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

Colorado Crew: Denvoid Pt. 2
By Bob Rob Medina and Sonny Kay, 322 pgs.

Bob Rob Medina and Sonny Kay are both veterans of the Denver, Colo., area punk/hardcore scene, and both are established visual artists. Their book Colorado Crew: Denvoid Pt. 2 is a mindblower from first glance on. This gigantic book documents the Denver/Boulder scene between 1988 and 1996. Each one of the 320 pages is beautifully printed in full color and packed with local punk rock history, as well as photos, fliers, artwork, drawings, random band graphics, et cetera. The devotion required to realize a project of this magnitude is immeasurable and inspirational.

The bulk of the text is made up of interviews with over sixty people who were entrenched in the Denver/Boulder scene of that era: band members, label/zine folks, promoters, artists, wastoids, and other fixtures. I’d heard of a few of the bands/people featured in this book before reading it: Donut Crew Records (founded by Medina in 1988), Cavity (I played with another band called Cavity in the mid-’90s, so I was always like, “Who the hell is that?”), Warlock Pinchers, and the Fluid. A few obvious (to an outsider like me) groups, like Dead Silence and the Nobodys, are not interviewed here (Dead Silence does have a two page spread with photos and fliers, etcetera, but no interview), and I have yet to find an explanation for this in the book.

The interviews are in depth and entertaining, and they often cross-reference in a way that keeps the story moving. After reading one person’s interview, you’ve learned enough about another figure to be thoroughly interested in theirs. Example: I had never heard of Tom Headbanger (show promoter) before, but after reading about him in other interviews, I was surprisingly stoked when his chapter came up.

The accounts in the interviews frequently overlap and sometimes hilariously contradict each other (I mean, we are talking about punks here). In fact, Colorado Crew unfolds in fashion reminiscent of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, which is told not chronologically but from each character’s point of view. Similarly, in Colorado Crew, you must read through the interviews and put two and two together for the larger picture to present itself. Ultimately, the stories combine to create a familiar scenario – triumphs, failures, friends made, friends lost, venue owners infuriated, cockhorses riddenthat is both moving and relatable.

Colorado Crew: Denvoid Pt. 2 has the content density of a large college textbook on punk rock. There is a lot to read here, and the print is tiny (some of it is hard to read for an original gang member like myself). The price of this book (around $30) might seem high, but once you have it in your hands, you’ll understand that no amount of money could begin to cover the work that went into creating it—not to mention the cost of printing such a book. This is clearly a labor of love. –Buddha (Robot Enemy Books, bobrobart.bigcartel.com)


Death of You, The: A Book for Anyone Who Might Not Live Forever
By Miguel Chen, 152 pgs.

At the end of 2019 I experienced a lot of loss. First was my dad in mid-October, then it was three friends within eight days. Two of those were back to back. It felt like just when I started getting used to those feelings of grief—or thought I was—another one hit harder. In a way I was closer to accepting the news of each passing friend as I went to four memorials in a week’s time.

I almost bought this book from Miguel after his yoga session at Fest, but didn’t feel like I was ready for it yet, so I grabbed his other book first. Then I put off my grief about my dad as long as possible. (Four months later there’s still a massive box of photos I haven’t had the energy to look through.) But after that second run of loss, I knew I needed to dig into this book. Miguel’s last one taught me how to adopt gratitude just for being alive and inspired me to change the name of my alarm to “Happy to be here,” so it’s the first thing I see every day. I got deeper into a meditation practice and became calmer as well as mindful.

For Death of You however, I needed to face hard truths full on. We are all going to die someday. Yeah, it’s not a shock to most people. But for me, I’ve often let the fear of dying occupy my mind in a way that causes intense anxiety. Reading through this book and practicing some of the meditations Miguel lays out have really helped me curb that.

He goes through stages of grief, outlines his own experience losing close family and friends, learns how to accept the inevitable, and breaks down ways to deal with the many causes of death. Within that he includes unexpected loss, ones you could kind of see coming (terminal illness, old age), suicide, and murder. None of this is easy to process, and he also explains that the stages of grief (DABDA: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) don’t always happen in a specific order.

Some of the meditations offered in here help establish a meditation foundation: finding moments of peace; exploring what our own personal version of hell looks like; avoiding distraction and embracing wholeness; forgiveness; and, finally, our own death. In the last one, Miguel teaches the nine Buddhist contemplations of death. Throughout the entire book, he keeps the language non-denominational and open for each person’s individual belief system.

