All I Ever Wanted By Kathy Valentine, 273 pgs.

Throughout All I Ever Wanted, Kathy Valentine is running. She’s raised by a single teenage mom without a strong sense of boundaries, drinks and smokes, gets messed up with much older men, and falls in love with playing guitar. She starts The Violators—among Austin’s first punk bands—and moves to Los Angeles to make it big. She finds fate in the bathroom of the Whisky A Go Go on Christmas night 1980: Charlotte Caffey from the Go-Go’s comes out of a stall and tells Kathy that the band needs a fill-in bass player for a string of shows. Does she want to audition?

The answer, of course, is yes. And the running continues: The Go-Go’s sign to indie label IRS, tour their debut album Beauty and the Beat, and become the first all-woman band to chart a number one album. The ride is great for Kathy, at least initially. She tours the world, plays shows to adoring fans, and gets massively fucked up on a regular basis. The latter is source of tension throughout All I Ever Wanted: Valentine spares no detail in discussing her upbringing, writing in graphic and heartbreaking fashion about her mom flying her to California for an abortion at age twelve, about the non-relationship with her dad. Despite all the success she has in the band, Valentine is in obvious pain and denial because of her past and bad habits. After the band’s initial success, the inevitable decline comes, with clashes of egos and lack of sales, leaving Valentine to try, unsuccessfully, to duplicate her past successes on her own.

The narrative arc for rock bios tends to follow one of a few trajectories. Dedicated fans of the genre won’t notice much deviance from the norm in this way. What they will notice is the artful way in which Valentine flips the script: she’s running. But it turns out that she’s not running from something, but towards something. Specifically, towards recovery. The honesty and bravery that permeate All I Ever Wanted transcend genre conventions of normal rock bios. It’s a hell of a debut, and a harbinger of greatness to come. –Michael T. Fournier (University of Texas Press, utexaspress.com)

Cacophony By Josh Medsker, 116 pgs.

Josh Medsker has put together a collection of poems inspired by the writing of both HP Lovecraft and Nick Blinko of Rudmentary Peni. Grotesque artwork accompanies each poem—tons of skulls, souls flying from bodies ,and the like. If this stuff is in your wheelhouse, you could do way worse. –Michael T. Fournier (Alien Buddha Press, jsohmedsker.com)

Fairy Tale Remnants By Nathalie Tierce, 37 pgs.

All the illustrations in this book were once on a canvas. They’ve been reproduced into this little glossy book in full color and it’s a pleasure to look at. Well, it’s a pleasure if you’re a bit twisted, anyway, because these pictures are dark and surreal. Each figure, be it a human or animal or combination of the two, is contorted, out of sync, and grotesque—whether it be the baby throwing down with the snake, a boxer getting destroyed by his opponent, or the stripper and her dead-eyed, shark-faced customers, or Adam and Eve enjoying their exile from Eden cavorting naked near a pile of skulls.

Tierce, in the introduction, talks about the monsters she would see in the darkness as a kid, “waiting to jump out and grab her.” Now she attempts to recreate this feeling by starting with a black canvas and then turning the shapes she sees into the lost and damned creatures in this book. –Craven Rock (Indigo Raven Publishing, 1413 ½ W. Kenneth Rd., Glendale, CA 91201)

Juggalo Country By Craven Rock, 223 pgs.

I have made my share of jokes about Juggalos, the fans of the rap duo, Insane Clown Posse, and their associated horrorcore rap acts. I don’t understand why so much of Juggalo style seems trapped in the ’90s and their devotion to such a mediocre talented crew seems to border on cult-like. That said, I can’t help but see similarities between their subculture and that of punk.

So does our very own Razorcake contributor Craven Rock. His deep dive into the Juggalo community was first published in 2013; this is the second edition. Craven has a fascination with the Juggalos to the point where he went to their annual festival, the Gathering of the Juggalos, in 2010. That year the fest was held in rural Southern Illinois, with 20,000 attendees. (He attended the fest with his friend, Damon Thompson, whose illustrations fill the book.) It’s somewhat akin to a county fair, with food vendors and rides, but it is primarily attended because of the many acts performing, almost exclusively comprised of those on Psychopathic Records, the label that ICP runs. Oh, and Ron Jeremy, the porn actor, was there, too, as was right-wing Playboy model, Tila Tequila.

Once there, the two of them observe and indulge in the community. They spend a lot of their time at the drug bridge, which is what it sounds like: a bridge where one can buy all kinds of drugs. Alternately, you can also exchange other goods or services for them, too. Much time is spent at Hepatitis Lake, a small, artificially-made body of water that helps to cool off attendees. This is especially key as the week the Gathering was held, the heat index was well over a hundred degrees.

Craven’s book does a good job of giving the uninitiated an understanding of the background of ICP and the Juggalo community. Interspersed with stories of his experiences at the Gathering are explanations of Juggalos’ dress, why they act like they do, some of their terminology, and their spiritual beliefs. Although some of it can be stilted at times, none of it is written in as dry of a manner as I make it sound.

