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‘The Glass Factory' by Ken Wishnia on Promoting Crime Fiction

By Marsali Taylor
Promoting Crime Fiction
July 31st, 2014


Filomena Buscarella is an ex-cop latina who left Ecuador for the bright lights of the US.  Now she’s a woman on a mission: to get the big boss who’s poisoning all the land in his area...

From the first sentence, this book was a delight.  Filomena is smart and sassy, and totally believable, from her tussles with her three-year-old daughter Antonia (an extra in this book is a fun story told by Antonia aged 12) through sorting out unpleasant thugs and hitting the worst news ever, to the joys of a surprising new romance.  She’s the superwoman we women would all like to be, taking everything in her stride – she’s the fastest improviser around, and there’s no situation she can’t get out of somehow, but in a way that you feel ordinarywoman could too, if she just had Filomena’s pazzazz.  The ‘voice’ was wonderful, the action fast, the ethical dimension of the story satisfying.  This is a re-issue of Wishnia’s third novel (of five Filomena books), first written in the 80s, but there was no outdated feel, and none of those heart-sinking ‘Now this is what you missed in the last three books’ paragraphs.  It read like a stand-alone, and once I’d started I couldn’t put it down.

If you like Santa Teresa’s Kinsey Millhone, or Val McDermid’s Kate Brannigan, you’ll love Filomena.  The first in the series is 23 Shades of Black.

Buy The Glass Factory now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Ken Wishnia's Author Page




Jello-approved labour of love

By Kris Needs
Record Collector Magazine
August 2014

After finding instant infamy in San Francisco in 1978, Dead Kennedys became the first US hardcore punk band to grab a major following in Europe after their 1980 debut album, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, was released by the UK’s Cherry Red label, tellingly, before having to wait for home release on frontman Jello Biafra’s own Alternative Tentacles imprint. Biafra swiftly became one of the US’s most outspoken and controversy-courting activists, eventually running for President in 2000.

Five years in the making, this first major work on one of the States’ most influential bands pulls out all the stops to recount the group’s formation, manifesto and music, focusing mainly around the debut album. Written by esteemed punk author Alex Ogg, the book’s authenticity is enhanced by interviews with Biafra and main players, photos from the archives of Search & Destroy fanzine’s Ruby Ray, and rare memorabilia intrepidly sourced from global underground punk networks.

 The visual cherry comes in the form of the band’s original artist, Winston Smith, supplying his still-striking sleeve designs and flyers, while allowing the famous DK logo to adorn the project. Fans will lap up this beautifully realised document.

A long overdue book focusing on the early years of one of punk rock’s most notorious and greatest loved bands, The Dead Kennedys.

In his prequel, author Alex Ogg reminds us that The Dead Kennedys have never been written about at length (see John Robb’s tribute here). The Ramones, Clash and Pistols have over 100 titles between them, and yet DK are arguably one of the bands that typifies punk at its best. They stuck two fingers up to the music industry and then lunged in to attack it. And who doesn’t recognise that logo?

If you don’t know the Dead Kennedys then:

  • a) seriously?
  • b) you need to book yourself into the punk reprogramming camp (does the opposite of the one in Aceh they sent Indonesian punks to) and immerse yourself particularly in their early works.

For those already inducted, read on…

“Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years” does what it says on the tin. It starts by placing the key players and the band that would become Dead Kennedys in the context of the development of punk at a local San Francisco level and globally. It then charts their rapid progress in spite of, or possibly because of, a “cultural hand grenade of a name” from garage practices and their early performances, DIY released first 7 inch and onto their debut LP – all of which happened from their own reckoning by “pure dumb luck” – perhaps playing down the hard work and ingenuity which was partly responsible. As Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”.

Chapter titles are taken from DK songs, which is always a winner in my view, causing a wry grin. The pages are littered with band collages, Winston Smith’s art, gig flyers and Ruby Ray’s photos capturing the band in their infancy – which keeps the reader’s attention and makes this all the more difficult to put down. Photos of different covers and record middles from across the globe demonstrate how far their message spread across a world eager for acerbic high octane punk rock.  There are also excerpts from the “Hard Rock” comic about DK punctuating the story of pivotal events in the band’s early stages – in itself a humorous contradiction. I’ll be returning to this volume for a cursory browse at the pictures every now and then.

Alex Ogg manages to overcome the difficult job of providing a narrative that includes conflicting versions of events from former band mates who are at loggerheads, allowing the details and trivia to froth around so the reader can decide their own version of “the truth” from whatever bubbles to the surface.  He brings the story alive using interviews not only with band members, but with other contemporary witnesses including gig-goers. The writing manages to go some way to capturing the excitement, buzz, artistic freedom, true rebellion of punk rock in the early days when it really was a shock to the establishment rather than a music genre co-opted into corporate rock.  I came away from reading this book marveling once again at the musicianship, lyrical satire and sarcasm, theatrics, imaginative pranks and art that made Dead Kennedys stand out all those years ago – and still stand out now. Which led to me having a DK-athon over the last week!

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years is packed full of interesting facts and gossip:  I found out what that line about Serpents Eggs in California Uber Alles was really about rather than having a general gist it was “something bad”; the pizza delivery job Jello had back in Boulder being the inspiration for songs like Terminal Preppie and Holiday in Cambodia, and the true identity of Norm, the producer credited for Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  Want to know about production processes and techniques they employed to capture and embellish upon their live sound to create  great records (and the obligatory conflict in the studio within the band and between the band and engineer)?  That’s in here as well.  Want to know who really wrote a particular song?  You’ll have to make your own mind up as each stakes their claim.

A chapter based largely on a stowaway-cum-roadie’s reminiscences provides an insight into the first UK tour Dead Kennedys undertook, bringing such cultural imports as stage diving and an amusing anecdote where the band misread the crowd’s sense of humour, thinking they had themselves misread the irony in the band’s lyrics.

The end notes detailing sources and full quotes provide a deeper level of trivia that some nerds…errmm, I mean “fact fans”, will absolutely love.  In the days before the internet this volume would have been a punk pub quiz host’s bible!   I have to admit I skipped much of the “Yakety Yak” chapter, comprised as it is of quotes about DK from some predictable punk/HC luminaries, a few journalists and the less predictable Pete Townshend (Who?), Elijah Wood and Massive Attack. Probably even something in there to impress Bruce “Punks can’t play their instruments” Dickinson.

Russ “Dr. Punk” Bestley, responsible for the image laden design of this book, submits a 3-page profile/homage to Winston Smith, whose artwork helped amplify the sound and lyrics of DK to create notoriety on a scale the Pistols could only have dreamt of.  Dada, situationism, Jamie Reid and Gee Vaucher all get a mention, of course.

The tale closes,as the title would suggest, after Fresh Fruit was released and drummer Ted left in December 1980.  Alex Ogg has left unpicking the rest of the DK story for “some other poor bastard” but I think he has proven he is the man for the job (go on, you know you want to, Alex!).  Whereas some band/artist biographies get bogged down in so much technical detail that you forget the generality of what you have read and lose track of what went on (I am thinking in particular of People Funny Boy by David Katz) our author has mastered the art of distillation which is just what you need to plot a path through a contentious story such as that of the Dead Kennedys.  Finishing the book, I was left reflecting that the Moral Majority and PMRC couldn’t destroy the band but they have done a pretty good job on each other since via the court system.  That’s another story in itself.