While I’m not quite ready for the death meditation, all of the practices and words of wisdom are extremely helpful. Miguel writes in a very conversational tone, which makes the book very accessible. I love that all of this comes from the mind of a punk (bassist of Teenage Bottlerocket!), but he opens it up to any living person grappling with these parts of our existence. –Kayla Greet (Wisdom Publications, 199 Elm St., Somerville, MA 02144)


East Pittsburgh Downlow
By Dave Newman, 459 pgs.

Sellick Hart is a former welder who wrote formulaic romance novels for a paycheck on the side. A kindly dean at the local community college hired him to teach creative writing after reading a newspaper profile on the author. Hart, who’s accustomed to wielding a torch under bridges in freezing cold weather, appreciates the good fortune of bumbling into his academic gig. He also realizes its inherent contradiction: his students are in school to further themselves, to get out of bad jobs and bad situations, “to not be” whatever they are any more. Judging them on the short stories they write—often based on their own lives—won’t get them hired. There’s nothing to do but present ideas the best he can, and offer encouragement.

As Hart teaches, he nurses a flirtation with a bartender at his local bar who doubles as his student. He maintains a relationship with his mom, hangs out with an ex-NFL player friend who has just gotten out of jail, and pecks away at a novel. Not a romance novel written under an assumed name, but a literary novel about people like himself and the students he teaches. Hart says “the places where most Americans work are the least likely to appear in novels” and yearns to honestly portray those Americans whose voices are underrepresented.

In the midst of this, a student uses a handgun to kill himself in one of Hart’s classes.

Dave Newman’s writing on class issues is never self-congratulatory, and never feels forced. I get the sense that he’s writing what he knows, like Sellick Hart. And it’s not just class that Newman writes about, either: watching Hart sink into the depths of depression following the classroom suicide is a stark treatise on the realities of depression, repressed trauma, and self-delusion. All of this is delivered in an imminently readable style. His prose is unfussy but scattered throughout are great lines, gems which made me put the book down and catch my breath; no shit.

East Pittsburgh Downlow is the second of Newman’s books I’ve read (the excellent Two Small Birds was the first). I teach at a community college, so it’s no surprise that the ideas of students attending “to not be” resonates with me. But the weary sympathy in his particular brand of realism offers a sense of hope in the face of struggle even to those outside of the academic racket. Dave Newman’s work has a huge heart and is worth seeking out. –Michael T. Fournier (J. New Books, jnewbooks.com)


An Encyclopedia of Political Record Labels
By Josh MacPhee, 196 pgs.

I bet you didn’t know you needed an encyclopedia of political record labels, did you? Okay, this slim, easily digestible volume might not be a necessity, but it would be an excellent addition to your bathroom shelf, wedged between your Ben Snakepit and Liz Prince collections. This is actually the third edition and it contains 789 short entries on “political record labels” around the world, each about a paragraph in length and highly informative. You aren’t gonna read this cover-to-cover, and while it’s an excellent resource in its own right as a reference book, its value comes from providing useful and entertaining nuggets of information about random and obscure labels you’ve probably never heard of before.

I like this book a great deal, but I do have some serious criticisms. I’m about to rant, so bear with me here. MacPhee says he grew up enmeshed in the DIY punk scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s, but by the turn of the century his love of music had been “crushed” by his “disillusionment with the potentials of political punk.” Fair enough. I won’t begrudge him his loss of faith.

Nor will I fault him on his musical evolution into folk and “world music.” It was that journey, after all, which led him to start compiling a list of what he considers political record labels. He states clearly in the Introduction that he limits “record labels” to those that released vinyl records and his understanding of “political” is also limited to exclusively leftist and/or nationalist politics. He has no interest in compiling information on right wing labels. And while I’d personally find information on such labels useful (know your enemy), I don’t fault MacPhee for not wanting to damage his soul by doing so.

I also don’t fault him for only looking at labels from the 1970s to 1990s. I get it; lines sometimes need to be drawn. But I question his justification for imposing a cut-off date of the mid-1990s. He gives two reasons: vinyl was in decline and bands weren’t political anymore. Specifically, he says that music became “more about politics than of it.” Excuse me? That’s some serious bullshit there. MacPhee makes that claim because he stopped being engaged in the late-1990s. That was his decision and that’s fine, but I have serious problems when someone is generalizing and making grand pronouncements about scenes that (by their own admission) they stopped paying attention to.

