls to the Front:The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution
Sarah Marcus
Harper Perennial

I’m a little fucked up at the moment. My anxiety has kicked itself into high gear tonight for some reason. There was this show in Columbia Heights tonight featuring Canada’s Burning Love who I really like and DC’s awesome and underrated and probably dead Deathrats. It’s probably Deathrats last show. I really should go since I am leaving Washington DC soon. People I want to see are gonna be there and it would be cool to see their faces one last time, enjoy some punk rock and try to relax. But seriously, just thinking about driving my car into yet another DC neighborhood that I don’t live and have no vested interest in on any kind of immediate level that are filled with people that have less privilege then I do just makes my heart race.

Originally this was not gonna get reviewed until I finished reading this book about Black Flag. I wanted to compare and contrast them, but this suddenly feels very urgent. As it’s been pretty well documented, I am a 33-year-old white, male from the suburbs of Washington DC in Northern Virginia. I went to a pretty great high school, got a college degree, worked a straight job for a decade and at one point owned my own home. I worked for a lot of this, but by no means did I struggle (at least not in the sense that the cards were stacked against me. One day, I will write my missive about the psychic destruction that a 9-6 office job induces on a soul, but that is for a later day, but still worth mentioning) to get to any of the standard, middle class milestones I managed to achieve. I think I may have successfully dropped out of these things now, the future will tell. However, punk rock leaves me in this very complex place. I am tired of my privilege continually contributing to the displacement of ownership of people who actually occupy the communities that punk rock exists in.

In the 18 or so years or so I’ve been going to shows that are off the beaten path, a great deal of them are held in spaces that are part of communities the organizers are not actually vested in. There are a lot of basement shows in houses filled with 20 something white kids that are surrounded by non-white people. These white kids often come from similar backgrounds as myself (not exclusively and it would be idiotic of you or me to assume that) but their race, and when it’s a bunch of white boys especially, provides them with certain allowances in society that their neighbors don’t often have. There are also a lot of spaces in these neighborhoods that are re-appropriated without exploring the traditional avenues. Now, I am not against the concept of squating or utilizing collective resources to create space out of abandon, neglected or forgotten buildings. I think it’s one of the beautiful things that punk rock ideas have. But in fact Sarah Marcus does a really great job of exploring just these facts with early nineties DC collective The Bee Hive.

For those not in the know, the Bee Hive was a dilapidated house on U Street in Washington DC that was “collectively” run by a bunch of idealistic punk kids. What these “radicals” probably failed to see is how their presence would ultimately effect that neighborhood. U Street in the 90’s was plagued with crime and drugs and basically forgotten by Bureaucratic Washington. But droves of white kids going to punk shows changed that. Now U street is mostly condos for the resurgence of white people who are now taking over DC. Marcus retells tails of this DC collective in her book. Her main point was to explore issues of race within the Riot Grrrl movement, but she easily shines a light on the bigger problem of race and punk rock. White kids entering into neighborhoods and fucking it up for the people who live there. Often they rarely actually integrate or attempt to be a part of the community. They just set up shop, implore upon each other with radical ideology, and watch as the neighborhood out affords even them.

Punk rock is idealistic, but it’s not realistic. It remains a white boys club of hedonistic, musical violence. It’s never really been about creating space, it’s always been about taking space. Any exploration into The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Black Flag or any of those mother bands is ripe with rhetoric about pissed off kids taking space. And while this is a grand and romantic gesture, the fact is this always comes at the expense of someone else. Usually non-whites and women. This book review has barely hinted upon the actual arguments  (which is good, and really you should read it) but this is kind of what got me thinking and spun me into a sea of anxious bullshit. Riot Grrrl wasn’t perfect by any means and Marcus does a really great job of talking about the pros and cons of Riot Grrrl and she does it with a good deal of objectivity. It does seem now, in hind sight, a group of white women trying to take space without realizing what privileged they  did have, often at the expense of non-white women. By no means do I think the women involved in Riot Grrrl were oversimplifying matters or ignoring race and class. But when the violence is daily and real and profound against you just for your gender, just getting over the psychic death is a struggle. It’s hard to occupy every aspect of every person when self-preservation is key to survival.

The Riot Grrrl movement taught me a lot as a young man growing up. I still have a lot to work on. I attempt to be cognizant when I fuck up and behave poorly. Sometimes people are cool enough to point it out, sometimes very harshly and without forgiveness. I have learned to accept that because often we think it is a woman’s role to point out to shit head men when they are being assholes. But it’s clearly not. I still very much love and believe in punk rock. It’s imperfections far outweighs it’s glory, even after 33 years (yes I believe I was born in the same year as punk, eat shit) there is still a lot of learning and changing to do. I will never stop believing in punk rock or everything I have learned. But tonight, I just can’t be that adult, white male in a community where I am a stranger. I can’t occupy physical space when I do not have anything invested in its actual growth. I can’t occupy that physical space when there are kids that live in that neighborhood who need that space to exist in and to express themselves. The suburbs make me crazy and are choking my soul as I sit here. But tonight, this is where I need to be.