~ Get your copy from turnaround-uk.com, activedistribution.org and pmpress.org - See more at: http://louderthanwar.com/fresh-fruit-for-rotting-vegetables-the-early-years-by-alex-ogg-book-review/#sthash.25ip858k.dpuf

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page




The Day the Country Died: A History of Anarcho Punk 1980–1984 in Musique Machine

By Roger Batty
Musique Machine
August 2014

The Anarcho-Punk scene was one of the most pro-active, prolific, and controversial musical happenings of the early 1980’s britain. It focused Punk rocks original sound into an often more stark & aggressive form, and it also saw bands advocating direct action, concerned about animal rights  issues, environmentalism, and anti war/ anti- nuclear weapon propaganda.  The scenes golden period lasted between 1980 and 1984, and this is the period that “The Day The Country” covers.

This is a new/second edition of Ian Glasper truly definitive study on the scene & the time, and it appears on Oakland based independent/ anarchist publisher PM Press. The book first came out on Cherry Red Press back in 2012- so it’s very telling of the keen interest in this scene & it’s key bands, that the book gets a re-print just two years after it original appeared.  This new edition doesn’t really add much new or extra material from the original edition, a-side from a selection of recent portrait  pictures of key scene figures, and updates on reissues…but really I guess Glasper couldn’t feasible  have added too much else in, as the original edition truly was a very detailed  study of the Anarcho-Punk scene.

The coming-on 500 page paper back is divided into nine chapters, and each of these chapters covers one set area of the UK. Over the whole book Glasper covers a total of 79 bands from the scene- and he gives each an every band, no matter how big or small, it’s own entry in the book- in which he discussers the projects formation, it’s sound, it’s output, ect. For each of the 79 bands covered  Glasper has tracked down at least one member of the each project for a interview, and these interviews are wonderful snapshots of the time & the scene- yet they are never allowed to become over indulgent or too length, as Glasper has clearly edited them to focus in on rewarding scene stories, interesting band details, etc.

Each  band entry runs between a few pages to around thirty pages for the likes of key Anarcho-Punk bands such as Crass, Conflict, Subhumans, Flux Of Pink Indians, and Rudimentary Peni. As well as the texts, we get rare pictures of each & every one of the bands covered too...so as I keep mentioning this truly is a definitive study of the scene, and clearly it must have taken  Glasper a very long time to interview, compile & research this book.

Obviously this book is a must have item for anyone who has even a passing interest in the Anarcho-Punk scene, but I can also see this appealing to anyone who enjoys any form of confrontational music or sonic art. As the book’s  highly readable & rewarding through-out, and it's thoroughly informative yet still concise & interesting over the whole of it’s near-on 500 page length.

A long overdue book focusing on the early years of one of punk rock’s most notorious and greatest loved bands, The Dead Kennedys.

In his prequel, author Alex Ogg reminds us that The Dead Kennedys have never been written about at length (see John Robb’s tribute here). The Ramones, Clash and Pistols have over 100 titles between them, and yet DK are arguably one of the bands that typifies punk at its best. They stuck two fingers up to the music industry and then lunged in to attack it. And who doesn’t recognise that logo?

If you don’t know the Dead Kennedys then:

  • a) seriously?
  • b) you need to book yourself into the punk reprogramming camp (does the opposite of the one in Aceh they sent Indonesian punks to) and immerse yourself particularly in their early works.

For those already inducted, read on…

“Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years” does what it says on the tin. It starts by placing the key players and the band that would become Dead Kennedys in the context of the development of punk at a local San Francisco level and globally. It then charts their rapid progress in spite of, or possibly because of, a “cultural hand grenade of a name” from garage practices and their early performances, DIY released first 7 inch and onto their debut LP – all of which happened from their own reckoning by “pure dumb luck” – perhaps playing down the hard work and ingenuity which was partly responsible. As Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”.

Chapter titles are taken from DK songs, which is always a winner in my view, causing a wry grin. The pages are littered with band collages, Winston Smith’s art, gig flyers and Ruby Ray’s photos capturing the band in their infancy – which keeps the reader’s attention and makes this all the more difficult to put down. Photos of different covers and record middles from across the globe demonstrate how far their message spread across a world eager for acerbic high octane punk rock.  There are also excerpts from the “Hard Rock” comic about DK punctuating the story of pivotal events in the band’s early stages – in itself a humorous contradiction. I’ll be returning to this volume for a cursory browse at the pictures every now and then.

Alex Ogg manages to overcome the difficult job of providing a narrative that includes conflicting versions of events from former band mates who are at loggerheads, allowing the details and trivia to froth around so the reader can decide their own version of “the truth” from whatever bubbles to the surface.  He brings the story alive using interviews not only with band members, but with other contemporary witnesses including gig-goers. The writing manages to go some way to capturing the excitement, buzz, artistic freedom, true rebellion of punk rock in the early days when it really was a shock to the establishment rather than a music genre co-opted into corporate rock.  I came away from reading this book marveling once again at the musicianship, lyrical satire and sarcasm, theatrics, imaginative pranks and art that made Dead Kennedys stand out all those years ago – and still stand out now. Which led to me having a DK-athon over the last week!

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years is packed full of interesting facts and gossip:  I found out what that line about Serpents Eggs in California Uber Alles was really about rather than having a general gist it was “something bad”; the pizza delivery job Jello had back in Boulder being the inspiration for songs like Terminal Preppie and Holiday in Cambodia, and the true identity of Norm, the producer credited for Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  Want to know about production processes and techniques they employed to capture and embellish upon their live sound to create  great records (and the obligatory conflict in the studio within the band and between the band and engineer)?  That’s in here as well.  Want to know who really wrote a particular song?  You’ll have to make your own mind up as each stakes their claim.

A chapter based largely on a stowaway-cum-roadie’s reminiscences provides an insight into the first UK tour Dead Kennedys undertook, bringing such cultural imports as stage diving and an amusing anecdote where the band misread the crowd’s sense of humour, thinking they had themselves misread the irony in the band’s lyrics.

The end notes detailing sources and full quotes provide a deeper level of trivia that some nerds…errmm, I mean “fact fans”, will absolutely love.  In the days before the internet this volume would have been a punk pub quiz host’s bible!   I have to admit I skipped much of the “Yakety Yak” chapter, comprised as it is of quotes about DK from some predictable punk/HC luminaries, a few journalists and the less predictable Pete Townshend (Who?), Elijah Wood and Massive Attack. Probably even something in there to impress Bruce “Punks can’t play their instruments” Dickinson.

Russ “Dr. Punk” Bestley, responsible for the image laden design of this book, submits a 3-page profile/homage to Winston Smith, whose artwork helped amplify the sound and lyrics of DK to create notoriety on a scale the Pistols could only have dreamt of.  Dada, situationism, Jamie Reid and Gee Vaucher all get a mention, of course.

The tale closes,as the title would suggest, after Fresh Fruit was released and drummer Ted left in December 1980.  Alex Ogg has left unpicking the rest of the DK story for “some other poor bastard” but I think he has proven he is the man for the job (go on, you know you want to, Alex!).  Whereas some band/artist biographies get bogged down in so much technical detail that you forget the generality of what you have read and lose track of what went on (I am thinking in particular of People Funny Boy by David Katz) our author has mastered the art of distillation which is just what you need to plot a path through a contentious story such as that of the Dead Kennedys.  Finishing the book, I was left reflecting that the Moral Majority and PMRC couldn’t destroy the band but they have done a pretty good job on each other since via the court system.  That’s another story in itself.

