Punk Revolution!: An Oral History of Punk Rock Politics and Activism By John Malkin, 384 pgs.

Sep 22, 2023

When I was a kid, the only access I had to new underground music was from the “import” section of the music store in the shopping mall. I scored plenty of great stuff there: MDC, the Subhumans (U.K.), and Minor Threat, as well as stuff like the Meatmen and the Butthole Surfers. One day, my older/wiser friend Greg (guitarist for local metal lords Fatal Sin) informed me that “real punk rock” wasn’t about masturbation jokes; it was about real-world issues. I took this very seriously, and it helped shape my perception of what rock’n’roll could be.

In his third book, Punk Revolution!: An Oral History of Punk Rock Politics and Activism, author John Malking interviews members of three of the above-mentioned bands, along with dozens and dozens more, in an in-depth exploration of the political aspects of punk rock. Other books cover similar subjects, but the wide variety of voices and the impact of the subjects covered in Punk Revolution! make it a standout.

The first thing that got me hooked here was the variety of the interviewees. I mean, Dave Dictor, Dick Lucas, and Ian MacKaye were no-brainers; they’re all interesting, articulate folks who represent the subject of the book. However, less obvious voices like Peter Case, Glenn Branca, Amy Ray (Indigo Girls), Miles Copeland, Noam Chomsky, Chuck D, and Clem Burke are all quoted throughout Punk Revolution!, rounding it out and giving it a much more serious and realistic tone. Other big names include Thurston Moore, John Lydon, Ray Cappo, CJ Ramone, Jack Grisham, and Pussy Riot, among others. Most of these chime in throughout the different subjects of the book, solidifying it as cohesive work.

The subject matter ranges from somewhat mundane to brilliant. The chapter on DIY had a sleeping-pill-like effect on me, while the chapter covering West Berlin bands sneaking into East Berlin during the Cold War, to play illegal shows woke me right up. As did the chapter on Navajo Nation band Blackfire, who offer up an entirely different take on politics than the average punk band. Similarly, the interview with members of the band Tijuana No! is an intriguing read on how living in the shadows of the Mexico/U.S. border impacts one’s worldview and artistic output. Other subjects tackled in Punk Revolution! include the Gulf War, Pansy Division (excellent interview), race and anti-racism, the Vandals and Henry Rollins performing for “the troops” in the Middle East, and Punk in the Trump era.

Punk and politics can’t be separated, but that doesn’t mean we all see things the same way. In Punk Revolution!, John Malking skillfully presents different viewpoints of the politics that are functionally and aesthetically a part of punk, from people with different life experiences and different worldviews, in a way that is organized, compelling, and highly entertaining.

I still love the Butthole Surfers. –Buddha (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, rowman.com)

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