Any regular reader of Razorcake is familiar with plenty of political punk labels of the past two decades. Moreover, MacPhee dismisses the “return” of vinyl as a boutique fashion being driven by Barnes and Noble and their ilk. I’m sympathetic to that complaint, but many DIY punk labels never stopped pressing vinyl and still do. What’s more, let’s be honest about the fact that vinyl is a Western luxury and many non-Western labels release their music on cassettes and CDs for good reason (for instance, they’re cheaper, more mobile, and hold up better in tropical climates). So just looking at vinyl-releasing labels ignores a huge swath of important political labels around the world. Okay, rant over.

If these things bother you too, just skip the introduction and dive into the almost eight hundred entries. There so much to enjoy here. This is ultimately a labor of love and, even with my criticisms, I am happy MacPhee has such an obsessive fixation (also check out his ongoing zine series, Pound The Pavement). I’m also glad that the press, Common Notions, ponied up the money for full-color logos throughout and let MacPhee design the cover and internal layout. It is gorgeous. –Kevin Dunn (Common Notions, 314 7th St., Brooklyn, NY, commonnotions.org)


Four-Year Depression
By Billy McCall, 95 pgs.

I’ve enjoyed reading Billy’s zines for well over a decade now—especially his Last Night at the Casino series—and his other zine, Proof I Exist, is also good. Thus, I was happy to get his book, Four-Year Depression, to see how his writing would fare in a longer format.

The subtitle on this book is “How to Love Your Family (even though they voted for you-know-who),” which informs the reader that the material in these ninety-five pages isn’t about Billy’s battle with mental health issues but rather a tale of how to deal with Donald Trump’s presidency. (Ironically, I wrote a zine about my initial shock and fear after Trump was elected in 2016.) Billy explores his experience the night of the 2016 Presidential election. He writes about what went on for him that night, but also the range of emotions he went through.

Billy also isn’t afraid to write of his politics, which are far left leaning. He delves into the problems of the American political system, including how the main two parties aren’t really that different (yep). He acknowledges that Hillary Clinton wasn’t an ideal candidate but in comparison to Trump, she was certainly the better alternative.

Four-Year Depression isn’t just about his thoughts on politics and the election of Trump, though. What makes the book special is how it ties in with finding out his family voted for Trump. How does one negotiate a family who you love and care about but who also voted for someone you find reprehensible? Billy explores the ups and downs, especially in light of how his concern for his brother brings him closer together with his mother, even though she voted for “you-know-who.”

It’s the personal angle that causes this book to be a winner. Something that focused on only the political frustrations or the faults of Trump would’ve been redundant in the face of everything we’ve all read the past four years. But the complications that come with loving family that also hurts you is what gives this book depth.

That said, I felt this book could’ve used the help of an editor. In case it doesn’t sink in the first few times, Billy makes it clear that he really hates Trump. And while I totally agree, some of the content was redundant and could’ve been cut. Many of us are aware of what a horror Trump is and capturing that in the course of a chapter instead of spread throughout the book would’ve enabled Billy to focus more on the material that is key to this book’s success. Still, Four-Year Depression is definitely worth a read, especially if you’ve enjoyed Billy’s writing over the years. –Kurt Morris (iknowbilly.etsy.com)


Music Is Power: Popular Songs, Social Justice and the Will to Change
By Brad Schreiber, 237 pgs.

What’s better than a book you didn’t know you needed?

Music Is Power is a history of the nexus of music and protest, from Wobbly-turned-musician Joe Hill to Green Day, from folk to hip-hop.

The other punk musicians covered are Dead Kennedys and the Sex Pistols. I learned a few things about each, just as I learned a few things about every musician or band. For example, Frank Zappa’s music was a fuel of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution (knew that), and Soviet secret police would threaten demonstrators by saying, “I’m going to beat the Zappa out of you.” (Didn’t know that.)

And I’d known nothing about the political landscape of Jamaica during Bob Marley’s life, and now feel ready to tackle Marlon James’s epic novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, which centers on the attempted assassination of Marley, and on the forces behind it.

Music Is Power is a university-press book, and priced accordingly, but I assume most libraries would order it. –Jim Woster (Rutgers University Press, rutgersuniversitypress.org)


Shining Man
By Todd Dills, 304 pgs.

