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'They Wanted to be Rock Stars’: Crass Co-Founder Disses Sex Pistols and Clash in Positive Force DC

Dangerous Minds
December 16th, 2014

Positive Force is a Washington DC-based activist collective that’s been around since 1985. The documentary, Positive Force: More Than A Witness; 30 Years Of Punk Politics In Action, explores the history of this organization, which often stages benefits with like-minded bands to promote various causes. There’s a wealth of archival performances in the film—including footage of Fugazi playing in front of the White House on the eve of the Gulf War—and this updated edition of the DVD has another 30+ minutes of rare live clips. The documentary also features interviews with such notables as Ian MacKaye, Kathleen Hanna, Jello Biafra, and Dave Grohl, who talks about his first-ever live gig, drumming for the band Scream at a Positive Force benefit.

One of the highlights of Positive Force is the interview with Penny Rimbaud, drummer and co-founder of the UK group Crass. Rimbaud’s band, which existed from 1977-1984, very much influenced the principles of Positive Force. Crass not only put out their own records and were critical of the mainstream, but they were also activists, believing that it wasn’t enough to just sing about social justice, you had to practice what you preached. In the clip, Rimbaud accuses the members of the Clash and the Sex Pistols of not meaning it, man, as he feels their drive to make it as rock stars came before all else.
If you have any interest at all in the history of American punk and/or activism, Positive Force is definitely worth your time.

All right, here’s Mr. Rimbaud:

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The price of justice? Read Paul Krassner’s Patty Hearst & the Twinkie Murders
November 24th, 2014

Rating: 5 Stars

Reading Paul Krassner is like imbibing LSD: describing it ain’t nothing like experiencing it. PM Press, a relatively new publishing outfit, has a great series called Outspoken Authors, which is nothing short of mind expanding, strangely serendipitous and desperately needed today. Everyone you ever wanted to read but were afraid to admit you didn’t know is here: Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, Cory Doctorow and a host of other. Hopefully, this list will grow and increase, but in the meantime they have a bouquet of Paul Krassner material to warm the heart of any aging radical or hippy, and instruct and educate anyone young and interested in the history of the United States.
 Titled Patty Hearst & the Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials, the book explains in chilling detail how a woman can be sentenced to 35 years in prison after being kidnapped and brainwashed for robbing a bank, and how a man can be sentenced to six years for killing a mayor and city Supervisor, shooting the mayor several times in the body and head and then re-loading to take care of the supervisor. Interlaced here is the Jim Jones tragedy, so the stories explain two urban clichés, “drinking the cool aid”, which resulted in the deaths of over nine hundred people in what became known as the Jonestown Massacre, and the “Twinkie defense”, which justified the two murders in city hall.
Experiencing Krassner’s writing is extraordinary. There’s no fireworking mumbo jumbo attack on the English language that “New Journalism” and Tom Wolfe inflicted on America, nor is it any mystic stream of consciousness nonsense. It straight out brilliantly written and reasoned prose describing the unbelievable and utterly outrageous and mind boggling hypocrisy of aspects of American culture. Krassner’s writing proceeds logically, describing himself and his friends in the moment of whatever he happens to be working on. For example, during the police riots supposedly defending city hall from thousands of gay people reacted to the absurd sentence the murderer of a gay city supervisor received, Krassner relates how his experience with a policeman wielding a billy club left him crippled for life.

About Krassner the late George Carlin said: “The FBI was right–this man is dangerous–and funny and necessary.”

If you don’t know Krassner, buy this book.

If you do know Krassner, I know you will.

Buy Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders | Buy the e-Book of Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders | Back to Paul Krassner's Author Page

Against Carceral Feminism, Victoria Law on Jacobin Magazine

By Victoria Law
Jacobin Magazine

Relying on state violence to curb domestic violence only ends up harming the most marginalized women.

“Prison Blueprints.” Remeike Forbes / Jacobin

herie Williams, a thirty-five-year-old African-American woman in the Bronx, just wanted to protect herself from her abusive boyfriend. So she called the cops. But although New York requires police to make an arrest when responding to domestic violence calls, the officers did not leave their car. When Williams demanded their badge numbers, the police handcuffed her, drove her to a deserted parking lot, and beat her, breaking her nose, spleen, and jaw. They then left her on the ground.

“They told me if they saw me on the street, that they would kill me,” Williams later testified.

