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David Ensminger is a Humanities, Folklore, and English Instructor at Lee College in Baytown, TX. As a writer covering music, art, and contemporary issues, he has authored Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generations, coauthored Mojo Hand: The Life and Music of Lightnin' Hopkins, and contributed to Popmatters (where he publishes a monthly column), Maximum Rock’n’Roll, Houston Press, Art in Print, M/C Journal, The Journal of Popular Music Studies, Artcore, Postmodern Culture, Trust, and others. He is also a longtime drummer, including a stint in the Texas Biscuit Bombs with Biscuit of the Big Boys, and a digital archivist of punk and vernacular culture.

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Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons
Author: David Ensminger
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-641-4
Published April 2013
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 296 Pages
Subjects: Music–Punk/Sociology

Left of the Dial features interviews by musical journalist, folklorist, educator, and musician David Ensminger with leading figures of the punk underground: Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Dave Dictor (MDC), and many more. Ensminger probes the legacy of punk’s sometimes fuzzy political ideology, its ongoing DIY traditions, its rupture of cultural and social norms, its progressive media ecology, its transgenerational and transnational appeal, its pursuit of social justice, its hybrid musical nuances, and its sometimes ambivalent responses to queer identities, race relations, and its own history. Passionate, far-reaching, and fresh, these conversations illuminate punk’s oral history with candor and humor.

Rather than focus on discographies and rehashed gig memories, the interviews aim to unveil the secret history of punk and hardcore ideologies and values, as understood by the performers. In addition, Ensminger has culled key graphics from his massive punk flyer collection to celebrate the visual history of the bands represented. The book also features rare photographs shot by Houston-based photographer Ben DeSoto during the heyday of punk and hardcore, which capture the movement’s raw gusto, gritty physicality, and resilient determination.

Interviews include Peter Case (Nerves, Plimsouls), Captain Sensible (The Damned), Tony Kinman (The Dils), El Vez, Charlie Harper (UK Subs), The Deaf Club (an oral history of the landmark San Francisco club), Mike Palm (Agent Orange), Gregg Turner (Angry Samoans), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Gary Floyd (Dicks, Sister Double Happiness), Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE), Shawn Stern (Youth Brigade), Kira Roessler (Black Flag, Dos), Jack Grisham (TSOL), Keith Morris (Circle Jerks, Off!) Fred “Freak” Smith (Beefeater), U-Ron Bondage (Really Red), Vic Bondi (Articles of Faith), Lisa Fancher (Frontier Records), Dave Dictor (MDC), and Thomas Barnett (Strike Anywhere).




"David Ensminger is the right mix of intellectual and real-ass emotional punk. He is a historian and has walked the life...I recommend everything this man is up to!"
—Dave Dictor, MDC

"David is one of the rare scene insiders who also has a depth of knowledge of the social and political context for the punk and hardcore moment. His love for the scene and understanding of its importance is unique, well-researched, and valuable."
—Vic Bondi, Articles of Faith

"David Ensminger is of the few music writers who 'get it.' He's a rockin' drummer, a knowledgeable writer who's actually engaged with the wide world, and he's done time on the front lines of punk rock. As an interviewer he gets the inside picture and know's where it belongs."
—Peter Case, Plimsouls, The Nerves

"David is one of the very few people that I've ever agreed to do an interview with. Why? Because he grasps the relevant importance of the punk movement in a historical context, local and international, which is crucial to the subject."
—U-Ron Bondage, Really Red

"Ensminger burrows into punk’s essential contradictions and creates space for the marginalized of the movement to make a riot of their own. The stories and observations collated here benefit from the author’s street-scholar sense, as he makes critical connections between what bound the subculture together."
—Denise Sullivan, author of Keep On Pushin’: Black Power Music from Blues to Hip Hop on David Ensminger's Visual Vitriol

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What others are saying...



left of the dialLeft of the Dial: A Review
Scanner Zine
January 14th, 2014

Riveting, intelligent reading which has a sincerity about it many music 'journalists' fail to achieve as they've never actually lived it in the way Ensminger has. Even if some of the bands are of little interest to you, you can be guaranteed that, somehow, Ensminger will extract some unknown historical fact or a blunt, frank and damning political (or socio-political) polemic. If the mark of quality of a book of this nature is what there is to be learnt, I can honestly say I discovered something from each and every interview.

