Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Touch & Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Fanzine '79-'83: Book Review

Tesco Vee of the Meatmen teamed up with Dave Stimson in Ann Arbor to produce this slapdash, ornery, and entertaining fanzine. Cutting and pasting their typed reviews, concert flyers, salacious photos, found art, and random scrawls, they photocopied twenty-two issues. Touch & Go surveyed the gloom of post-punk, they ridiculed the neon of the new wave. They insulted (TSOL, GG Allin, sometimes Fear) or celebrated (local groups The Fix, Necros, and, surprise, The Meatmen) those claiming to be hardcore.

Nearly six hundred pages, this volume displays the devotion that an indie rock scene once commanded. It’s hefty, with a format as large per page as the original paper version. But, it’s more durable.

Its balance of Michigan bands with British and Los Angeles punk and post-punk music argues for a broader inclusion of what restless listeners sought out in a scattered community, linked less by radio (local d.j. Brad Curtis meets contempt) than what the independent record store or mail order label stocked. Fanzines such as Slash, Search and Destroy, and Forced Exposure spread the word about the newest sounds. The writers, inspired by fanzines, started their own in DIY punk fashion. Two or three hundred copies found their way monthly to stores and subscribers.

Passionate or dissolute tones of T&G letter writers convey the affectionate and combative spirit of determined fans, when such underground music relied for its promotion on fanzine. One correspondent recommends Bernard-Henry Lévy’s book Barbarism with a Human Face as a corrective to socialist punk rhetoric. Concerts get lauded more than critiqued. Vendors earn ads as clumsily arranged as the rest of the collage content. Still, one ad from local Schoolkids Records cleverly channels Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from Ulysses to entice readers past its doors. Well, Ann Arbor is a quintessential college town.

Wit wriggles into many reviews. Two entries cited in their entirety show a pithy style perfected. Stimson sums up “I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats. “The little California miss could’ve done us all a favor had she taken her shooting spree to the Ensign studio when this grandiose piece of schmaltz was recorded.” His soundbite on the LP Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls: “(forgot the label) I bought it. I sold it. What more do you need to know?”

Scatology scatters over nearly every page. A frustrated, lonely, adolescent mentality lingers. Its slogan: “Where hardcore doesn’t mean pornography.” Fecal fixation, erectile fascination, naughty peeps, and homophobic taunts fills margins. Two cartoon balloons appear over a tiny photo of two conversing celebrities. John Lennon is made to ask: “So, what’s it like being black?” Muhammed Ali finds himself responding: “Better than being dead.”

This sophomoric reaction to convention conveys T&G’s reaction to the usual media coverage of the angry, lonely fans of musicians hyped, caricatured, or dismissed. The fanzine champions albums such as Gypsy Blood from Doll by Doll, 154 by Wire, Seventeen Seconds by The Cure, and Hypnotised by The Undertones. It documents how the nascent alternative category widened. Later issues discuss Big Country, Cocteau Twins, Motorhead, and a metal band, Venom.

Presciently, the critics pan such leaden tunes as “Punk’s Not Dead” by The Exploited. Tesco praises 999. They despise a Midwestern mentality whose biggest contribution to the new music is “What I Like About You” by The Romantics. Oddly, Cleveland and Minneapolis bands seem overlooked; perhaps the decline of the Ohio scene and the delay in the rise of the Twin Cities one may account for this omission. Or it may be plucky rivalry between Ann Arbor and the rest of the country.

They analyze the promise and the flaws within October by U2: “Soothing harmonies. I’m sure they feel as noble as they look on the cover…but there is something about their clinical and smug approach that really bothers.” They warn against the otherwise forgotten group Chronic Generation. “Crutches couldn’t help this band, their shit’s that lame.”

The edition opens with testimonials by scenesters, writers such as Byron Coley, and punks themselves. Keith Morris of Circle Jerks, Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, and Henry Rollins of Black Flag praise the fanaticism that fills these pages, edited by Steve Miller, whom I presume is not the Gangster of Love. Let the final word be a stray phrase from here, as hardcore in the early 1980s became as conformist and commodified as previous cultural and musical rebellions. “We are the hippies of tomorrow.”
(Posted to Amazon US 8-7-10 and published 8-16-10 at Pop Matters.)

1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

I rated this higher at PopMatters than any other work, at least the first year of reviewing there. Funny, but you have to match a score to what the book tries to do, and it succeeds, for all its slapdash silliness. Great record of an era when regional rock still existed, left of (off) the dial.