While I appreciate Craven’s first-hand, deep dive, I felt there were some additional steps he could’ve taken to add more to the book. Primarily, I would’ve liked to see him get more interactions with attendees as well as some of the performers. It seems as though it might’ve been possible had it not been so hot and had Craven not been so drunk or high for all the fest. That’s the hazards of the job, I guess. Still, for what it’s worth, I sat down to read this one night thinking I would read a few pages and go to bed early, but instead stayed up past my bedtime and read the whole thing. A fascinating, intriguing read. –Kurt Morris (Microcosm, 2752 N. Williams Ave., Portland, OR 97227)

Mutations By Sam McPheeters, 265 pgs.

Sam McPheeters, of course, was the singer of Born Against, Men’s Recovery Project, and Wrangler Brutes. He’s also a hell of a writer: his columns graced the pages of the dearly departed Punk Planet for years; I dug his two novels The Loom of Ruin and Exploded View. In Mutations, Sam is back with a collection of essays on all things punk rock: his seminal expository piece on the artist formerly known as Doc Corbin Dart of the Crucifucks; pieces on the death of a record pressing plant, being an extra in a video shot at The Smell, and, of course, bands: Die Kreuzen, Casual Dots, and No Trend grace the pages of Mutations. So does the single best essay on SSD I’ve ever read. (Granted, that particular pool isn’t very deep, but still.)

Sam is a talented writer and takes these essays into unexpected, often hilarious places, making this one a joy to read. But there’s more to Mutations than straight music writing. It’s a reckoning. As the frontman of an admittedly opinionated series of bands, McPheeters made brash, often misguided stands, both live and in print. As he ruminates on the many tendrils of the punk scene, Sam works through all the stands he took, explaining as best he could how and why he came to the tentative conclusions he did. The unexpected rumination adds another layer to Mutations, pushing it from good to great. Highly entertaining and viciously intelligent throughout. –Michael T. Fournier (Rare Bird, rarebirdbooks.com)

My War By Kurt Morris, 130 pgs.

Mental illness bears a crushing social stigma in our society, even within the supposedly open-minded underground/punk scene. In contrast, Black Flag’s My War album brandishes the ugliness and desperation of mental illness like a knife in the listeners face, leaving no option for escape. With the same brutal honesty, author Kurt Morris (any relation to Keith?) dissects the dark and deranged lyrics (and music) of the Black Flag album and uses them to mirror his own struggles with mental illness, helping to derail the commonly associated taboos.

While lauding the fearless sincerity of the lyrics on Black Flag’s album, Morris uses the same tell-all policy to share his stories of mental health emergencies, some of which could be considered candid. The author’s story of an emotional breakdown following a failed attempt at communicating his feelings to his friends by playing them a song by “emo-hardcore” band Boy Sets Fire is shared with the same gravity as the story ending with blood-soaked floors. Morris’s tales toggle between serious mental illness and what might seem like standard teenage depression (that’s mid-thirties depression in “punk time”), making them easily relatable.

The nine chapters of Morris’s book correspond in sequence to the songs on the album. Lyrics and analysis of each song, including some quotes from the band members, are followed by a story from Morris’s life that he ties in with the lyrics. Yes, I was expecting more of a direct link between the album content and mental illness, but the author does a fantastic job of capturing the same emotional turmoil without making the reader feel like they’ve been pinned in a corner by a totally insane muscleman bearing more than a passing resemblance to a buff Charles Manson on a violent LSD freak-out. Additionally, this is the second book I’ve reviewed in the last year in which the author mentions unlimited breadsticks at Olive Garden.

In the pilot episode of The Sopranos, the protagonist/anti-hero, Tony Soprano, tries to convince his new psychiatrist that he doesn’t need help: “Could I be happier? Yeah. Yeah. Who couldn’t?” This kind of dismissal of mental health issues (even within ourselves) is the prevalent attitude in our society and in our subculture. This is where Morris’s work in My War really stands out: by using the backdrop of the Black Flag album and by telling stories that are both familiar and relatable, Morris reminds us that mental illness is a problem faced by many of our friends, our loved ones, and ourselves.

The true beauty of some of the best rock’n’roll albums, albums like My War, is that they become our secret friends—friends that we can relate to on some level when we can’t talk to those around us about how we feel without fearing some level of shame or rejection. –Buddha (kurtmorris.net/mywar)

Screaming for Pleasure: How Horror Makes You Happy and Healthy By S.A. Bradley, 266 pgs.