~ Get your copy from turnaround-uk.com, activedistribution.org and pmpress.org - See more at: http://louderthanwar.com/fresh-fruit-for-rotting-vegetables-the-early-years-by-alex-ogg-book-review/#sthash.25ip858k.dpuf

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Ian Glasper's Author Page




Slight Return: Legs' Indie Pop and the Dead Kennedys' Visuals in SF Weekly

By Sam Lefebvre
SF Weekly
July 9th, 2014

Legs' debut, Pass the Ringo, earned its place on SF Weekly's list of 2013's best local albums by deftly executing minimalist pop. On it, a lush bedrock of guitar mingles with saturated analog production as the band strolls behind the beat. The drums are little more than slaps of the snare on the two and four, punctuated by textural cymbal flourishes, while the guitar and organ mostly keep time, advancing irresistible chord progressions with little rhythmic deviation. All of this restraint highlights the vocal melodies of Jeffrey Harland and Amelia Adams wonderfully. On "Go Ask Your Mother," Harland's affected English accent (it's modeled on the ambiguous European accents of movie villains, apparently) delivers the lilting refrain, "Go ask your mother/if she loves you." As they breeze by, it's easy to take the words for indie-pop preciousness, but closer inspection uncovers Harland's snide slight. It's "Two Colours," though, that truly makes the case for Legs' decision to hold back: When the guitar drops out completely in anticipation of Adams' verses, the gesture of simplicity imparts arresting beauty.

Until recently, Legs hadn't played live in over a year. A performance at the Chabot Space and Science Center last month, where the band played beneath cosmic projections, marked the quintet's return to the stage. Plus, the group has announced a new album. Its inclusion on a bill at Hemlock Tavern on Friday, July 11, creates quite the international showcase. Legs guitarist Matt Bullimore hails from New Zealand, as does touring act Civil Union. Also booked is Michael Beach, who lived in Australia for several years. Lastly, the raucous local outfit Violent Change will perform. Like Harland, Violent Change's vocalist Matt Bleyle also sings in British English, but he doesn't explain why.

Opening that same Friday is an art exhibit titled "Punk: Convulsive Beauty," which doubles as the launch for a new book from local publishers PM Press, called Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years, by Alex Ogg. The exhibit, held at the gallery iHeartNorthBeach, presents photographs by Ruby Ray and visual work by Winston Smith, both of whose work appears in Ogg's book.

A staff photographer for V. Vale's seminal Search & Destroy fanzine, Ray captured bands like Crime, the Avengers, and the Sleepers — as well as punk's early adopters — at home and in the streets. True to Search & Destroy's broader countercultural focus, her best-known image is perhaps a portrait of William Burroughs. Smith, who is named after the protagonist in George Orwell's 1984, rose to notoriety for handling the Dead Kennedys' graphic presentation, along with the emblem of Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles records. Working in collage and illustration, his incisive political satire has graced the cover of The New Yorker and other major publications since. As local artists exit San Francisco in droves, the commitment of longtime residents like Smith and Ray, both to the city and to their political convictions, is invigorating.

A long overdue book focusing on the early years of one of punk rock’s most notorious and greatest loved bands, The Dead Kennedys.

In his prequel, author Alex Ogg reminds us that The Dead Kennedys have never been written about at length (see John Robb’s tribute here). The Ramones, Clash and Pistols have over 100 titles between them, and yet DK are arguably one of the bands that typifies punk at its best. They stuck two fingers up to the music industry and then lunged in to attack it. And who doesn’t recognise that logo?

If you don’t know the Dead Kennedys then:

  • a) seriously?
  • b) you need to book yourself into the punk reprogramming camp (does the opposite of the one in Aceh they sent Indonesian punks to) and immerse yourself particularly in their early works.

For those already inducted, read on…

“Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years” does what it says on the tin. It starts by placing the key players and the band that would become Dead Kennedys in the context of the development of punk at a local San Francisco level and globally. It then charts their rapid progress in spite of, or possibly because of, a “cultural hand grenade of a name” from garage practices and their early performances, DIY released first 7 inch and onto their debut LP – all of which happened from their own reckoning by “pure dumb luck” – perhaps playing down the hard work and ingenuity which was partly responsible. As Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”.

Chapter titles are taken from DK songs, which is always a winner in my view, causing a wry grin. The pages are littered with band collages, Winston Smith’s art, gig flyers and Ruby Ray’s photos capturing the band in their infancy – which keeps the reader’s attention and makes this all the more difficult to put down. Photos of different covers and record middles from across the globe demonstrate how far their message spread across a world eager for acerbic high octane punk rock.  There are also excerpts from the “Hard Rock” comic about DK punctuating the story of pivotal events in the band’s early stages – in itself a humorous contradiction. I’ll be returning to this volume for a cursory browse at the pictures every now and then.

Alex Ogg manages to overcome the difficult job of providing a narrative that includes conflicting versions of events from former band mates who are at loggerheads, allowing the details and trivia to froth around so the reader can decide their own version of “the truth” from whatever bubbles to the surface.  He brings the story alive using interviews not only with band members, but with other contemporary witnesses including gig-goers. The writing manages to go some way to capturing the excitement, buzz, artistic freedom, true rebellion of punk rock in the early days when it really was a shock to the establishment rather than a music genre co-opted into corporate rock.  I came away from reading this book marveling once again at the musicianship, lyrical satire and sarcasm, theatrics, imaginative pranks and art that made Dead Kennedys stand out all those years ago – and still stand out now. Which led to me having a DK-athon over the last week!

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years is packed full of interesting facts and gossip:  I found out what that line about Serpents Eggs in California Uber Alles was really about rather than having a general gist it was “something bad”; the pizza delivery job Jello had back in Boulder being the inspiration for songs like Terminal Preppie and Holiday in Cambodia, and the true identity of Norm, the producer credited for Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  Want to know about production processes and techniques they employed to capture and embellish upon their live sound to create  great records (and the obligatory conflict in the studio within the band and between the band and engineer)?  That’s in here as well.  Want to know who really wrote a particular song?  You’ll have to make your own mind up as each stakes their claim.

A chapter based largely on a stowaway-cum-roadie’s reminiscences provides an insight into the first UK tour Dead Kennedys undertook, bringing such cultural imports as stage diving and an amusing anecdote where the band misread the crowd’s sense of humour, thinking they had themselves misread the irony in the band’s lyrics.

The end notes detailing sources and full quotes provide a deeper level of trivia that some nerds…errmm, I mean “fact fans”, will absolutely love.  In the days before the internet this volume would have been a punk pub quiz host’s bible!   I have to admit I skipped much of the “Yakety Yak” chapter, comprised as it is of quotes about DK from some predictable punk/HC luminaries, a few journalists and the less predictable Pete Townshend (Who?), Elijah Wood and Massive Attack. Probably even something in there to impress Bruce “Punks can’t play their instruments” Dickinson.