In Shining Man, Todd Dills spins a fantastic, gently unreliable narrator in his character Cash. He’s an over-educated guy with “more than a little of that tendency integral to the mad mind of the Southern hedonist to elevate [himself] to mythic status,” stuck for years, through his own inertia, in a gig as a Carolina fry cook. That is, until the events of the novel are jerked into motion by absence. Cash’s deadbeat dad Ralph disappears from his Chicago apartment. Cash drives his janky car up to Illinois, claims his father is dead, finds work at a bar, and starts writing (the narrative is peppered with footnotes-as-examples).

He finds a trove of reflective vests in his father’s apartment, sews them all together, and becomes Shining Man. He walks onto a highway median, where oncoming headlights blind drivers when they bounce off his suit. Cash escapes police detection by jumping into the back of a pickup truck piloted by a sympathetic driver.

Photos of the Shining Man go viral then get turned into the subject of an art exhibition, culminating in many shining suits being disseminated amongst gallery-goers and into the streets of Chicago (and we later see similar suits on a marching band). Cash leaves Chicago for Birmingham, then, later, for the pit crew of a racecar team for one of his high school classmates, then, finally, to Charlotte. Dills renders all this change easily, with nary a seam to be found—he’s impressive on the keyboard.

Threads of modernism are woven through Shining Man: a mysterious note is handed off to Cash by Suited Man, whose (perhaps non-)presence in the novel’s background is Nabokovian; characters named Tacklebox and V nod to Pynchon, as do slogans (DOWN WITH DEBT; WE ARE OUT HERE), racecar conspiracies, actual Nazis. A kind of self-reference familiar to readers of the genre permeates—with enough subtle inconsistency—Cash’s narration to keep astute readers on their toes throughout.

Beyond all this, and beyond the entertainment value of Cash’s road trip, Dills hones in on identity, the need to be seen, excess, self-awareness (and sometimes a lack thereof) throughout. At one point, in Chicago, Cash says, “You can be whatever you want, really: I hadn’t understood that.” Shining Man asks what Cash—what we—want to be, echoing Vonnegut’s declaration in Mother Night that, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend.”

Sounds like a lot, right? It is. Shining Man is dazzling, confusing and honest; a bold take on Southern writing traditions that ruminates on both the region and the modern era, whatever that means in 2020. In Shining Man, Todd Dills confronts us with the true meaning of the phrase “reflective of our times” and its connection to self-identity. What a trip! –Michael T. Fournier (Livingston Press, livingstonpress.uwa.edu)


Texas Is the Reason: The Mavericks of Lone Star Punk
By Pat Blashill, 240 pgs.

Texas is the birthplace of some of the most fiercefiercest and uncompromising punk rock ever created. As Gary Floyd, vocalist for Austin band the Dicks, is quoted here: “I’m a redneck fag. It’s like, ‘You don’t like it? Fuck you.’” Like the Lone Star State itself, Texas Iis the Reason: The Mavericks of Lone Star Punk is immense, and author Pat Blashill uses his iconic photographs of stalwart Texas-tough bands like the Big Boys, the Dicks, Scratch Acid, the Offenders, and the Butthole Surfers to tell his version of the story of Texas punk rock in the early 80s.

Photographer/journalist Blashill’s book is heavy on the Butthole Surfers, which is great for a lifelong fanatic like me. At the time, the Butthole Surfers had to be one of the most visually compelling underground acts ever to exist, and the massive number of Surfers photos in Texas Iis the Reason are about as twisted and provocative as any I’ve seen. On the other hand, I find myself wishing this was balanced out a little with more pics of slightly lesser known bands, like the Dicks or the Hickoids, as the photos of these bands that are included in this book are fantastic.

The book’s publisher Bazillion Points never fails to produce a fantastic looking book, and Texas Iis the Reason is no exception. This is a super-nice hardbound edition with killer cover art and , cool embossed lettering down the spine, etcetera. The inner page printing is top notch as well, with huge crisp, photographs presented flawlessly on glossy pages throughout the book, ensuring that the author/photographer’s obvious passion is properly conveyed.

Texas Iis the Reason also includes seven essays by Texas punk veterans like film director Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, School of Rock), Blashill himself, and a few others. David Yow’s story about getting locked in in his University of Texas dorm room when he was about to go out to see the Dicks is pretty hilarious, and Teresa Taylor of the Butthole Surfers has a “Top-Ten” Texas punk records segment that is essential.

The few photos of bigger non-Texan bands (Devo, Dead Kennedys, Samhain) are great, they look fantastic and all, but they don’t seem to add much to the story. However, the pics of the young and clearly rowdy Replacements are entirely priceless.