The year was 1999. It was a half-decade after the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which deployed more police and introduced more punitive sentencing in an attempt to reduce domestic violence. Many of the feminists who had lobbied for the passage of VAWA remained silent about Williams and countless other women whose 911 calls resulted in more violence. Often white, well-heeled feminists, their legislative accomplishment did little to stem violence against less affluent, more marginalized women like Williams.

This carceral variant of feminism continues to be the predominant form. While its adherents would likely reject the descriptor, carceral feminism describes an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to violence against women.

This stance does not acknowledge that police are often purveyors of violence and that prisons are always sites of violence. Carceral feminism ignores the ways in which race, class, gender identity, and immigration status leave certain women more vulnerable to violence and that greater criminalization often places these same women at risk of state violence.

t_9Casting policing and prisons as the solution to domestic violence both justifies increases to police and prison budgets and diverts attention from the cuts to programs that enable survivors to escape, such as shelters, public housing, and welfare. And finally, positioning police and prisons as the principal antidote discourages seeking other responses, including community interventions and long-term organizing.

How did we get to this point? In previous decades, police frequently responded to domestic violence calls by telling the abuser to cool off, then leaving. In the 1970s and 1980s, feminist activists filed lawsuits against police departments for their lack of response. In New York, Oakland, and Connecticut, lawsuits resulted in substantial changes to how the police handled domestic violence calls, including reducing their ability to not arrest.

Included in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the largest crime bill in US history, VAWA was an extension of these previous efforts. The $30 billion legislation provided funding for one hundred thousand new police officers and $9.7 billion for prisons. When second-wave feminists proclaimed “the personal is the political,” they redefined private spheres like the household as legitimate objects of political debate. But VAWA signaled that this potentially radical proposition had taken on a carceral hue.

At the same time, politicians and many others who pushed for VAWA ignored the economic limitations that prevented scores of women from leaving violent relationships. Two years later, Clinton signed “welfare reform” legislation. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act set a five-year limit on welfare, required recipients to work after two years, regardless of other circumstances, and instated a lifetime ban on welfare for those convicted of drug felonies or who had violated probation or parole.

By the end of the 1990s, the number of people receiving welfare (the majority of whom were women) had fallen 53 percent, or 6.5 million. Gutting welfare stripped away an economic safety net that allowed survivors to flee abusive relationships.

Mainstream feminists have also successfully pressed for laws that require police to arrest someone after they receive a domestic violence call. By 2008, nearly half of all states had a mandatory arrest law. The statutes have also led to dual arrests, in which police handcuff both parties because they perceive each as assailants, or they can’t identify the “primary aggressor.”

Women marginalized by their identities, such as queers, immigrants, women of color, trans women, or even women who are perceived as loud or aggressive, often do not fit preconceived notions of abuse victims and are thus arrested.

And the threat of state violence isn’t limited to physical assault. In 2012, Marissa Alexander, a black mother in Florida, was arrested after she fired a warning shot to prevent her husband from continuing to attack her. Her husband left the house and called the police. She was arrested and, although he had not been injured, prosecuted for aggravated assault.

Alexander argued that her actions were justified under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Unlike George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin three months earlier, Alexander was unsuccessful in using that defense. Despite her husband’s sixty-six-page deposition, in which he admitted abusing Alexander as well as the other women with whom he had children, a jury still found her guilty.

The prosecutor then added the state’s 10-20-LIFE sentencing enhancement, which mandates a twenty-year sentence when a firearm is discharged. In 2013, an appellate court overturned her conviction. In response, the prosecutor has vowed to seek a sixty-year sentence during her trial this December.

Alexander is not the only domestic violence survivor who’s been forced to endure additional assault by the legal system. In New York state, 67 percent of women sent to prison for killing someone close to them had been abused by that person. Across the country, in California, a prison study found that 93 percent of the women who had killed their significant others had been abused by them. Sixty-seven percent of those women reported that they had been attempting to protect themselves or their children.

No agency is tasked with collecting data on the number of survivors imprisoned for defending themselves; thus, there are no national statistics on the frequency of this domestic violence-criminalization intersection. What national figures do show is that the number of women in prison has increased exponentially over the past few decades.

In 1970, 5,600 women were incarcerated across the nation. In 2013, 111,300 women were in state and federal prisons and another 102,400 in local jails. (These numbers do not include trans women incarcerated in men’s jails and prisons.) The majority have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse prior to arrest, often at the hands of loved ones.


Carceral feminists have said little about law-enforcement violence and the overwhelming number of survivors behind bars. Similarly, many groups organizing against mass incarceration often fail to address violence against women, often focusing exclusively on men in prison. But others, especially women of color activists, scholars, and organizers, have been speaking out.

