Featured Book Reviews from Razorcake Issue 95: Manor Threat, Snakepit Comics 2013-2015, Bored Out, Indestructible: Growing Up Queer, Cuban, and Punk in Miami, and My Damage
Manor Threat: Snakepit Comics 2013-2015
By Ben Snakepit, 285 pgs.
It saddens me to say that Ben Snakepit’s loyal canine companion, Peeber, has passed away. It is however a small consolation that his wonderful dog (and friend) is so vividly documented in his daily diary comics. In the introduction of this latest collection, he writes, “I spent two decades partying, traveling, shitting my pants and passing out in a ditch.” That life is behind him but he hasn’t suddenly transformed into an uptight, humorless black hole.
Instead of drunken shenanigans, Snakepit grapples with buying a house in the suburbs of Texas, a new job, Karen and his struggle to get pregnant, and other adulthood dilemmas. His life may be more “adult” now, but it’s all nevertheless equally captivating and mundane; the daily comics are addictive because of these relatable predicaments. As I read, I fell into a holding pattern, anxiously awaiting his next revelation: it’s often something as small as pizza for dinner or wanting to know how the homebrew will taste.
He reveals so much of his personal life that bingeing his comics ultimately invites self-reflection: What have I been doing with my time? What would my life read like in comics? But even when Snakepit gets heavy, he is still the master of the human poop pile. And, for longtime readers, there’s a surprise ending to this excellent collection. –Sean Arenas (Microcosm, $14.95, microcosmpublishing.com)
By Ryan Leach, 155 pgs.
Razorcake writer Ryan Leach has compiled various interviews he’s done from 2005 to 2016 (some of them for this here publication) into a nice collection called Bored Out. Leach has some fairly specific tastes, primarily garage and punk, and these interviews focus on acts from the Memphis, L.A., New Zealand, and Austin scenes—all places where Leach has lived. There are a lot of interviews here, including Kid Congo Powers, Jeffrey Evans, Eric Friedl, Dave Alvin, and more. Some of their bands are pretty impressive: the Oblivians, the Urinals, Weirdos, Blasters, and Modern Lovers. In addition to these interviews, there are oral histories of Gun Club and the Klits.
Bored Out succeeds because Leach knows his shit. Reading the back and forth between him and the musicians, he always keeps up with them. His interviews are regular conversations between two people who love music and are on a trip down memory lane. Leach guides the musician with a look at the progression of their career. There’s no fanboy posturing or celebrity ass-kissing, just real conversations that engage and enlighten. I especially enjoyed the interviews with Eric Friedl of Goner Records and Larry Hardy of In The Red Records, as both helped me understand how these great labels emerged and how they’ve progressed through the years.
These interviews are a wonderful look at some more obscure bands. Even if you aren’t familiar with all these musicians, it’s safe to say that they’ve likely had a big impact on bands you know and love. If you’re into this scene, this is a good compendium to check out. –Kurt Morris (Spacecase, spacecaserecords.com)
Indestructible: Growing Up Queer, Cuban, and Punk in Miami
By Cristy C. Road, 96 pgs.
Of the three adjectives in the subtitle, I roughly fall in with one of them, but this short remembrance of Cristy Road’s formative adolescent years is still a relatable and enjoyable read due to the basic human drives explored by the book. This publication marks the third edition of Indestructible, originally published in 2004. Beginning with Cristy’s eleventh birthday, this collection of anecdotes and reflection goes through to the last years of her high school career. Cristy’s examination of her burgeoning sexuality in these years is especially intense. While I wouldn’t say my personal path is parallel in terms of the particulars, the feelings of frustration and confusion Cristy conveys in coming to a comfortable and frank place with her personal sexual identity succeeds. She makes her journey relatable in broad strokes to those of us who made it through high school while trying to negotiate our place in the world through punk lenses. An especially enjoyable bonus are the copious, dynamic, thick-lined illustrations included throughout the book, that while are distinctly identifiable as Cristy Road’s work, also have enough effortless cool to pass for lost chapters of Love & Rockets.