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left of the dialLeft of the Dial: A Review
by Jimmy Alvarado
Thursday, November 21st, 2013

While there is much history packed into these interviews, including a nice oral history of legendary San Francisco venue the Deaf Club, it is less a history lesson in the strictest sense than an attempt to document the threads of punk's ideological framework, its common core motivations, and its unspoken philosophies. Ensminger's effectiveness in doing so is dependent on the reader's level of attention-the passing reader will find interesting, engaging, and lively discussions about how this motley group of individuals live(d) and where they are coming from as artists. Buried inside the discussions, however, are glimpses of the DIY ethic wielded by these and other outsiders to subvert and directly challenge a world that continues to value homogeny and disdains anyone or anything that dares not to fit in. Scholars and historians will find it of great use in adding some depth and perspective to their efforts. Newer punks looking to cut through nearly two decades of corporate-spoon-fed misinformation and bullshit and wishing to reconnect with what made punk such a threat in the first place will find much here indispensible.

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left of the dialLeft of the Dial: A Review
by Tim Stegall
The Austin Chronicle

October 25th, 2013

Sad and bloody day when Houston historian and educator David Ensminger, drummer for Randy "Biscuit" Turner's final outfit the Texas Biscuit Bombs, nailed the door shut on Left of the Dial in 2005. The most intelligent punk fanzine this side of S.F.'s Search and Destroy, the meat of the mag was Ensminger's penetrating interviews, wherein he confronted the cream of the subculture's history to ask questions no one had thought to ask. To a man, everyone save for Jello Biafra, whom I can testify is tough to steer off-script, was so disarmed by Ensminger that they spilled all. Anthologized here, those conversations stack up an impressive body of work, encompassing punk's founding fathers (Damned, Dils, UK Subs), hardcore heroes (Ian MacKaye, Gary Floyd, Mike Watt), and label-owning visionaries like Frontier Records' Lisa Fancher. Some of the most revealing and candid words spoken from inside punk rock can be found in Left of the Dial, the book.

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left of the dialLeft of the Dial: A Review
June 26th, 2013

Left of the Dial offers a fascinating range of experiences from such subjects as The Dils’ Tony Kinman, a first waver who lays out a near academic history of Rock & Roll, and Minuteman Mike Watt, who offers a harrowing account of the illness that nearly killed him. The diversity is impressive too as we get perspectives beyond the white, hetero dudes who constitute the prevailing punk stereotype to dig the experiences of what it’s like to be Latino (El Vez of The Zeros), female (Kira Roessler of Black Flag), gay (Gary Floyd of The Dicks), or black (Freak Smith of Beefeater) in the scene.


left of the dialLeft of the Dial: A Review
by Adam Ellsworth
The Arts Fuse
June 29th, 2013

In the introduction to Left of the Dial, David Ensminger writes that his “journalism-meets-folklore” writings on the now decades old phenomena known as punk rock are not attempts to “undo the myths” or “tear down the walls” that are associated with the genre.

Instead, it is his intention to “recreate punk on a human scale, person-to-person, and ask questions that flow like ticker tape in the back of my mind.”

With Left of the Dial, he has succeeded.

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left of the dialLeft of the Dial: A Review
by John L Murphy
Pop Matters
July 1st, 2013

Ensminger calls his contributors icons. None matched Joey Ramone’s or Johnny Rotten’s fame, but these clever, driven strategists detoured from the dreary dead end of a decade overwhelmed by Pink Floyd, Yes, and Led Zeppelin, when few up-and-coming bands played their own songs rather than covers by FM-radio monoliths who filled stadiums. Few indie bands, according to some interviewed, even existed (at least on the other side of the garage door); this may smack of hyperbole, but depending on the dismal conditions attested to by many here, it’s the impetus for this “secret history”.

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left of the dialLeft of the Dial: A Review
by Blake Underwood
Indypendent Reader
July 15th 2013

One of the many takeaways from David Ensminger’s newly published Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons is that subtleties matter. Even the book’s title seems to ask us to examine the distinction between an interview and a conversation, which the author makes clear over and over again. Rather than yet another compilation of call-and-response style interviews, where figures from punk’s history are asked to answer the same context-free questions about why yesterday is more important than today, Ensminger has been able to create real dialogues.

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