I love books about punk rock. It doesn’t matter to me that the vast majority of them are one sided, half memories. It still feels good to read about something you love. I also love Canadian punk. It’s what I grew up on in the backwoods of the Great Canadian Hinterland. Those two points made, I should love this book by Warren Kinsella. Kinsella was the bassist and vocalist of one of Canada’s earliest punk bands, Calgary’s Hot Nasties. Seeing as he went on from his punk roots to become one of Canada’s most regarded political analysts, I figured that his tome on why punk is still viable should be an interesting read.
It kept me interested all right, but in an increasingly angry way. The book is basically Kinsella’s interviews with various people throughout the punk rock community with his opinions sprinkled in-between. At the beginning, it’s quite humorous as he retells his tale of trying to get an interview with John Lydon to no avail. He takes a piss on Lydon and it’s funny because everyone knows that Mr. Rotten is a renowned asshole. It looked like the book was going to be entertaining, but then the errors start to appear. One or two would be all right. It’s easy enough to bungle up some information (I know I’m guilty of it from time to time), but as the errors started piling up, I found myself wondering if any fact checking was done at all. Here are a few that I feel I should clear up.
1. He slags The Clash for selling their songs to commercials and claims that the only band that truly stuck to the DIY ethic was The Buzzcocks. I guess he never saw the 1999 Toyota SUV commercial featuring “What Do I Get?”
2. Agnostic Front was not at the forefront of the straight edge movement.
3. The Queers are most definitely NOT a “homocore” band.
Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system (well, there were a lot more mistakes, but I digress) I can talk about the other things that bothered me. In reading the interviews, I got the feeling that Kinsella was pandering to the subjects that he liked and blasting those he doesn’t.
In particular, his treatment of Subhumans’ bassist Gerry “Useless” Hannah is mind-boggling. Admittedly, Hannah did go to jail for terrorist activities in the early ‘80s and everyone has a right to their opinion on it, but Kinsella almost seems to have something personal with Hannah by painting him as an evil, unrepentant ex-con who is scheming to undermine society the first chance he gets. In the book, Hannah is literally equated with Neo-Nazi George Burdi. In the end, however, Kinsella comes off looking bitter because a.) Hannah demanded more money at a Subhumans’ show that Kinsella put on in 1980 and b.) Kinsella couldn’t get an interview for his book. In fact, all of the book’s “current” information on Hannah seems to be culled from the liner notes of a Subhumans’ retrospective that came out a decade ago!
On the flipside of that is his treatment of Bad Brains. The band was instrumental in the creation of North American hardcore and deserves credit and reverence for it, but Kinsella neglected to mention Bad Brains’ trip to Texas and feud with MDC, Dicks, and Big Boys. It seems particularly strange after an earlier segment, in which Kinsella championed punk’s acceptance of homosexuals and defies the hard-hitting stance he takes with subjects he doesn’t like.
It’s obvious that this book has struck a chord with me. I suppose it succeeded on that level. It’s just not the emotion I was supposed to get from it. I literally had to put it down out of frustration at times. The base idea of the book is a good one. I just think that the author needed to spend less time quoting Pennywise songs (in their entirety) and more time working on a more level-handed and fact-checked book. –Ty Stranglehold (Random House Canada)