My only major complaint: not enough Wade Driver.

Texas Iis the Reason: The Mavericks of Lone Star Punk is an outstanding photography book, a trip back in time, and an essential look at the early days of Texas punk rock. Calling this a coffee table book would be an injustice. The presentation of the photographs is thoughtfully executed, and the packaging is aesthetically unsurpassed. In fact, when I first picked up Texas Iis the Reason and flipped through it, I thought to myself, “I would take a bullet for this book.” What would Oswald do? –Buddha (Bazillion Points, bazillionpoints.com)


This Is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You
By Adam Gnade, 197 pgs.

Full disclosure: I’ve known author Adam Gnade for about twenty years through music and literature connections. His publisher, Pioneers Press, also put out one of my zines. That said, I’ve legitimately enjoyed Gnade’s writing over the years and it’s been interesting and encouraging to see him develop and grow both as a person and a writer. This Is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You is Gnade’s third novel, but he’s also written novellas and is the author of the well-known self-help guide, The Do-It-Yourself Guide to the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad.

Whereas most of Gnade’s work focuses on a timeline of a night or between family members, his novels often follow the same characters. In this case, he tracks the life of James Jackson Bozic from childhood through his forties. While Gnade’s writing has always had a connection to his home city of San Diego, it was fictionalized. I assumed characters were abstractions of people Gnade knew or conglomerations of multiple individuals. This is the End… is most clearly Gnade’s autobiography. Yes, there are parts that are fictionalized but other portions follow his life, especially his geographic locations. In that regard, it was difficult for me to read because I couldn’t separate what I know of Gnade from the fictionalization he presented.

Where Gnade excels in his writing is the precious details. The story starts with Bozic as a grade school student and the information he shares—childhood chants, games played, nicknames—are those things that we all have in our memories but most have suppressed or forgotten. Gnade’s writing brought back a lot of my own childhood to me in good ways.

His writing also brought back some bad memories, especially as Bozic journeys through his teens and early twenties. Bozic looks for a place to fit in and instead finds himself a runt, consistently being picked on and put down. I could also relate to being the outcast and desperately trying to fit in. Gnade’s writing can certainly strike a chord. And it is in that desperation and tension where he excels.

I wanted to see more depth to some scenes, however. It would be nice to see this work as a good jumping off point for future writings with more intimacy, similar to what Gnade did with Locust House. Still, he shows such a way with words and capturing memories and places, that This Is the End… ends up being a compelling and engaging book. –Kurt Morris (Three One G, PO Box 178262, San Diego, CA 92177; Pioneers Press, PO Box 8010, Ann Arbor, MI 48107)


Two Dead
By Van Jensen and Nate Powell, 256 pgs.

Little Rock, Ark. in the 1940s was plagued with racial inequality, the mafia, and corrupt cops. Gideon Kemp is a newly christened police lieutenant who is terrified of using his gun. He is tasked by the mayor to find any incriminating evidence against a disgruntled detective. Abraham Bailey is the aforementioned disgruntled detective who is constantly yelling, way too quick to pull a trigger, and is haunted by his dead police partner. He is obsessed with taking down a mob boss who also practices dentistry as a hobby and torture method.

Meanwhile, across town, Jacob Davis is a war veteran who runs an amateur police force because the white folks in the actual police won’t touch anything on their side of the tracks. Jacob’s brother Esau is working with the sadistic dentist mentioned above and isn’t necessarily evil, just trying to make ends meet in a society that won’t let him do it legally.

This book is a heavy-hitting piece of crime drama filled with everything gritty you would see in a Scorsese mob movie. Car chases, backstabbing, political corruption, casual racism, and… the creepy dentist thing.

And like most of Nate Powell’s books, the artwork is amazing: beautiful ink on paper drawings that make each page give you an eyeball massage. With the help from colorist Erin Tobey, there were some tea bags used in the coloring for the comic to give it an antique-like pulp feel.

I mentioned in my review for Powell’s Come Again in Razorcake #114, that he has the most original and weird lettering seen in most comics. Lots of big shaky words that Blambot™ could never recreate along with some very creepy cursive writing.

My one complaint was that ending left a bit to be desired. But the book is based on real events, so I guess that’s how real life just goes. Quick and abrupt. Two Dead is an insightful, exciting and eye-popping piece of work. I’m stoked to see what Jenson and Powell do next or if they will give someone the rights to turn this into a movie. –Rick V. (Simon And Schuster)

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