Story of Crass, The: By George Berger, 303 pgs.

Aug 13, 2009

I’ve always been a late bloomer, or, at least, that’s what I’ve always considered myself to be. I was with my first girl when I was eighteen, I picked up my first instrument (the drums) at twenty-two, and, worst of all, I didn’t discover the Crass until I was twenty-six.

When I first heard them, the music hit me like a freight train. They sounded so abrasive, so political, and so in-your-face, that, still do this day, I can feel my heart beating faster when I put them on my MP3 player. Their music was the perfect manifestation of the restless side of me, which, as of late, had been showing itself more frequently. When I play Crass, I feel like someone out there understands, and I make it my duty now to consume as much of their output as possible. So, there was no question that, once I heard there was a new biography released in the U.K., I was going to pay the extra money required to have a copy sent to me from overseas. I was trying to learn more about the band, and, luckily, The Story of Crass, did just that.

Like every good biography, this book has the precursor, genesis, highlights, demise, and aftermath of the subject, and Berger does this to a very satisfying degree; putting Crass not only in the historical context in which they existed, but by fitting the band’s own accounts into that setting. Topics discussed include the band’s anarchist beliefs, the significance of visual art, the punk scene, Small Wonder Records, and why they chose not to play outside of the U.K. Throughout, almost every member of Crass gives their thoughts on the band, its life, Dial House (the open house—almost commune—the band lived in), and the justification for some of their actions. Stories of the band abound. Often, these are hilarious (like wearing all black so that laundry day would be easier, and tricking Loving magazine into including a flexi for “Our Wedding” in one of their issues, and getting away with it!), and sometimes, they are tragic (like the band’s frustration with the Falkland Wars in the ‘80s). All the while, the book is peppered with segments from drummer Penny Rimbaud’s “The Last of The Hippies” (an essay on the life and death of Wally Hope, a somewhat debatable figure in the life of Crass) and Shibboleth (Rimbaud’s autobiography). But that aside, what struck me most about Story of Crass, are the oddball things the reader learns about the band.

The first thing I learned from this book is that no one refers to the band as The Crass, it’s simply Crass. The second thing is that Crass were a political machine. Every move and every step in this band’s life was a calculated decision on the band’s part, and surprisingly, the band had a very good sense of humor about it. But, ironically, Crass eventually became an oppressive entity to the people who were in it. The individual members were sacrificing who they were for the good of the band. This was especially the case with vocalist Steve Ignorant who was often bored talking about politics with kids after the show, wanted to sleep with groupies, and wanted to go out to the bar and a have a couple of drinks too many sometimes, but couldn’t just because he was in Crass and doing so would put the band in a compromising position.

Towards the end of the band’s life, they started running out of steam, and often members wanted to leave, but couldn’t (again, for the good of the band). All it took was for one of them to finally get the nerve to quit, and the chain reaction started; everyone else did as well. Not only that, but tragically (or comically, as I see it) the band discovered that, hadn’t it been for Crass, they probably wouldn’t hang out together in the first place.

All in all, The Story of Crass tells a rich and satisfying account, and highlights the more essential, and sometimes comical, aspects of the band’s life. But, more importantly, it grounds and gives humanity to a band that has often been classified as an efficient, but relentless political machine. –Ollie Mikse (Omnibus Press, 14/15 Berners Street, London, W1T 3LJ, England)

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