Rest Is Propaganda, The: By Steve Ignorant (with Steve Pottinger), 300 pgs. By Kevin Dunn

Jul 21, 2011

This is Steve Ignorant’s autobiography; his attempt to add his voice to those writing the history of Crass. Here are the basic elements of his story: Stephen Williams was born in 1957 to a broken, working class home. He was mostly raised by his grandparents, hated the oppression of school, and drifted more-or-less aimlessly until he saw The Clash play live in 1976. After that, he decided he wanted to be the singer of a punk band. He changed his name to Steve Ignorant, enlisted the help of drummer Penny Rimbaud and a few other liked-minded people, and called themselves Crass. The band rigorously stuck to their anarchist ideology, DIY ethos, and personal principles. In so doing, they virtually invented the template for anarcho-punk and gained a worldwide following, but also created an oppressively stifling situation that was unsustainable for members of the band. After Crass collapsed under its own weight, Steve was left rudderless, questioning who he was and what he wanted from life. He briefly joined Conflict, another anarcho-punk band, albeit a less ideologically rigorous one, as well as Schwartzeneggar. Neither band was as successful as Crass, but Ignorant eventually came to peace with always living under the enormous shadow of Crass, and all the baggage—good and bad—that came with that legacy.

There is a really good chance you knew all of that already. If you didn’t and are wondering what all the fuss is about Crass, this book isn’t going to help you much. Steve Ignorant divides up his autobiography into three sections (Before Crass, During Crass, and After Crass) and, quite tellingly, the Crass section is by far the skimpiest. This is definitely not a history of Crass. For that, go check out George Berger’s excellent and exhaustive The Story of Crass. Ignorant skims across the Crass years with lightning speed, rarely pausing long enough to discuss any of the details, let only the characters, drama, or issues that characterized the band’s history. If you are looking for Ignorant to dish the gossip or stab his bandmates in the back, you will be sorely disappointed. He seems to assume that his readers are already well-versed in all the sordid details of the Crass mythology, so he sticks to sharing his own impressions of the bigger forces at work, and one comes to understand how crushingly difficult it was for Ignorant to reside in the world of Crass that he helped create.

The autobiography was composed by Ignorant sitting down and telling his life story in bits and pieces to Steve Pottinger, who transcribed and edited Ignorant’s reminiscences. That fragmented structure of delivering what are basically a collection of anecdotes is carried over directly into the book. Each chapter is usually five to six pages long. They revolve around specific issues (e.g., School, Sex, Fans, Violence) or events (e.g., Sixth Form, Dial House, Iceland). The effect of this approach is not unlike having each chapter function as a delicious snack (a chocolate chip cookie or, if you’re a Brit, a Hit biscuit). You can consume one or two anytime you want and be pleasantly satisfied. Hell, you can even eat the whole pack and really enjoy it. But in the end, it just isn’t filling, nor is it equivalent to a healthy meal. And that is true of this book as well. It is an absolutely enjoyable read, but ultimately unsatisfying. I wanted to know more about the specific details alluded to in Ignorant’s life (and many that were just completely ignored). I wanted the characters to be more fully formed. Dear reader, forget about gaining any insights about the other members of Crass. They are never on the page long enough to get anything but the most cursory treatment.

So, if you’re looking for depth or heft, this just isn’t it. But to be fair, The Rest Is Propaganda doesn’t pretend to be anything more than what it is: a collection of Ignorant’s anecdotes. And, ultimately, that is what makes this book so engaging. Because, if truth be told, Steve Ignorant comes across as one of the most honest, self-reflective, and unpretentious blokes in punk. For that reason, The Rest Is Propaganda is far more enjoyable than Penny Rimbaud’s Shibboleth (and, unfortunately, the comparisons are inevitable so why not face them head on). Sure, Rimbaud’s autobiography has more substance, but Rimbaud (bless him) often comes across as a pretentious prat. Ignorant (bless him) clearly isn’t as deep a thinker as Rimbaud, but is probably far more self-critical.

In the end, the The Rest Is Propaganda comes across as a collection of stories that Steve Ignorant could be telling in the corner of the bar/pub. Sure, the stories leave much to be desired, but the story-teller comes across as extremely likeable, while also deeply flawed and, to his further credit, highly self-critical. Damn, if I don’t want to buy the next several rounds and keep him talking. –Southern,