Russ “Dr. Punk” Bestley, responsible for the image laden design of this book, submits a 3-page profile/homage to Winston Smith, whose artwork helped amplify the sound and lyrics of DK to create notoriety on a scale the Pistols could only have dreamt of.  Dada, situationism, Jamie Reid and Gee Vaucher all get a mention, of course.

The tale closes,as the title would suggest, after Fresh Fruit was released and drummer Ted left in December 1980.  Alex Ogg has left unpicking the rest of the DK story for “some other poor bastard” but I think he has proven he is the man for the job (go on, you know you want to, Alex!).  Whereas some band/artist biographies get bogged down in so much technical detail that you forget the generality of what you have read and lose track of what went on (I am thinking in particular of People Funny Boy by David Katz) our author has mastered the art of distillation which is just what you need to plot a path through a contentious story such as that of the Dead Kennedys.  Finishing the book, I was left reflecting that the Moral Majority and PMRC couldn’t destroy the band but they have done a pretty good job on each other since via the court system.  That’s another story in itself.

~ Get your copy from turnaround-uk.com, activedistribution.org and pmpress.org - See more at: http://louderthanwar.com/fresh-fruit-for-rotting-vegetables-the-early-years-by-alex-ogg-book-review/#sthash.25ip858k.dpuf

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page




Alex Ogg offers up a balanced history of the Dead Kennedys’ early years

By Rock Star Journalist

Author Alex Ogg has accomplished a rare task with his new book, Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years. In the history, out now from PM Press, Ogg manages to present all sides of the band’s history, speaking with all sides of the now-warring members. More surprisingly, it’s actually entertaining.

Much of this is due to Ogg’s own wit, and ability to see the slightly-surreal and absurd aspects that characterize Dead Kennedys’ history. The verbal jabs and parries between the members makes for a rambunctious read, but it never degenerates into the literary equivalent of a Real Housewives episode.

Even better than the interviews with all the principle actors are the talks with people who had a part in the DKs’ story. Producer Geza X makes an appearance, as does Iain McNay, co-founder of Cherry Red Records, and they offer an outsider’s view of the band. Both Geza and McNay were instrumental in the band’s early success, but offer up a vision of the Dead Kennedys before they were a big deal. Geza’s saying he “would have been a nut not to cut ['Holiday In Cambodia']!” speaks to how good they were early on.

The art work is also rather wonderful. There are illustrations by Winston Smith, who did a lot of art with Dead Kennedys over the years, which add a visually anarchic feel to the book. Ruby Ray’s photographs give a glimpse into the early days of the band, even before they formed. It’s astonishing to see how absolutely young the band was — you think of Dead Kennedys as this monolithic structure in the history of punk rock, one of the pillars upon which the genre is based, and then you realize that they were all just kids playing opening slots once upon a time.

There’s so much more story to tell, and Ogg’s book is over so quickly, that you can’t help but wish that he’s the one who tells the rest of the story. He says at Fresh Fruit‘s conclusion that he’s going to leave it for some other poor bastard, but I’d like to think that, at some point in the future, there are copies of his Plastic Surgery Disasters, Frankenchrist, and Bedtime for Democracy on my shelf.

Alex Ogg’s Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years is out now, and available for purchase from the PM Press store.

A long overdue book focusing on the early years of one of punk rock’s most notorious and greatest loved bands, The Dead Kennedys.

In his prequel, author Alex Ogg reminds us that The Dead Kennedys have never been written about at length (see John Robb’s tribute here). The Ramones, Clash and Pistols have over 100 titles between them, and yet DK are arguably one of the bands that typifies punk at its best. They stuck two fingers up to the music industry and then lunged in to attack it. And who doesn’t recognise that logo?

If you don’t know the Dead Kennedys then:

  • a) seriously?
  • b) you need to book yourself into the punk reprogramming camp (does the opposite of the one in Aceh they sent Indonesian punks to) and immerse yourself particularly in their early works.

For those already inducted, read on…

“Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years” does what it says on the tin. It starts by placing the key players and the band that would become Dead Kennedys in the context of the development of punk at a local San Francisco level and globally. It then charts their rapid progress in spite of, or possibly because of, a “cultural hand grenade of a name” from garage practices and their early performances, DIY released first 7 inch and onto their debut LP – all of which happened from their own reckoning by “pure dumb luck” – perhaps playing down the hard work and ingenuity which was partly responsible. As Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”.

Chapter titles are taken from DK songs, which is always a winner in my view, causing a wry grin. The pages are littered with band collages, Winston Smith’s art, gig flyers and Ruby Ray’s photos capturing the band in their infancy – which keeps the reader’s attention and makes this all the more difficult to put down. Photos of different covers and record middles from across the globe demonstrate how far their message spread across a world eager for acerbic high octane punk rock.  There are also excerpts from the “Hard Rock” comic about DK punctuating the story of pivotal events in the band’s early stages – in itself a humorous contradiction. I’ll be returning to this volume for a cursory browse at the pictures every now and then.

Alex Ogg manages to overcome the difficult job of providing a narrative that includes conflicting versions of events from former band mates who are at loggerheads, allowing the details and trivia to froth around so the reader can decide their own version of “the truth” from whatever bubbles to the surface.  He brings the story alive using interviews not only with band members, but with other contemporary witnesses including gig-goers. The writing manages to go some way to capturing the excitement, buzz, artistic freedom, true rebellion of punk rock in the early days when it really was a shock to the establishment rather than a music genre co-opted into corporate rock.  I came away from reading this book marveling once again at the musicianship, lyrical satire and sarcasm, theatrics, imaginative pranks and art that made Dead Kennedys stand out all those years ago – and still stand out now. Which led to me having a DK-athon over the last week!

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years is packed full of interesting facts and gossip:  I found out what that line about Serpents Eggs in California Uber Alles was really about rather than having a general gist it was “something bad”; the pizza delivery job Jello had back in Boulder being the inspiration for songs like Terminal Preppie and Holiday in Cambodia, and the true identity of Norm, the producer credited for Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  Want to know about production processes and techniques they employed to capture and embellish upon their live sound to create  great records (and the obligatory conflict in the studio within the band and between the band and engineer)?  That’s in here as well.  Want to know who really wrote a particular song?  You’ll have to make your own mind up as each stakes their claim.

A chapter based largely on a stowaway-cum-roadie’s reminiscences provides an insight into the first UK tour Dead Kennedys undertook, bringing such cultural imports as stage diving and an amusing anecdote where the band misread the crowd’s sense of humour, thinking they had themselves misread the irony in the band’s lyrics.

The end notes detailing sources and full quotes provide a deeper level of trivia that some nerds…errmm, I mean “fact fans”, will absolutely love.  In the days before the internet this volume would have been a punk pub quiz host’s bible!   I have to admit I skipped much of the “Yakety Yak” chapter, comprised as it is of quotes about DK from some predictable punk/HC luminaries, a few journalists and the less predictable Pete Townshend (Who?), Elijah Wood and Massive Attack. Probably even something in there to impress Bruce “Punks can’t play their instruments” Dickinson.

Russ “Dr. Punk” Bestley, responsible for the image laden design of this book, submits a 3-page profile/homage to Winston Smith, whose artwork helped amplify the sound and lyrics of DK to create notoriety on a scale the Pistols could only have dreamt of.  Dada, situationism, Jamie Reid and Gee Vaucher all get a mention, of course.

