Book Report on Sober Living
Previously published in Law and Order zine #2, 2010
By Staffan Snitting, Marcus Källman and Fredrik Karlberg
While Ross Haenfler’s excellent Straight edge hardcore punk, clean-living youth, and social change from 2006 attempts, and pretty much succeeds, to explain the broad phenomenon of straight edge in North America from a context of sub cultural studies, the brand new, fresh out of the presses Sober living for the revolution - hardcore punk, straight edge, and radical politics (from now on Sober living) by Gabriel Kuhn (ed.) has a different objective.
Haenfler wrote both for the wider audience, not demanding much pre-knowledge from the reader, and the already sworn in who were given a chance to reflect upon their participation in the collective identity that is straight edge. Kuhn on the other hand presents a chance for the latter to deepen those reflections within a given framework: the revolutionary possibility of straight edge.
While all other books covered in this article have been limited to a specific city, country or continent, Sober living is the first to attempt a more internationalist perspective, deliberately collecting stories and views from Europe, South America and North America, and in the process often dealing with the differences and dynamics between these scenes. Many famous scenesters (Ian MacKaye, Dennis Lyxzén, Robert Refuse and many more) are interviewed and well known articles re-printed, but a lot of space is also given to less known activists of different kinds.
Kuhn does a good job at keeping the content interesting, thought provoking and polemic as different and very much conflicting views are presented. Hell, there’s even opposing opinions within included bands, as Michiel and Paul from Manilftingbanner give their take on straight edge and radical politics. And notes I make in the book’s margin, reflecting my disagreement with certain viewpoints, are on several occasions more or less expressed by others as I read on. Kuhn thereby, in all probability with a well thought out deliberateness, forces the reader to investigate his or her own position.
This being said, I would recommend Sober living not only for the politically interested, but very much also for the more generally historically curious. As in all the other books, there are some absolutely awesome stories in “Sober living” that by themselves, stripped from the political context of the book, would be more than enough to make Kuhn’s work a worthwhile read. I sincerely hope that it will be welcomed with as open arms as the books that only deal with what’s come out of North America.
And even more to come For those who are not satisfied with the above mentioned books, there’s a lot more to check out. Siri C. Brockmeier has written a thesis at the University of Oslo called “Not just boy’s fun – the gendered Experience of American hardcore”. I have begun reading it but not come far enough to include it in this article. Revelation Records will release Why be something that you’re not in the summer of 2010, covering the Detroit hardcore scene from 1979 to 1985. Everybody’s scene: the story of Connecticut’s Anthrax Club by Chris Daily is an account on that classic club. Trapped in a scene: UK hardcore 1985-1989: frontline reports from the hardcore punk underground by Ian Glasper promises to an excellent and very extensive read (I have not been able to read it thoroughly enough yet to be able to include it in this article). Glasper has also written books on the early punk scene as well as the anarcho/peace punk scenes of the UK. There is also a book coming out that will gather all 22 issues of Touch & Go between 1979 and 1983.