Do you really want to sit there and read eighty some odd essays about “How I got into punk rock?” Well, if you are like me, then the answer is a straight and simple no. This is unfortunate because even with my humble East Coast knowledge, I know that 924 Gilman St. is an important club, no matter what subcategory you like to label yourself. Whether you view it as a shithole home for elitist ideals or the voice of change, that a drunk and jaded scene badly needed, it’s still a landmark. A DIY club that tried to cut out all the bullshit that plagued (and unfortunately still does plague) the punk scene.
The idea of compiling a whole book of essays on a club sounds a lot better than the reality. It’s really not the compiler’s fault, either; I’m positive Brian Edge went into this with the best intentions. The book really would have been more interesting if the essays were more varied. Most of them follow the same basic format of “I was in (high school/college)… I discovered punk (insert date)… I started (working at/going to) Gilman… I left because (insert reason).” This leads to the reading of the same stories from every generation of kids that worked there over the years. After awhile, I had to skip essays because after skimming it I realized I was rereading almost the exact same thing that was said in the previous one.
There weren’t even that many references to the bands that have played there. If more of the people at least talked about their favorite show, it would have been better. I don’t care about who helped mop the place up or took out the trash. It’s great that they get the mention they deserve, but I want to hear about the Reagan Youth show on 8/22/87 or any of the other shows that were teasingly listed at the end of the book. Give me interesting band and show stories! Show me pictures! I wasn’t there! I was like five years old and living in a shitty NJ suburb! Tell me why I suck for missing this stuff! I understand that the point was to hear about the club from the people who worked it and made it what it is, but you can’t cut out all the juicy bits.
There are a few notable essays outside of the ones from key players like Brian Edge and Tim Yohannon, though. Some people included artwork along with their essays, others had photos of the graffiti, and others just trashed the place for the ideals it held and still holds today. It gave you more of an idea of the personality of the place and reminds you of what sets it apart from everywhere else in the world. And Gilman St. is another world—the first DIY club run by the scene that supports it.
The book acts almost like a road map for starting a DIY club of your own. It has all the legal documents they prepared, how they kept cops from harassing them, etc. Some of the meeting notes are even in there. In many ways it’s inspirational. This is the best service the book does. It opens your eyes to how hard it is to keep a place like this going and shows what can be accomplished. I also get the feeling that a lot of people that have worked in this place never got much respect from the patrons there. So in that regard, this book will probably drum up some well-deserved respect for them.
In this aspect, the book isn’t a failure. It’s just boring. The lack of interesting stories about the bands that played there, the scene celebrities that have gone there, or any of that stuff is refreshing, but at the same time dull. Maybe that was also the point. Read a book about CBGBs and you’ll read about the Talking Heads and Blondie. Read a book about Gilman St. and you’ll read about taking out the trash. –Christopher Larsen (Maximum Rock’n’roll, PO Box 460760, SF, CA 94146)