The tale closes,as the title would suggest, after Fresh Fruit was released and drummer Ted left in December 1980.  Alex Ogg has left unpicking the rest of the DK story for “some other poor bastard” but I think he has proven he is the man for the job (go on, you know you want to, Alex!).  Whereas some band/artist biographies get bogged down in so much technical detail that you forget the generality of what you have read and lose track of what went on (I am thinking in particular of People Funny Boy by David Katz) our author has mastered the art of distillation which is just what you need to plot a path through a contentious story such as that of the Dead Kennedys.  Finishing the book, I was left reflecting that the Moral Majority and PMRC couldn’t destroy the band but they have done a pretty good job on each other since via the court system.  That’s another story in itself.

~ Get your copy from turnaround-uk.com, activedistribution.org and pmpress.org - See more at: http://louderthanwar.com/fresh-fruit-for-rotting-vegetables-the-early-years-by-alex-ogg-book-review/#sthash.25ip858k.dpuf

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page




Alex Ogg's Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables on Crossfire

By Pete Craven
August 13th, 2014
Crossfire

The Ramones’ original drummer Tommy passed away recently, and whilst there’s no argument his band majorly defined the blueprint of what would soon become known as Punk Rock, it was San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys that can claim to have been the most important actual Punk group America produced. Their influence globally was massive.

I’ll never forget hearing ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ on John Peel; the immediate impact on this 14 year old was seismic. I just had to get a copy! It wasn’t released in the UK until a few months later and I kept badgering local record shops until, finally, in the summer of 1980, I laid my hands on one of the greatest seven inches ever. It was lifted from their debut album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, a classic in its own right.

This book, as the title implies, covers those key initial years of the DKs, delving into the member’s personal stories, their gravitation to San Francisco, and the subsequent formation of the band. Yeah, that’s when the real fun starts! Theirs was, as the world was to discover, a memorable formula, fronted by Biafra’s natural rebellious attitude, to take on and upset the establishment with pranks and mischief, and driven by uniquely powerful and penetrating music, awash with guitarist East Bay Ray’s twisted dark surf guitars. Seriously, hang your head in shame if you’ve never had your ears exposed to Fresh Fruit….

So yeah, these were the DKs Golden Years. More records, tours, and controversy, followed, before they called it quits in ‘86. There’s no denying the huge mark they left behind, but unfortunately the subsequent years of their history has been memorable for all the wrong reasons with singer Jello Biafra being sued by the other Kennedy’s. The relationship between the 2 warring parties remains highly toxic, so credit to Alex Ogg for managing to pull together interviews with all original members (including Biafra) but, tellingly, even the author admits that at times the rancor and animosity is exasperating, to the point you imagine his working title for the book was “Fresh Beefs against Rotten Band Mates”.

The dialogue exposes countless disputes and disparities between the band members; Biafra’s stance is he (and he alone) injected the political vitriol that the DK’s became so notorious for, and the rest of the group were just jobbing musicians that followed his lead down the path of underground righteousness. Or something like that! I accept, certainly lyrically and presentation-wise, Biafra orchestrated much of the menace they became so notorious for, but at the end of the day, it’s a group effort to write songs, perform, and clearly the chemistry between them was tight enough for a time to produce so much musical gold. Jeez, even Johnny Rotten and Glen Matlock were able to bury the hatchet (albeit in the name of Cash from Chaos) but there’s more chance of seeing Peace in The Middle East, that a reformed original line-up DKs (and you won’t find me handing over my hard earned cash to go see the Jello-less line-up).

This book is an engaging read, and pretty much an essential pick-up for anyone with an iota of interest in the DKs and Punk in general. There are band photos, and reproductions of record sleeves, flyers, media clippings, and of course, lots of cool art by the wonderful Winston Smith. Highly recommended.

A long overdue book focusing on the early years of one of punk rock’s most notorious and greatest loved bands, The Dead Kennedys.

In his prequel, author Alex Ogg reminds us that The Dead Kennedys have never been written about at length (see John Robb’s tribute here). The Ramones, Clash and Pistols have over 100 titles between them, and yet DK are arguably one of the bands that typifies punk at its best. They stuck two fingers up to the music industry and then lunged in to attack it. And who doesn’t recognise that logo?

If you don’t know the Dead Kennedys then:

  • a) seriously?
  • b) you need to book yourself into the punk reprogramming camp (does the opposite of the one in Aceh they sent Indonesian punks to) and immerse yourself particularly in their early works.

For those already inducted, read on…

“Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years” does what it says on the tin. It starts by placing the key players and the band that would become Dead Kennedys in the context of the development of punk at a local San Francisco level and globally. It then charts their rapid progress in spite of, or possibly because of, a “cultural hand grenade of a name” from garage practices and their early performances, DIY released first 7 inch and onto their debut LP – all of which happened from their own reckoning by “pure dumb luck” – perhaps playing down the hard work and ingenuity which was partly responsible. As Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”.

Chapter titles are taken from DK songs, which is always a winner in my view, causing a wry grin. The pages are littered with band collages, Winston Smith’s art, gig flyers and Ruby Ray’s photos capturing the band in their infancy – which keeps the reader’s attention and makes this all the more difficult to put down. Photos of different covers and record middles from across the globe demonstrate how far their message spread across a world eager for acerbic high octane punk rock.  There are also excerpts from the “Hard Rock” comic about DK punctuating the story of pivotal events in the band’s early stages – in itself a humorous contradiction. I’ll be returning to this volume for a cursory browse at the pictures every now and then.

Alex Ogg manages to overcome the difficult job of providing a narrative that includes conflicting versions of events from former band mates who are at loggerheads, allowing the details and trivia to froth around so the reader can decide their own version of “the truth” from whatever bubbles to the surface.  He brings the story alive using interviews not only with band members, but with other contemporary witnesses including gig-goers. The writing manages to go some way to capturing the excitement, buzz, artistic freedom, true rebellion of punk rock in the early days when it really was a shock to the establishment rather than a music genre co-opted into corporate rock.  I came away from reading this book marveling once again at the musicianship, lyrical satire and sarcasm, theatrics, imaginative pranks and art that made Dead Kennedys stand out all those years ago – and still stand out now. Which led to me having a DK-athon over the last week!

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years is packed full of interesting facts and gossip:  I found out what that line about Serpents Eggs in California Uber Alles was really about rather than having a general gist it was “something bad”; the pizza delivery job Jello had back in Boulder being the inspiration for songs like Terminal Preppie and Holiday in Cambodia, and the true identity of Norm, the producer credited for Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  Want to know about production processes and techniques they employed to capture and embellish upon their live sound to create  great records (and the obligatory conflict in the studio within the band and between the band and engineer)?  That’s in here as well.  Want to know who really wrote a particular song?  You’ll have to make your own mind up as each stakes their claim.

A chapter based largely on a stowaway-cum-roadie’s reminiscences provides an insight into the first UK tour Dead Kennedys undertook, bringing such cultural imports as stage diving and an amusing anecdote where the band misread the crowd’s sense of humour, thinking they had themselves misread the irony in the band’s lyrics.