A long time ago, I had the wild notion to do a zine about horror movies. I decided to do a lot of research rather than just jumping right in. So, I read a few film books and they just about killed me. They all had that maddeningly dry and stultifying grad school tone. That sort of ivory tower horseshit ruins both film and criticism. For a while it ruined me…for horror, anyway. If I’d read Screaming for Pleasure rather than titles like Tensions of the Eye: A Critical Analysis of Horror Filmography and The Landscape of Fear, maybe I would’ve finished that zine. S.A. Bradley’s bug-eyed and fanatical approach to horror was what I was looking for. Bradley writes with the fervor of a fan but is also erudite and compelling. He gets at the psychology of horror not by using the biggest words possible to describe how every camera angle is a phallus. Instead, he relates horror to his own life.

The first chapter deals with what he calls the “First Kiss,” the movie that “hooks” you into “a lifetime of getting scared.” For Bradley, it was 1973’s Don’t Look Now, a childhood experience he calls “scary, overwhelming, and thoroughly exhilarating.” Bradley was drawn to horror because he was raised in a fundamentalist Christian cult that left him with a predisposition for fear of god, demons, and hell. Horror was how he took agency of some of that fear. His deconstructions of horror film interweave these personal stories all the way up to when he’s in his early twenties, just out of the military and drifting from town to town, feeling aimless and disconnected from humanity, unsure of what he wanted to do. This brought him to a small town and a mom and pop video store run by true film fans. Striking up a conversation with the owners rekindled his passion for horror and, finally, led him to his current entrenchment in the horror community, his ultimate redemption. His enthusiasm never waned. He started going to horror cons and making friends, which made him start podcasting (Hellbent for Horror), and then he began writing this book. All this is not to say that Screaming is a thinly disguised memoir, it’s above all, a film theory book. It just has a very personal tone.

I love writing that’s full of zeal and joy at paying dues to whatever dorky thing gives your life meaning, the kind of writing where you don’t even have to be into what they’re writing about, you just dig the earnestness and dedication that comes off the page. Screaming is that kind read. –Craven Rock (Coal Cracker Press, PMB 800, Ste. A, 1250 Fairmont Dr., San Leandro, CA 94578)

Summer Mitch Started Selling His Prescription, The By Tyler Haag, 29 pgs.

Short collection of mostly short poems about the trials and tribulations of city life, being a guy who likes girls, and having feelings. These poems are written in that vogue all-lowercase all-affect barebones style that’s been popular for a minute now but rupi kaur really brought to the mainstream, but these have more atmosphere to them than is typical of that style. The images invoked are the strong suit here—images of a life, particular and romantic as a poem should be, about the places it loves. The characters are bold caricatures: snapshots of presumably real people in the moment when Haag saw them—nothing less, nothing more—which lends them credibility in the scenes they inhabit. No posturing here about the world or the state of things, just a guy and his IPAs and his notebooks piling up in the garage. This would be a good book to give to your ex-boyfriend if he likes to talk about “getting really fucked up that one time” or “Bukowski.” This would be a good book to read for yourself if you like “poems that invoke the movie Say Anything” or “girls in Calvin Klein briefs.” Available only on Amazon or by email. –jimmy cooper ([email protected])

Whiteout Conditions By Tariq Shah, 115 pgs.

The website of Chicago TV station WGN has an article with the headline “Where do the Chicago suburbs actually end? It’s complicated.” Whiteout Conditions is set mainly in a town (city?) that is probably technically a Chicago suburb (exurb?), but is very much its own town. (Chicago itself has always seemed to me like a mean small town writ huge.)

The book is about a guy who returns for a funeral, spending most of his time with an old friend with whom he shares complicated feelings. I’m from a small Midwestern city and recognized both of these guys, their conversations and their flare-ups of hostility, as well as the winter weather, which isn’t often the weather in fiction.

Shah keeps the cause of the deceased’s death a secret for awhile. But as I write this, a week before the book’s March 17 release date, the nation has only started to accept the intractability of the coronavirus, and a 115-page work of fiction is going to struggle to gain anyone’s attention, and so I’m going to chance that Shah wouldn’t object to the SPOILER of telling you that the deceased was a teenage kid who was mauled to death by a pit bull—in fact, let’s add some keywords to attract search-engine searches: “books about pit bulls,” “stories about pit bulls”—and if, like me, you’ve ever been attacked in public by an unleashed dog (not a pit bull) and had to make peace with the attack, or if you’ve been the owner of such a dog, Whiteout Conditions gives you something to think about.

(I won’t linger on the dearth of attentive editing/proofing, except to say that we jarringly learn what one of the character’s nickname was in an earlier draft.) –Jim Woster (Two Dollar Radio, twodollarradio.com)

Featured Book Reviews Razorcake 115: Colorado Crew: Denvoid Pt. 2, Shining Man, Music Is Power, Four-Year Depression, An Encyclopedia of Political Record Labels, The Death of You, Texas Is the Reason

Colorado Crew: Denvoid Pt. 2 By Bob Rob Medina and Sonny Kay. Illustration by Jessee Zeroxed

The accounts in the interviews frequently overlap and sometimes hilariously contradict each other (I mean, we are talking about punks here).