As different of an experience as Cristy had from my own growing up, this quote from near the book’s end cuts close to the heart of punk’s appeal across boundaries about as well as anything else I’ve ever read: “My subculture wasn’t out to prove compassion without limitations. My subculture was never perfect, but for me—it gave me that extra push.” –Adrian Salas (Microcosm, 2752 N. Williams Ave., Portland, OR, 97227, microcosmpublishing.com)
King of Skid Row, The: John Bacich and the Twilight Years of Old Minneapolis
By James Eli Shiffer, 179 pgs.
The Minneapolis band the Gateway District was named after the Minneapolis neighborhood that served as the city’s skid row from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. As a city, Minneapolis is fond of demolishing any evidence that its downtown was ever home to the less-than-respectable. I lived in Minneapolis for most of the ‘90s, but never came across the phrase “Gateway District” until I read about the band in this magazine.
Star-Tribune reporter James Eli Shiffer interviewed, for many hours, John Bacich, Gateway District entrepreneur. After trying to run a south-of-downtown restaurant in which, literally, every employee stole from him, and after trying and failing to make a killing in California real estate, he opened a bar, a liquor store, and a “cage hotel” in the Gateway District. (Perhaps Bacich’s spirits following his failures matched the spirit of the District, and that’s why he set up shop there, but Bacich never really explains the why.)
The reader learns about “cage hotels” and “gandy dancers” and the origin of the phrase “skid row.” The King of Skid Row, in its way, belongs on the shelf with such AK Press volumes as You Can’t Win and Sister of the Road, and features many interesting stories, but it is a reporter’s book published by a university press, and frequently cites the work of sociologists (one of whom goes balls-out to undergo the experience of being a District denizen who’s arrested by the police). You won’t be bored (unless you only enjoy first-person narratives), but this isn’t outlaw literature.
And those interested in Minneapolis history should particularly welcome the insights into municipal corruption and its confines, to which Bacich ultimately adjusted. –Jim Woster (University of Minnesota Press, upress.umn.edu)
By Keith Morris with Jim Ruland, 284 pgs.
There are some folks who keep rocking in their older age—who would bring it hard and intense—and I would find it ridiculous and almost embarrassing. But for Keith Morris, it seems entirely natural. (For the record, we’re not related.) Morris is a human sparkplug with lots of stories to share and the ability to talk a lot. Having seen video interviews, I’ve seen how Morris can ramble and go off on tangents. Thankfully that isn’t the case with My Damage. I have no doubt that seasoned writer (and Razorcake columnist) Jim Ruland helped a great deal with having My Damage read as well as it does.
Morris starts at the beginning—life in Southern California and his family. It all follows a pretty typical memoir path, but it’s the things not directly said that come out most fiercely. Morris’s relationship with his father (from trying to understand his dad’s rough lifestyle to working with him at his bait and tackle shop) are an undercurrent in the book. It’s clear he’s a key figure in making Morris who he is. Morris’s dad is the only family member who gets much page time in the book.
From the start, Morris admits that some of his details of occurrences are fuzzy, primarily because of the copious amount of drugs and booze (or “adult beverages” as he likes to call them) he put in his system. That doesn’t cause these stories to be any less interesting. It also explains why there are some large gaps between incidents. Or it could just be that those portions of his life weren’t as interesting to hear about.
That said, it was occasionally difficult to put an anecdote in time. How old was Morris when X or Y occurred? What year was it? That wasn’t always easy to determine. Another critique (albeit slight) is the excessive amount of names dropped throughout these pages. It was difficult to remember everyone, who was who, and how they related to one another. It doesn’t help that Morris often likes to throw in random facts about a friend’s sister who dated some drummer in an important band (or something like that). Then again, that’s Morris for you. I can’t imagine him being any other way.
These are minor quibbles and don’t detract from the overall strength of the book. Keith Morris is an important person in the history of L.A. punk rock and it’s good to have his side of things heard (such as issues in Black Flag and Circle Jerks). It also helped fill in the gaps as to what Morris was doing during the periods of time when his bands weren’t putting out albums. After going through addictions to drugs and adult beverages, and his struggles with diabetes, it’s encouraging to see someone survive and emerge with his latest project, OFF!. Keith’s a survivor and his story is engaging, entertaining, and ultimately uplifting. –Kurt Morris (Da Capo, 44 Farnsworth St, Third Floor, Boston, MA 02110)
Politics of Punk, The: Protest and Revolution from the Streets
By David A. Ensminger, 206 pgs.