The end notes detailing sources and full quotes provide a deeper level of trivia that some nerds…errmm, I mean “fact fans”, will absolutely love.  In the days before the internet this volume would have been a punk pub quiz host’s bible!   I have to admit I skipped much of the “Yakety Yak” chapter, comprised as it is of quotes about DK from some predictable punk/HC luminaries, a few journalists and the less predictable Pete Townshend (Who?), Elijah Wood and Massive Attack. Probably even something in there to impress Bruce “Punks can’t play their instruments” Dickinson.

Russ “Dr. Punk” Bestley, responsible for the image laden design of this book, submits a 3-page profile/homage to Winston Smith, whose artwork helped amplify the sound and lyrics of DK to create notoriety on a scale the Pistols could only have dreamt of.  Dada, situationism, Jamie Reid and Gee Vaucher all get a mention, of course.

The tale closes,as the title would suggest, after Fresh Fruit was released and drummer Ted left in December 1980.  Alex Ogg has left unpicking the rest of the DK story for “some other poor bastard” but I think he has proven he is the man for the job (go on, you know you want to, Alex!).  Whereas some band/artist biographies get bogged down in so much technical detail that you forget the generality of what you have read and lose track of what went on (I am thinking in particular of People Funny Boy by David Katz) our author has mastered the art of distillation which is just what you need to plot a path through a contentious story such as that of the Dead Kennedys.  Finishing the book, I was left reflecting that the Moral Majority and PMRC couldn’t destroy the band but they have done a pretty good job on each other since via the court system.  That’s another story in itself.

~ Get your copy from turnaround-uk.com, activedistribution.org and pmpress.org - See more at: http://louderthanwar.com/fresh-fruit-for-rotting-vegetables-the-early-years-by-alex-ogg-book-review/#sthash.25ip858k.dpuf

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page




Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism

By Ron Jacobs
Counterpunch
Weekend Edition August 8th-10th 2014

Making Rabble Rousing Relevant Again

In recent months, a friend and I have been discussing the possibilities of organizing the adjunct faculty working at the numerous colleges in Vermont. In our discussions, my friend, who is both an adjunct and a labor organizer, has been pushing a model where faculty working at each individual college would organize within the college they worked at. The model I have been leaning towards would have adjuncts organize into a statewide union that set basic requirements for the contracts these workers sign with individual institutions, provided real support to insure those parameters were met and adhered to, and would negotiate for adjuncts as a group with all employing institutions. While the former approach might be a quicker process, it would probably end up being a more difficult one to set up and maintain. After all, since adjuncts often work for two or three different employers each semester (given the low pay rates and insecure nature of the employment), it would be easy for the employing institutions to annul any union efforts by just refusing to hire those adjuncts in said efforts. If the adjuncts organized their union specific to their positions as temporary and independent workers, they could negotiate terms with every employer and thereby avoid most attempts to blacklist those in the union.

The reason I mention these conversations is because they are a great example of the nature of work in the neoliberal capitalist economy of the twenty-first century. It is an economy where employers have the upper hand; a world where salaries, benefits and employment itself is determined almost entirely by the employers and the market they serve. The idea of employer loyalty to its workers—something tenuous in the best of times—is now considered not only out of fashion, but bad business. Unions are usually seen as impediments to progress, if not just plain wrong. This dynamic rules employment in both the public and private sectors and is the result of a number of factors associated with neoliberal capitalism —“free trade agreements,” tax breaks for corporations, the privatization of public services including education, water, energy and even roads, and the domination of the media by a very small number of capitalist entities determined to dominate not only the markets but the very world itself.

In order to survive in the world defined by neoliberal capitalism, workers have slowly come to realize that they must organize in new ways that respond to the new situation. It is this realization that might just prevent the total destruction of worker organizing. A new book edited by Immanuel Ness was published with this in mind. The book, titled New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism, presents several case studies of organizing drives among workers around the world. These case studies explore the shortcomings of bureaucratic unionism not just in its current practice, but in its fundamental understanding of unionism itself. From Russia, to China; from Sweden to Colombia; Minneapolis to London; the stories in these pages are ones almost anyone who has worked in the food industry or on a factory floor can relate to. Petty dictators for bosses, management willing to work for salary just to get a title and a hope for advancement, and workers wanting to organize but afraid of losing their jobs and ending up on the street—this is the situation workers find themselves in.

As the title suggests, there may well be a solution. It is called syndicalism. For those who don’t know what this is, the Concise Encyclopedia defines it as “Movement advocating direct action by the working class to abolish the capitalist order, including the state, and to replace it with a social order based on the syndicat, a free association of self-governing producers.” This is a set of ideas at least as old as industrial capitalism that reached its greatest popularity in the early part of the twentieth century when capital before it was quashed (often violently) across the globe. This book is dedicated to its rebirth. Among syndicalism’s adherents were the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or Wobblies. Indeed, this book includes essays describing two recent Wobbly campaigns: one amongst fast food workers in Minnesota and the other featuring janitorial workers in Britain. Both stories describe a workforce with faith in its power, a determination to win its struggle and optimism based on the facts of their lives and an understanding that by staying united they can make those lives better. Simultaneously, like the rest of the articles in this book, the IWW tales are tempered with an understanding of the real nature of the forces opposed to the workers’ success. Underlying everything is this reality—working people of the world cannot depend on the existing structures to work in their favor.

If they don’t wish to be denied justice in the workplace, they must be ready to organize themselves and fight for it.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Immanuel Ness's Author Page




Peter Kuper, The System on DART

By Peggy Roalf
DART Design Arts Daily
August 7th ,2014

In a moment of heightened awareness one day back in 1995, Peter Kuper, while riding the packed #2 train, began wondering about his fellow passengers and their destinations in a new way.

“Was this trip all we have in common,” he thought, “or might our lives crisscross and impact one another in positive or even catastrophic ways. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings in China could cause a storm in Manhattan, what would the various actions of a subway full of commuters incite?”

Kuper is one of the co-founders of World War 3 Illustrated, which was launched in December 1979. The anthology magazine was a home for comic book work and graphic/illustrated storytelling that was anti-establishment and aggressively critical of the social and political right-wing conservatism that prevailed following the election of President Ronald Reagan.


Spread from The System, © Peter Kuper

It embraced the “us vs. them” politics of the Lower East Side of Manhattan including housing rights, gentrification, police brutality, racism; and economic inequality. Pages from World War 3 Illustrated were appropriated by protesters during the Tomkins Square Park Riot of 1988, to be transformed into improvised signage and DIY posters.


World War 3 Illustrated Cover

From this day-to-day laboratory of conflicts and coinciences, Kuper began mentally assembling The System, a wordless chronicle of the clashes and convergences of New York City’s populace. First published as three separate comics in 1996, later collected in a paperback anthology in 1997, The System is now available in a colorful hardcover edition. In the Introduction, Calvin Reed, co-editor of PW Comics World writes:

Originally published in 1997, The System serves as an early repository of all [Kuper’s] influences, graphic achievements, and attempts to reconcile comics to their own formal history, to life and to art, and specifically to the knockabout experience of life in New York City….A wordless pictorial novel reminiscent of Frans Masereal’s Passionate Journey, The System is a parable-like, sentimental meditation on the convulsive social drama of day-to-day urban life. It weaves its multiple narrative threads into a brightly patterned fabric of recognizable, fictionalized events—a kind of melodrama on the patterns of city life.

