Going Underground: American Punk 1979-1989 By George Hurchalla, 416 pgs.
Despite the glut of punk history books in recent years, still precious few attempt an overview of the “hardcore” years referenced in the book’s title. The best known, Steven Blush’s American Hardcore, is a highly flawed and wildly inflammatory cesspool of factual inaccuracies, lurid sniping, backbiting, and axe-grinding posturing as “documenting” one of the most important subcultures of twentieth century music history. Though covering the same ground, Hurchalla’s tome is easily superior on a number of levels, not the least that he not only understands the subculture of which he was a part, but he makes a concerted effort to explain it—its motivations, codes of conduct, strengths, weaknesses, and very raison d’etre.
Rather than focusing solely on the country’s larger, and more famous regions, Hurchalla weaves his tale of the American hardcore scene’s patchwork of sub-scenes almost like a tourist’s guide, adroitly focusing each chapter on a given city, state, or region of the country, its musicians of note, and how they fit into the larger picture. He culls the bulk of his tale from both contemporary interviews and the assorted fanzines long before the worldwide web became the all-encompassing resource/boondoggle it is now. Respectful of his subject matter, Hurchalla is also not afraid to address the scene’s shortcomings—the sexism, racism, and other –isms it still struggles with. He also addresses its cliquishness and often narrow-mindedness, the violence and mayhem that both charged and plagued its formative years. On the flip, he also celebrates the things that continue to make it an inspirational, crucial outlet for so many generations of pissed-off kids of all classes and ethnicities.
In this third edition, Hurchalla tightens up the time period and trims his personal recollections while expanding his scope to include input from women and punks of color. The result is a more focused and fluid narrative that provides a more holistic view of a very diverse subculture. It remains the go-to tome and an essential read for punks and historians alike. –Jimmy Alvarado (PM Press, PO Box 23912, Oakland, CA 94623)