The thought of punk-as-academic-subject makes many readers bristle. In his intro, author David Ensminger—who, in the interest of full disclosure, has contributed to Razorcake—notes that after years of being ignored, the deluge of books such as The Politics of Punk has grown, and quickly.
It’s not just the size of the pile that may cause pause. The phenomenon of punk being the subject of academic study is a fraught proposition. Reducing scenes and lifestyles down to academic discourse—often unforgiving and dense—carries with it a sense of detachment, a stiff arm away from the heart into a less hearty, more chilly place.
And academia is a privilege. Not everyone can afford schooling or the time to get acquainted with the kind of language used therein.
With all this in mind, Ensminger manages to effectively straddle the line between booster and researcher in The Politics of Punk by keeping fans of the genre as his primary audience. Too often academic texts about punk rock spend a surfeit of their time over-explaining what even casual fans would already know by heart. Rather than regurgitating the background of every one of the zillion bands and personalities he mentions as if readers are new to the genre, Ensminger assumes that his audience is comprised of in-the-know fans, and discusses examples from a wide swath of representations of politics and sexuality in punk. In removing all but the most crucial context of his arguments, he writes in scholarly prose, but is catering his argument to punks, whether or not they have academic discourse, thus empowering those who don’t approach what might otherwise be an intimidating text. The Politics of Punk pulls no punches, but never kowtows or talks down.
I do think that the strongest chapters here are the ones that examine their topics in the most depth. Chapters on D.C./San Francisco, M.D.C., and author Jennifer Blowdryer attack with a focus that is sometimes absent in the broader discussions of larger topics. Despite the aforementioned assumptions that readers will be familiar with the subject matter, the speed with which Ensminger introduces and concludes his subtopics sometimes left me groping for the main thread of the argument. Despite these scattershot instances, though, The Politics of Punk adds to the discussion, and knits together points I hadn’t previously considered. –Michael T. Fournier (Rowman and Littlefield, 4501 Forbes Blvd. Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706)
To Make Matters Worse
By Danny Marianino, Audio Book, 2 x CD
I hate, hate, hate this. With every fiber of my being. This double CD sat at the bottom of my review pile for the longest time. Partially because the other things I was reviewing were known gems, partially because I didn’t know a thing about it till I opened it. Danny Marianino is known for being the guy who laid out Danzig on video. He was the singer for a band called North Side Kings and they had some beef with Glen about set times in 2004. This video hit the internet in that sweet spot where things were just starting to go viral. The zeitgeist of the time created a perfect storm for this man’s fifteen minutes of fame. Marianino has been milking this cow years after it dried up.
To be honest, this isn’t even worth writing out a review for. It’s certainly not worth finishing. After the author, who is also the narrator, burst into laughter after recounting a story where he sprayed diarrhea on the bathroom walls to the point where someone vomited when they went in after him, I turned this pile of shit off.
Before that though, I got to hear about this poor man’s internal dilemma on whether to start an orgy with fat chicks while eating ribs, as well as when he was in Amsterdam and some guy put Marianino’s beer bottle up a woman’s ass while he was fucking her (his words, not mine).
It’s in this strange, no man’s land of offensive content where it’s meant to get under the skin of the audience by being crude, as well as appealing to knuckle-dragging punk bros who still laugh at fecal matter and break all the rules. Here’s an excerpt from this garbage heap: “Usually pretty girls travel in packs so I figured it was a pretty good chance I was gonna meet a sweet babe that night. Boy, was I in for a surprise. I was about to enter a plus size women’s pool party. I don’t know if that’s an official thing, but at Brooklyn Boobs’ house that fateful day, a plus size women’s pool party was happening, and we were there to witness all the debauchery the girls could deliver. We were greeted by a girl that had a bathing suit on that was so large, you couldn’t actually see that she was wearing bottoms.”
If GG Allin were an audio book, this would be it. Stay the hell away from this. It’s written by a goblin of a man. The only redeeming value I could find in it was the format. At least I could be doing something productive while I listened to this gritty lo-fi amateur recording of a worthless book. I might actually set it on fire before I throw it in the dumpster. Now I feel like I got sucker punched by Marianino, too. –Kayla Greet (Total Gavone Publishing)
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