Kuper’s notion of the urban “system” is an elaborate network of coincidental encounters, parallel routines and, most important, the overlapping, interdependent tales of disparate social and politicized interests that loom over the lives of ordinary people, from strippers and crooked cops to martyred street artists, corporate financiers, and Pakistani drivers.

The System details the capricious power of coincidence, the simple bonds of affection, the daily grind, and the super-charged existential consequences of ethnic and social complexity—and illuminates it all with the glow of New York City’s scary magnificence.

You can meet Peter and get signed copies of The System (PM Press 2014) and World War 3 Illustrated at events coming up this fall:

Sept 2: Comic Symposium at Parsons The New School for Design

Sept 8-15: Bangalore, India Comic Con

Brooklyn Book Festival: Sept 17-19

Sept 27: New York Art Book Fair, PS 1 Moma

Sept 29: Comic Symposium Parsons (with all of WW3 artists)

Oct 9-12: NYC Comic Con 

Details on Facebook and Twitter: @PKuperArt

Peter Kuper is the co-founder of World War 3 Illustrated. He has written and drawn Spy vs Spy for Mad magazine since 1997. He has also produced over 25 books including an adaptation of Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Peter teaches comics at The School of Visual arts and is a visiting professor at Harvard. BlogWW3. WW3 Video.

Buy The System now | Buy The System e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page




Postivie Force: DC Activism

By Shelly Jones
Photo by Owen Richards
Huck Magazine
June 26th, 2014

“The destructive urge is also a creative urge!” Robin Bell's new documentary about DC punk activist group Positive Force reveals the radical possibilities of a subculture.

“Revolution has to begin in the ruthless criticism of everything existing.”

Or so says the Marx quote that opens Robin Bell’s new documentary More Than a Witness about Washington DC-based punk activist organisation Positive Force. It’s summoned by one of the organisation’s co-founders Mark Andersen, who goes on to quote Bakunin too: “The destructive urge is also a creative urge.”

Combined, suggests Andersen, these quotes form the essential politics of punk. “It’s an all-out assault on business as usual,” he says, animatedly on camera, “on society, on the state, on religion, on the family. All of the sacred cows are subjected to the withering, truth-seeking gaze of punk.”

Positive Force emerged in 1985 – “rising from the creative, politically-charged ferment of DC punk’s Revolution Summer” – and Robin Bell transports us back to this heady era of political culture through archive footage of local bands like Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses and Bikini Kill and contemporary talking-head interviews with some of punk’s most influential pioneers – from Ian Mackaye to Penny Rimbaud (Crass).

Mark Andersen, however, is the anchor around which the film gravitates. Although Positive Force once had a network of a dozen groups around the States, Andersen’s faction, in DC, is the only one still active.

The group has a storied history – their Positive Force House (“a garden of radical possibilities”) teetered between serving as a hotbed of anti-systemic dissent and a more constructive community centre – but their commitment to making real social change through music, and culture in general, has been an inspiration for activists the world over.

We caught up with Mark to find out more.

When did Robin approach you about the film?
Robin approached me in 2009. He had been thinking about it for awhile, and even talked to Ian MacKaye to get advice about whether to do it, since it was going to be a lot of hard work and would require some serious fundraising to do it right. When Ian encouraged him, Robin decided to take the plunge.

Why did you feel that now was the right time to tell the Positive Force story?
Well, it really wasn’t my call. Robin wanted to do it, I trusted him, so it was simple to decide to help out. Also, Craig O’Hara at PM Press was key in this, because when he heard about this film, he was excited to put it out as a DVD. His support and enthusiasm has been extraordinary, we are lucky to be working with him.

What message do you hope the film leaves behind?
That people have the power to change themselves and their world. Together we can really do anything we put our minds to, as long as we also put our back into the work, and take care to make space for each other.

The film wrestles with a lot of contradictions within activism – disruption vs constructive community work, hierarchy vs horizontal etc. At this stage, do you feel like you’ve worked out the perfect way an organisation like this can exist?
I don’t know that there is a perfect way to do activism, or for an organisation to thrive. But I do have some sense that there needs to be enough structure to keep the group on the rails, getting things done, but not so much as to stifle individual initiative or creativity. Relationships are also key. It is a tricky balance to strike, and depends on folks with different attitudes or approaches to find a common ground to work from together. Do it yourself and do it together, in other words.

The 1980s was a great time for politically conscious culture. Do you see that spirit alive in contemporary art and music now?
Honestly, much of contemporary culture seems pretty sold out and safe, not wrestling with the big issues or trying to take a stand, to put yourself on the line. There are exceptions of course, but that is how I see it. Having said that, this tends to be the reality always, as human beings tend toward a certain passivity. Let’s remember that Reagan and Thatcher ruled the 1980s ultimately; we fought them but we lost, for now. Moreover, there are forever powerful commercial forces trying to just keep us consuming, making them more and more money, and trying to keep us from questioning the system or building a new, better one. At the same time, we can choose any time to fight back. And we must. Every bit helps, and we are all called to play our role. To be, “More than a witness,” if you will.

Why do you think figures like Ian Mackaye and Penny Rimbaud have been and remain such role models for a certain type of socially conscious punk? What is it about them that endures?
Ian and Penny – or other folks such as Gee Vaucher or Kathleen Hanna – are the real thing, as deep and true as the ocean. They ‘live the life” but – as punk would tell us – so can each of us, if we really want to do so. It is not easy, to be sure, but the rewards of living in some authentically conscious and compassionate way are immense, for ourselves and our world.

Positive Force has encouraged people to look at the injustice on their own doorstep. Do you think change is something that has to happen close to home before it can happen elsewhere?
‘Here’ and ‘there’ is too simple of a dichotomy. As we know, everything is connected, especially in this globalised world. However, a focus on the injustice somewhere else without wrestling first and foremost with that injustice right here amongst us is a danger, even a cop out. Change has to happen on all levels: personal, local, and global.

We live in the age of ‘corporate social responsibility’ and Bill Gates, who wants to ‘save’ Africa. What is your opinion on top-down humanitarian work compared to grassroots activism? Are we all on the same side?
It is hard to ignore the good that big money donors can do, but ultimately their money has to fuel transformation at the grassroots or it is not real. Of course, we also have to question systems that allow individuals to accumulate such huge mountains of money while others starve. In the end, this has to change as well, though in the short term, money from anywhere that helps people survive day-to-day is a good thing, I think. There is inevitably a certain element of thievery in how the rich make their money; thus they need to give it back, and the best of them realise this. As the [seventeenth-century English agrarian socialist group] Diggers said, “The earth is a common treasury for everyone to share.”

You must have seen a lot of volunteers pass through. Do you keep in touch with many? What kind of things have Positive Force volunteers gone on to do?
It has been hard to stay in touch sometimes, and remains so, though innovations like Facebook can help to some limited degree. PF members have gone on to start their own organisations, to write books, to be professors, community workers, lawyers, doctors, parents, and beyond. Punk – like revolution – is relevant in any circumstance you find yourself, and I have often been inspired by the creative ways my PF friends have expressed their ideals as they’ve grow older and entered into more mainstream society. Those human connections, those relationships remain perhaps the most powerful and positive legacy of Positive Force, I’d say. When we come together, people have immense and ultimately unstoppable power. So we need each other. As Chumbawamba said, “Isolation is the biggest barrier to change.”

