Spoke is a big book in scale and size. A square, hardcover, coffee table-esque book, Spoke serves as the printed companion to Scott Crawford’s documentary, Salad Days, about the Washington D.C. punk scene in the 1980s. The range of acts is what you’d expect: primarily Dischord Records bands with a few odds and ends (including Black Market Baby and Bad Brains). The book is structured with each band getting approximately three pages, which is comprised of an introduction, photographs, and oral history of each.
The strongest aspect of Spoke is the photographs. There are a plethora of amazing live photos. Each picture consistently shows the bands at their seemingly fiercest or most emotional. It’s as though Crawford was a king, sitting on his throne and with a wave of his hand he said to his minions, “Bring me the best live photos of these bands.” And boy, did they come through! Additionally, there are still shots of band members hanging out or being silly, which gives a fuller picture of the band.
My critique of the book is with the oral history. I haven’t seen Salad Days, so perhaps each group is covered more in depth in the film. But only giving three or four pages to each of these acts seemed like short shrift. The content generally focused on conflict, too, which was an interesting take. So many of these bands got together, did a few tours, recorded an album or two, and then imploded. Acts exchanged members frequently. In many regards, it left me feeling that the importance wasn’t so much about this band or that band (although Bad Brains basically began the D.C. scene and Minor Threat put it on the map), as it was about all these bands coming together to form something comprehensive—a scene, if you will. In reading Spoke, I read very little about the overarching theme of what the scene was about. There was no essay or narrative that brought everything together.
One thing that was clear about the D.C. scene was that it was heavily focused on men. In some sense it was what it was, but beyond Fire Party were there really no bands comprised of women? I noticed some bands had people of color, but it would’ve been interesting to see a discussion of cultural, racial, and gender dynamics in the scene, especially considering how political the community was.
If one is interested in the history of D.C. hardcore and punk, another Akashic Books title, Dance of Days, would be a suitable alternative. In the case of Spoke, perhaps a book comprised solely of photographs of the D.C. scene with a few captions would’ve been more appropriate. As it stands, it’s an interesting piece of work, and definitely worth looking through, but ultimately doesn’t add much that hasn’t already been covered. –Kurt Morris (Akashic, 232 Third St., Suite A115, Brooklyn, NY 11215)