When the Drumming Stops: By Steven Wishnia, 223 pgs. By Kurt

Jan 21, 2013

One of the things I like about writing book reviews for Razorcake is that even when the books are bad, there is still something to say about them. And much more often than the music I get to review, the books are often pleasant surprises—things I would never have picked up on my own, but that I am happy to read and review. When the Drumming Stops is a novel and a good example of such a pleasant surprise. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it was enjoyable and something I was interested in coming back to every time I had the chance. The primary reason this book appealed to me is that it deals with a few topics that I am interested in: New York City, New York City punk, and what happens to punk rockers as they get older.

The book looks at the aging punk rocker, Underend Vicodini (yeah, I think it’s a stupid name, too, even for a punk rocker), and chapters alternate between his life in the 2000s and the 1980s. The ‘00s is his current life and during the ‘80s his band, The Gutter Astronomers, was touring with a somewhat sizeable fan base. Although the band was never huge, they were able to cobble together a living in the ‘80s in New York. The early material explains how the band formed, the style of the music, their experiences playing shows, and living in New York. The chapters set in the ‘00s look at how the band members (and primarily Vicodini) struggle in their forties (or are they in their fifties?) as aging punks trying to make something of their lives. Members have labored with drug addiction, raising kids, struggling to find jobs and cheap rent, and just generally trying to understand how a city they loved so dearly could have changed so much. The band members with children constantly feel as though they have no time to do anything. The ones without family seem to have all the time in the world to contemplate how much they miss playing music and what to do with the time they have left in the world.

The band decides to reform in the ‘00s and see what they can make of themselves in this new age of internet promotion and commercial punk rock. It’s not hard to see that the disillusionment they face at the changing landscape is likely a reflection of author Wishnia’s feelings, as he was formerly a member of the ‘80s punk band, the False Prophets. This isn’t a book about embitterment or jealousy, however. Rather, it’s a book about a great city, people who love music, and their interconnected lives.

Thankfully, Wishnia has a master’s degree in journalism and knows how to write. That’s not to say this is told in a journalistic fashion, rather Wishnia has the mechanics down: he can structure a fine sentence, understands how to engage his reader, and gets them to follow along. The story doesn’t drag and reads well.

So, what happens to members of ‘80s punk bands when they grow older? It appears that, in the case of some, they spend time reflecting on what was, what could have been, and what is. And then they write books about it and ask us to think about the same things. There are no easy answers and things don’t always work out the way we’d like them to, but it’s good to know that there are others out there who are sharing our experiences. Kurt Morris (Manic D Press, PO Box 410804, SF, CA94141)

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