Is Positive Force still active? If so what does it work on these days?
Absolutely. PF still does what it always did, organising benefit concerts, educational events and creative protests, as well as direct service work with seniors, the homeless, and other marginalised folks. Above all, we are trying to build caring, just and inclusive community, bringing people together across boundaries like race, class, religion, sexual orientation, culture, nationality, and even language.

What is the connection with We Are Family?
We Are Family is one of PF’s most critical partners in the above mentioned mission, and PF volunteers are crucial to We Are Family’s work, together with volunteers from many other diverse communities.

Is there a religious agenda?
Not for the group, though some members may well be driven by their religious convictions, just as others are driven by their anarchist convictions or socialist convictions etc.

What are your plans for the future?
To keep trying to find ways to remind people of the immense power and responsibility that we share for building better selves and a better world. As always, we all must do whatever we can with whatever we have wherever we are, right now. As PF has often said, “The revolution starts now with you.”

You can find out more about Positive Force and the More Than a Witness documentary on their respective websites.

Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page




S. Brian Willson's Blood on the Tracks reviewed on the History News Network

By Jeremy Kuzmarov
History News Network
February 26th, 2012

Review of S. Brian Willson's "Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson: A Psychohistorical Memoir” - See more at: http://hnn.us/article/144792#sthash.tRsFUs8A.VcEWSBI1.dpuf

Jeremy Kuzmarov is an assistant professor of history at the University of Tulsa and author of a book on Vietnam and the War on Drugs and a forthcoming volume on American police training and counterinsurgency and its link to human rights abuses in the developing world. - See more at: http://hnn.us/article/144792#sthash.tRsFUs8A.VcEWSBI1.dpuf

On September 1, 1987, S. Brian Willson, a Vietnam veteran, was run over by a train outside the Concord Naval Weapons Station in Northern California while trying to block munitions shipments to the Nicaraguan Contras. Willson lost both of his legs and suffered brain damage. After his miraculous recovery, he was greeted as a national hero in Nicaragua and also received a letter of apology from Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, who told him that she was sickened by her father’s “aggressively anti-Sandinista rhetoric” and “absurd reference to the Contras as freedom fighters.”

In Blood on the Tracks, Willson discusses his remarkable life-journey from a young conservative to a peace activist willing to sacrifice his body in defiance of the empire for which he once fought. Willson grew up in upstate New York where he had a conventional boyhood playing cowboys and Indians and starring on his high school baseball and basketball teams. His parents were religious conservatives who supported the Republican Party, with his father gravitating to extremist right-wing organizations such as the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Klan after losing his job as manager of a flour mill. In 1964, after graduating from a small Baptist college, Willson supported Barry Goldwater for president and advocated “bombing the godless communists in Vietnam into oblivion.”

In the Air Force, Willson’s job was to document bombing casualties in Vinh Long province, which opened his eyes to the terrible suffering caused by the war. Before going overseas, he heard Senator Ernest Gruening from Alaska give a speech describing the Gulf of Tonkin attack as a fraud. At the time, he had been skeptical but now began to consider it in a new light, particularly as he witnessed U.S. pilots mercilessly strafe villages, killing women and children. Near the end of his tour, Willson had dinner with a Vietnamese friend, whose family showed him a postage stamp honoring Norman Morrison, the Quaker peace activist who immolated himself outside Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara’s office. By this time, Willson had come to feel a connection to Morrison, someone who grew up just miles from his boyhood home.

After returning to the United States, Willson participated in Operation Dewey Canyon III, “a limited incursion in the country of Congress” where disgruntled vets hurled their medals over the Capitol fence, stating that the medals were “drenched in the blood of the innocent.”

Settling back into civilian life, Willson earned his law degree and worked as a public defender, penal consultant, and social worker, witnessing first-hand what he considered to be the injustices of the court and penal systems. He became increasingly disillusioned by mainstream politics after having difficulty lobbying for basic penal reforms. Willson’s political perspective was further shaped by his extensive reading in the history of U.S. imperialism as well as anarchist and socialist philosophies. While living in Washington, he attended lectures by people such as Noam Chomsky and encountered non-conformists such as Wally and Juanita Nelson, tax resistors who had been active in the civil rights movement and believed that each person had a duty to consume only what he or she could produce.

During the early 1980s, after experiencing painful flashbacks to Vietnam, Willson worked at a local VA center and aided in the Senate campaign of John F. Kerry, who later disappointed him by voting for the Iraq War. Seeing Nicaragua as yet another potential Vietnam, Willson became a tax resistor and joined in solidarity missions where he witnessed terrorist atrocities carried out by Contra operatives against rural campesinos who predominantly supported the socialist Sandinistas. As with the Vietnamese a decade earlier, Willson came to admire people who struggled valiantly in defense of their revolution. He also became connected with kindred spirits such as Charlie Liteky, a Medal of Honor winner turned peace activist, Phil Roettinger, a dissident CIA agent who had participated in the 1954 coup in Guatemala, and Bill Gandall, who had fought with the Marines against the original Sandinistas in the 1920s.

Back in the U.S., Willson gave lectures documenting Contra atrocities and attempted in vain to convince congressional delegates of the immorality of Reagan’s foreign policy. One congressman, Douglas Wayne Owens from Utah asked him, “Why should I believe someone who looks like you,” a reference presumably to his long hair. Devastated by this experience, Willson and several cohorts from Veterans for Peace, including Liteky and Roettinger, launched a forty-day-long fast on the Capitol steps that attracted wide-scale media attention and support from celebrities. The group then attempted to block U.S. weapons shipments, leading to the fateful train wreck in which Willson lost his legs (the others were able to escape just before being hit). The conductors, as he later found out, were under orders not to stop for protestors, considered to be “pests” threatening to arouse others from their indifference and passivity.

After recovering from his wounds and returning to Nicaragua as a hero, Willson traveled to many other countries devastated directly or indirectly by U.S. intervention, including El Salvador, Panama, Cuba, Palestine, Chiapas in Mexico, and Iraq. One again he was appalled at the devastation bred by mechanized warfare while taking inspiration from those standing up for indigenous rights. Willson’s experiences ultimately helped to solidify his belief that the roots of American militarism lay with the incessant consumerism of American society. He continues his work as a peace activist and has decided to opt out of what he calls the “American Way of Life,” focusing instead on living a simple, ecologically sustainable life in rural Massachusetts. Like other anarchist thinkers, Willson believes in decentralized systems of power and self-reliant communities functioning at one with nature, which he believes hold the key to human sustainability and progress over the long-term.

Willson’s journey from conservative Goldwater supporter to radical peace activist and environmentalist is incredibly inspiring and his memoir should be widely read. Over the past five decades he has encountered the range of human experience, including the barbarism of modern war, the arrogance of power, the banality of evil, as well as the courage of peace activists and dissenters and dignity of those struggling to survive against the odds. He himself appears to carry the weight of the American Century, with all its violence and destructiveness, on his back, and which has taken a profound psychological and physical toll on him.

Nevertheless, Willson has emerged strong and defiant and with a vision for the future. He is a wise and courageous man, and from him we have much to learn.

- See more at: http://hnn.us/article/144792#sthash.tRsFUs8A.VcEWSBI1.dpuf

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