In 2001, Critical Resistance, a prison-abolition organization, and INCITE! Women of Color against Violence, an anti-violence network, issued a statement assessing the effects of increased criminalization and the silence around the nexus of gender and police violence. Noting that relying on policing and prisons has discouraged organizing community responses and interventions, the statement challenged communities to make connections, create strategies to combat both forms of violence, and document their efforts as examples for others seeking alternatives.

Individuals and grassroots groups have taken up that challenge. In 2004, anti-violence advocate Mimi Kim founded Creative Interventions. Recognizing that alternative approaches to violence need to be demonstrated, the group developed a site to collect and publicly offer tools and resources on addressing violence in everyday life. It also developed the StoryTelling and Organizing Project, where people can share their experiences of intervening in domestic violence, family violence, and sexual abuse.

In 2008, social-justice organizers and abuse survivors Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepnza-Samarasinha compiled “The Revolution Starts at Home,” a 111-page zine documenting various efforts in activist circles to hold abusers accountable. Piepnza-Samarasinha described how trusted friends helped devise strategies to keep her safe from a violent and abusive ex who shared many of the same political and social circles:

When he showed up at the prison justice film screening I was attending, held in a small classroom where we would have been sitting very close to each other, friends told him he was not welcome and asked him to leave. When he called in to a local South Asian radio show doing a special program on violence against women, one of the DJs told him that she knew he had been abusive and she was not going to let him on air if he was not willing to own his own violence.

My safety plan included never going to a club without a group of my girls to have my back. They would go in first and scan the club for him and stay near me. If he showed up, we checked in about what to do.

In their article “Domestic Violence: Examining the Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender,” feminist academics Natalie Sokoloff and Ida Dupont mention another approach taken by immigrant and refugee women in Halifax, Nova Scotia, one which tackled the economic underpinnings that prevent many from escaping abusive relationships.

The women, many of whom had survived not just abuse but torture, political persecution, and poverty, created an informal support group at a drop-in center. From there, they formed a cooperative catering business, which enabled them to offer housing assistance for those who needed it. In addition, women shared childcare and emotional support.

As these examples demonstrate, strategies to stop domestic violence frequently require more than a single action. They often require a long-term commitment from friends and community to keep a person safe, as in Piepnza-Samarasinha’s case. For those involved in devising alternatives, like the women in Halifax, it may require not only creating immediate safety tactics, but long-term organizing that addresses the underlying inequalities that exacerbate domestic violence.

By relying solely on a criminalized response, carceral feminism fails to address these social and economic inequities, let alone advocate for policies that ensure women are not economically dependent on abusive partners. Carceral feminism fails to address the myriad forms of violence faced by women, including police violence and mass incarceration. It fails to address factors that exacerbate abuse, such as male entitlement, economic inequality, the lack of safe and affordable housing, and the absence of other resources.

Carceral feminism abets the growth of the state’s worst functions, while obscuring the shrinking of its best. At the same time, it conveniently ignores the anti-violence efforts and organizing by those who have always known that criminalized responses pose further threats rather than promises of safety.

The work of INCITE!, Creative Interventions, the StoryTelling and Organizing Project, and “The Revolution Starts at Home” (which sparked so much interest that it was expanded into a book) are part of a longer history of women of color resisting both domestic and state violence. Their efforts shows that there is an alternative to carceral solutions, that we don’t have to deploy state violence in a disastrous attempt to curb domestic violence.

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Dead Kennedys on Razorcake review #2

By Andy Higgins
November 24th, 2014

 In terms of content, the book’s primary focus is on “the early years” of the band, so be aware that it is only a partial story which is very much preoccupied with the impact and reactions surrounding the creation and release of Fresh Fruitin 1980.

The main narrative consists of a prequel and seven subsequent chapters, supplemented by a brief piece of guitarist East Bay Ray’s and vocalist Jello Biafra’s views on the legacy of Fresh Fruit, some quite revealing endnotes, a yakety-yak section of comments and quotations, and a short piece entitled “Grafic Anarchy” by Ogg’s co-conspirator and fellow academic Russ Bestley.

  Although the book runs out at 216 pages, the worded content is surprisingly small with the bulk of the pages being given to illustrations of gig posters, record sleeves, liner notes, images of record labels, visual montages, and band photographs. The visual anarchy of the Winston Smith creations remains a big part of how Dead Kennedys communicated their unique brand of wit and wisdom; consequently, chapters only contain between seven and nine pages of text.

