It seems we are now in a time when the historizing of punk has picked up full steam, and—forty years in—readers are no longer relegated to the hegemony of the big four punk cities on the bookshelf (London, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles). With a population of around 14,000 (according to Wikipedia as of this writing) Pierre, South Dakota is nowhere near the top of the urban food chain, yet this book is a testament to the fact that, with some committed individuals in the community, a thriving punk scene was present even in the wide expanses of South Dakota.
The book is structured as a type of oral history which constructs its narrative drive through interviews, essays, and remembrances of various people involved with the Pierre scene. The book does have a bit of a shaky start, as most of the front pages are an assemblage of ephemera like photos, fliers, and poems. It initially reads like some kind of extremely niche art book on South Dakota. After an essay by James P. Leary—which traces the area’s punk roots back past Midwest garage rockers and all the way to an apparently thriving “polkabilly” movement in the 1920s—the book truly takes shape. It follows the evolution of Pierre’s punk movement from its embryonic stages in the late ‘80s up until almost present day.
There are ups and downs, largely dependent on the perseverance of one or two individuals at any one time who keep on top of planning and booking whatever venue is available at the time. The story of the various halls, community centers, and converted spaces that host the shows are also the story of just how much Pierre’s punks could thrive. The town goes from spawning its two “all star” bands—hardcore thrashers Diseased and pop punks Stickman—to hosting larger touring punk bands like From Ashes Rise, Japanther, and Off With Their Heads. The story of Pierre is not all feel-good triumph over adversity though, as much of what is described in the book takes place against an epidemic of suicides among the town’s youth population. I come from a town in New Mexico that’s slightly smaller than Pierre, so there is something to be said for seeing how areas that aren’t metropolitan hubs can also spawn cultural movements, even if only for a finite time. –Adrian Salas (Co-published by M12 Collective, 350 West Front St., Byers, CO 80103, m12studio.org / Last Chance Press, lastchancepress.org)