Featured Book Reviews Razorcake 106: Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever, The Hard Stuff, Lemon Jail, We Are The Clash, Black Friend & Other Strangers
Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever: The Completely Ridiculous Edition
By Tom Neely, 320 pgs.
By now, many of us know about Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig, punk rock’s meathead darlings and toned butts of never-ending jokes, largely speculation about their sexualities. Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever: The Completely Ridiculous Edition is one of several collections of these jokes. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of Henry and Glenn Forever, the comic started as a series of zines, which started as barroom napkin doodles, which started as drunken jokes between friends.
I’ll admit it conceptually drew me in. Being a sometimes-gay, definitely queer man-type person, I’m always here for scantily clad muscley dudes professing their undying love and cuddling under hand-crocheted blankets, especially if they’re tattooed and musicians and wear lots of fishnetting (honestly, though, who among us isn’t?). I didn’t give it much more thought than the occasional chuckle/vague enjoyment from afar until I saw the most recent collection—as I see many of the books I end up reading—on a display at my library. I, checked it out, read it, and enjoyed it.
And then I made the crucial mistake when enjoying a lot of media: I thought about it. I’ll give you the disclaimer now. This review is now getting into “destroying something a lot of us love because it’s actually more problematic than we thought” territory. Henry and Glenn Forever, on second glance, reeks of the same internalized homophobia—and misogyny for that matter—that all that art of Trump and Putin making out reeks of. Of course Henry and Glenn Forever is funny! Two incredibly masculine men could never be gay! Then they’d have to be feminine and we all know being feminine is shameful and wildly contradictory to their true beefy manly nature! Also, isn’t male-male affection hilarious? The entire joke here is playing on a sense of masculine, heterosexual superiority and an inherent sense of wrongness about queer identities, particularly gender non-conforming ones.
At the end of the day, gender expression and sexuality are fluid beasts. Boxing anyone into a purely and rigidly masculine or feminine nature is shitty, especially when you link it inherently to their sexuality. We’re all weird, fabulous beings, with our own notions of what it means to be men or women or none or all of the above, and maybe Henry and Glenn should be left to decide for their own what being a man means. Even if it involves leaving each other sweet notes about cleaning the litter box. But hey, the art is cute! –Jimmy Cooper (Microcosm Publishing, microcosmpublishing.com)
Hard Stuff, The: Dope, Crime, the MC5 & My Life of Possibilities
By Wayne Kramer, 296 pgs.
Mike Faloon and I did a Midwest tour in support of Mike’s new book The Other Night at Quinn’s this summer. When we hit greater Detroit, a guy at the bookstore there told me that he, too, was reading The Hard Stuff. “I wish Wayne had run some of the stuff by me,” the guy at the bookstore said. “His chronology is all fucked up.”
I don’t doubt this for a second, because “fuckup” is the operative word for most of The Hard Stuff. Wayne Kramer, of course, was the guitarist for agitprop protopunks the MC5, who manage to immediately shoot themselves in the foot upon the release of their debut album Kick Out the Jams. They pal around with a biker gang called the Motherfuckers, who get the band blackballed from any number of East Coast clubs by inciting violence from the stage—and that’s before promoter Bill Graham gets his nose broken in New York City, and before the band takes out an ad proclaiming that the biggest record-selling chain in Detroit can go fuck themselves.
The MC5’s records don’t go anywhere because of these missteps—all of which take place in the first third of the book. From there on out, Kramer has chance after chance to turn things around, but can’t manage it. Instead, he robs houses, goes to jail, gets out, starts bands, gets hooked on drugs, half-ass quits, gets hooked again.
But I kept reading. Kramer’s a skilled storyteller: it’s easy to root for him through his many fuckups because of way he sets readers up. The first bits are about his childhood, where he conveys effectively to the reader the sense of warmth and safety he felt, before his mom becomes involved in an abusive relationship. The abuse spills over to him, his world is turned upside down, and the numbing influence of booze and drugs wrestle with his prodigious guitar talent for dominance. It’s not a new story—especially if you’re a fan, as I am, of rock bios—but Kramer’s short, sharp bursts of prose, reminiscent of Alice Bag’s in her excellent debut Violence Girl, are brutally effective.
After fuckups too numerous to recount here, Kramer finally burrows into the bedrock of his substance abuse and comes through the other side, discussing his addictions and recovery with frank honesty. The end result for me was an appreciation for Kramer’s survival skills (and the incredible dumb luck which kept him from an early grave) and a reassessment of later MC5 records I hadn’t spent much time with. Serious back-in-the-day heads might have a legitimate bone to pick with Kramer’s chronology, but I think that even rearranged, the short chapters in The Hard Stuff would continue to pack a serious wallop. –Michael T. Fournier (Da Capo, dacapopress.com)
Lemon Jail: On the Road with The Replacements
By Bill Sullivan, 145 pgs.
By my count, this is the fourth book in recent memory about The Replacements. I’m certainly not complaining, as they are one of my favorite bands of all time. I once lied to my parents (gasp!) as a teenager to get to a Replacements show in DC on a school night at age seventeen, but that’s another story. While never claiming to be a biography, instead this book tells a story from someone who was actually there, tour after tour after tour, until (almost) the bitter end.