  Aside from Marian Kester’s poorly received Dead Kennedys: The Unauthorised Version, this well-researched and relatively fresh-fruited subject matter christens it with a hallmark of originality. Indeed, with over one hundred book titles already dedicated to bands such as the Pistols, Clash, and Ramones this book is long overdue, which, in many ways, makes it a more welcomed and interesting read.

  Throughout its pages, Ogg reminds us that Dead Kennedys notoriety was achieved with almost zero radio play, without the assistance of a major label, and largely from coverage in the underground / DIY press. It is also fair to claim that the band not only existed outside the mainstream but were arguably the first band of their stature to actually turn on and attack the music industry itself, which they did in their own inimitably acerbic way.

  Being familiar with the band’s material, it was also great to learn more about the band members’ back histories and how they all came together in San Francisco as part of its burgeoning DIY scene. From Ray’s qualifications in mathematics and his politically active parents to Klaus’s work on pirate radio and seasoned musicianship, the book contains many curious factoids, creating an enjoyable read. For instance, I was intrigued to learn that the band name was not altogether their own invention—in fact far from it—and how another band from Cleveland had originally shied away from using the name Dead Kennedys, as it was an impediment to getting bookings.

  From the closing pages and endnotes, the relief that this particularly tortuous book-writing journey is finally over is obvious, with the author warning ominously about some other “poor bastard” can pick up the story from where he leaves off. Considering the internal warfare and how certain band members’ frustrations continually seep through, overall it’s a well-balanced and informative account. In the sections where there’s sufficient text to get one’s teeth into the pages just seem to turn themselves, which speaks volumes about Ogg’s ability as a writer.

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

Dead Kennedys on Razorcake

By Jimmy Alvarado
November 24th, 2014

If nothing else, author Alex Ogg should receive some sorta award for managing to circumnavigate assorted landmines and turn in a book that incorporates all Dead Kennedys members pertinent to the story. The vitriol that peppers the relationships between various members—especially that between Biafra and East Bay Ray—can occasionally be felt bubbling just under the surface and Ogg doesn’t shy away from presenting their often contradictory accounts of the band’s history up to their titular album. Starting pre-punk and working its way forward, the book is chock full of interesting tidbits about past lives (the revelation that Klaus Fluoride once played in a band with Billy Squier was particularly savory), song origins, and the band’s placement within the greater history of San Francisco’s punk underground.

While this writer found the occasional self-referential interjections that pepper the book a bit distracting, and the appendix filled with kudos for the band from “famous” people they’d apparently influenced wholly unnecessary and almost willfully obtuse to punk’s whole point, the bulk of the tale itself was engaging, well organized and, most important of all, clearly written by someone with a working knowledge of his subject and the world in which they moved. The brilliant decision to include choice visuals courtesy of photographer Ruby Ray and frequent DK collaborator/collagist Winston Smith makes this all the more crucial. Ogg is also savvy enough to know it’s best to leave his readers wanting more, abruptly stopping after Fresh Fruit’s release, deftly closing the first chapter of Dead Kennedys history while leaving a door open for subsequent volumes, should enough interest warrant such a thing.

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

This is Not a Photo Opportunity on the New York Journal

By Rhonda Sturtz
New York Journal
December 2014

"If you are a Banksy fan or at least interested in seeing a collection of his work. This Is Not a Photo Opportunity: The Street Art of Banksy will be a fun read."

Martin Bull is described as a photographer, author, and street walker who is sharing his graffiti knowledge in a new book named after Banksy’s most infamous soundbite, This Is Not a Photo Opportunity: The Street Art of Banksy. Author Bull describes this work:

“. . . an all you can eat buffet where no one is watching how much you indulge your appetite , and feel free to let out an enormous burp after devouring your way through over 150 color photos, split into ten themed sections.”

For Banksy fans in the know this compact pictorial journey is distinctly delicious, a banquet of roaring images that span the early freehand technique of the 1990s to the more current stencils. These works scream clever, artistic, humorous, ironic, and socially relevant.

Given Banksy’s broad geographic canvas the opportunity to view the spectrum of his work is almost impossible. His works are not only far flung around the world, they also appear in unexpected places. There is no map for finding Banksy’s works. The adoring public can now turn to Martin Bull’s book, which provides an opportunity to view a portfolio of Banksy’s work.

Bull’s categories include the following: early freehand, the ubiquitous Rat stencils, slogans revealing Banksy’s innate promotional sensibilities, modern life, play, societal commentary, and what are you looking at?

