David A. Ensminger understands that most folks only know of Rockford, Ill. as the home of Cheap Trick. Out of the Basement, a part of Microcosm’s Scene History Series, hopes to widen our view of Illinois’s third largest city. Ensminger follows Rockford’s ‘70s rock scene into the explosion of ‘80s punk culture with groups like PineWood Box and Bludgeoned Nun. The latter chapters move into the ‘90s and early 2000s, when gig organizers like Barb Orr watched the scene go from the usual rough and tumble weirdness to a time when one had to navigate the bratty behavior of rising stars like Green Day (who put Orr into debt one night by demanding more than their previously agreed upon payout).
Punk anecdotes aside, Ensminger bookends Out of the Basement with some research on the demographics and economics of Rockford. He’s done his homework, and the punk history comes in a context that will make sense for any younger readers who are coming at this whole Rust Belt thing blindly. If you’re from the Midwest, Ensminger’s work makes for fun reading. And if you can’t tell Illinois from Indiana on a map, Out of the Basement is a cool study of how many American cities struggle to keep their DIY talent from either destroying themselves in an environment with below average social services or leaving town for the nearby Chicagos, both of which result in what Ensminger calls, “A brain drain on the remaining population.” Read it, hop on I-90, and don’t stop until you see a Beef-A-Roo. –Jim Joyce (Microcosm, 2752 N. Williams Ave., Portland, OR 97227)