This is the journal of being in the smelly van with the band. Spirited hi-jinks regularly occur. By not actually being a member of the band seems to provide the author with a more balanced perspective. Roadie, and later tour manager, Bill Sullivan tells it like it was, with grainy, off-the-cuff photos included. There is some really funny stuff here. There’s also crap in here that will make you wonder how he survived for so long. It is insightful, hilarious, but sometimes tragic. While only one former band member gives a ringing endorsement, that shouldn’t stop you. Lemon Jail presents a highly entertaining look at a fantastic band that played for keeps out on the road. To the victor the spoils. –Sean Koepenick (University of Minnesota Press)
Stained Inside Out: A Selection of Brush & Ink Drawings 2013-18
By Bob Rob Medina
This is a massive collection of art from Mr. Bob Rob. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, he did the cover of Razorcake #94. The pieces are colorful and often pleasantly saturated with ink, like a glimmering pool of paint. The subjects of the pictures are mainly bands and assorted punk people. Some pictures ran in the Denvoid and the Cowtown Punks (2015, Robot Enemy), which is an oral history of the ’80s Denver punk scene. And some illustrations are slated to run in its sequel: Denvoid and the Cowtown Punks: 2, The Kolorado Krew. Each piece is accompanied and with some autobiographical context. Definitely worth reading for sentences like: “My first encounter with Klaus Nomi was right after my friend Jimmy and I transformed from being quasi cholos to wannabe punk rockers.” Fans of Tim Kerr and Chris Shary take note. –Daryl (Robot Enemy, bobrob.bigcartel.com)
We Are The Clash: Reagan, Thatcher, and the Last Stand of a Band that Mattered
By Mark Anderson, Ralph Heibutzki, 376 pgs.
The two most universal things anyone with even a passing interest in punk can say is, “I love the Ramones” and, “I love The Clash.” The anarcho bands that came along and made hay criticizing The Clash for selling out probably loved The Clash. Even Johnny Ramone stated The Clash was the only band he thought lived up to the Ramones, and he was on the other (right wing) end of the ideological and political spectrum from progressive firebrand Joe Strummer and company. Across The Clash’s five studio albums from 1977-1983, and various singles and EP’s, there’s something that appeals to nearly any lover of guitar-driven music. And then there’s the little addendum that the band lasted until 1986 and put out an album, Cut the Crap, that no one talks about. These last overlooked years are the meat of this book.
Things pick up at the US Festival in Summer 1983 and move quickly into what could described as The Clash II, when Mick Jones and Topper Headon were replaced by guitarists Vince White and Nick Sheppard, and drummer Pete Howard. Authors Andersen and Heibutzki pull a lot of their day-to-day and big picture perspective of the band during this period through interviews with the replacement Clash members and archival materials, while crafting a parallel narrative about the resurgent rise of conservatism in the U.S. and U.K. during this time under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
The authors make an effective case for these newer members as committed to soldiering The Clash forward musically and ideologically in the face of this global ideological rightward shift. But they’re continuously thwarted by things outside their control such as an increasingly erratic Joe Strummer who was prone to disappearing and self-medicating with alcohol and weed to cope with possible depression issues, and the dictatorial return of original Clash manager Bernard Rhodes. While Rhodes did probably have a large hand in the initial formation and conception of the band in the 1970s, after Mick Jones left Rhodes became a Svengali-like figure who began to push The Clash as his personal musical vehicle. Rhodes is portrayed as belittling or dismissing both the new and old member’s ideas, and largely crafting the conceptually interesting but musically weak Cut the Crap LP on his own. Despite these obstacles, the newer members contributed to The Clash for nearly three years, and culminated in a back-to-basics busking tour of England undertaken by the five members with no outside support or planning during a period when The Clash name alone could sell out large venues.
The history of The Clash traditionally ends with the firings of Topper Headon and Mick Jones. We Are The Clash instead stakes its claim on the overlooked last three years and mines a surprisingly robust history for rise of neo-conservatism but waning of The Clash. –Adrian Salas (Akashic, Akashicbooks.com)
Your Black Friend & Other Strangers
By Ben Passmore, 199 pgs.
I first encountered Ben Passmore’s work online in the form of the title comic, “Your Black Friend.” Though admittedly not the most glamorous of beginnings, it stopped me scrolling through Facebook or Tumblr or whatever soul-sucking conveyor line of shitty news and shittier spelling I was consuming, and I read the comic. I thought it was beautiful, and relevant, and witty, and the colors were gorgeous, and all those good things, but I mostly forgot about it as one tends to forget things they read on the internet.
This did not quell my surprise and joy when I saw Your Black Friend & Other Strangers on the new graphic novel display at my library. I was ecstatic to find out there were more comics out there by Passmore, and even more ecstatic that he seemed like more than a one-hit wonder. Even just reading the introduction to the volume, I was stoked. This guy gets it, I thought.
I got lucky, because he does get it. Not only are the comics gorgeous—and they are gorgeous: the colors are fantastic, the characters well-designed, with an overall great visual vibe—if you’ll let me use that weird expression, about the collection, but the stories ring honest and true. Though some are more abstract in storyline, many address completely contemporary issues in an almost biting manner. A particular favorite is “It’s Not about You,” an introspective look into Passmore’s reaction to being introduced—and attracted to—someone who uses the gender-neutral pronouns “they/them.” At first, he’s confused and angry, but as the night goes on, he comes to the realization that their identity isn’t about him.
The comics in the Your Black Friend collection tend towards a similar framework. Something seemingly complex that we see everyday comes up and Passmore breaks it down to the bones of the issue while retaining a humor and beauty about it. Even the more abstract comics, such as “ok stoopd!” and “The Vampire” serve as metaphors for social and political conditions in the way only comics can. The visuals are central to this metaphor, as in “ok stoopd!,” in which an anthropomorphic chicken serves as a visual metaphor for reactionary fuckheads. Without this visual, the incredibly short scene wouldn’t have the clever punch it does.
Again and again, Passmore draws you into his world, even if just for a single page, and teaches you something, all the while making you laugh and your heart swell in the fun of it all. These comics are good for the tired, jaded, and cynical soul of 2018. –Jimmy Cooper (Silver Sprocket, silversprocket.net)
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