One wonders whether this attempt to categorize and define flies in the face of the artist’s modus operandi which is free, covert, and unexpected. Could this expanding popular interest in all things Banksy actually diminish the subversivity that has long surrounded his art? Is Banksy’s growing success making it impossible for him to remain rooted in the subculture from which he emerged?

There is no debate about Banksy’s contributions to the aesthetic landscape. He is the Zorro of the art world. Many are obsessed about discovering the artist’s identity. But, even behind the mask, or maybe because of it, Banksy’s approach advocates a direct connection between an artist and his constituency.

Banksy is a media phenomenon. A combination of graffiti artist, painter, acitivist, filmmaker, and provocateur, he was selected in 2010 as one of TIME’s 100 most influential people.  
If you are a Banksy fan or at least interested in seeing a collection of his work,This Is Not a Photo Opportunity: The Street Art of Banksy will be a fun read.

- See more at:

Buy This is Not a Photo Opportunity now | Buy This is Not a Photo Opportunity e-Book now | Back to Banksy's Page | Back to Martin Bull's Author Page

World War 3 - It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I don’t feel fine

By Ben Marks
December 11th, 2014

Since 1979, World War 3 Illustrated has been a forum for those who chafed at the treacly bromides of Ronald Reagan, who heaved on the endless hypocrisy of religion, who were seriously cheesed at the presumption of male politicians to deny woman their reproductive rights, and who had nothing but contempt for the fearmongering that followed the tragedy of 9/11.

But in the hands of founders Seth Tobocman and Peter Kuper, along with an ever-changing roster of new and returning artists—from Eric Drooker, Sabrina Jones, and the late Spain Rodriguez, to Sue Coe, Art Spiegelman, Chuck Sperry, and Tom Tomorrow — World War 3 has been more than a vehicle for artists to vent their anger, although many of them have done that exceedingly well. More importantly, World War 3 has been a place to build a counter narrative to the pablum ladled into the trough we know as the mainstream media, a place where the most unflinching and searing critiques can bud and flower before blasting the corpulent ruling classes to smithereens.

Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page

Stealing All Transmissions on CounterFire

by Mark Perryman
December 12, 2014

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football offers his top ten books to buy to make somebody’s Christmas

Russell is a kind of punk politician, for those of us of a certain age the antecedents are there to be seen and celebrated. Randal Doane’s Stealing All Transmissions in that regard couldn’t be more timely. Instead of yet another biography of The Clash, Randal gets to grips with their cultural and political legacy via a decent dose of Gramsci. This is a cultural politics of dissent for the 21st century, mixing interpretation and insurrection. More of that please in 2015.

Regular readers of my reviews round-ups won’t be surprised that I've included a sports, cookery and children's’ title in my seasonal top ten. Because all three are vital to any remaking of the narrow, inward-looking space the ‘political’ too often threatens to become.

For more recommendations- click HERE

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Randal Doane's Author Page

Pirate satellite of love: Stealing All Transmissions on Record Collector

by Kris Needs
Record Collector
December 2014

Pirate satellite of love

That legendary roadie Barry ‘The Baker’ Auguste has given this latest book on his old bosses the seal of approval in an eloquent, 10-page foreword should be enough to tell anyone who thought the band’s story had been milked dry that this is a tome worth peeking into. It’s a rewarding bonus that the book is richly written from the fresh vantage point of being the first US history of the band, living up to The Baker’s declaration that it’s “unlike anything else you’ve read about The Clash”.

Though the seeds had been planted in both Strummer and Jones way before the band even existed, the US inexorably and beautifully shaped what The Clash became, showing them a world beyond the straitjackets foisted upon them at home. After Doane relates the story of New York punk, he excels on his detailed examinations of US radio and rock writing, exploring Pennie Smith’s immortal Paul Simonon bass-execution photo and getting the inside music biz angle on what was, in retrospect, a remarkable offensive.

Above all, the book helps explain factors crucial to any fan’s understanding and appreciation of this often most misrepresented of groups.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Randal Doane's Author Page

The Best “Little” Music Books of 2014 in LA Mag: Stealing All Transmissions & Dead Kennedys

by Matthew Duersten
LA Magazine
December 16, 2014

2014 was the year of big music books: splashy, spendy doorstops on the likes of Lenny Kravitz, The Rolling Stones (13 lbs., $150), Jimmy Page, Marianne Faithfull, Leonard Cohen, and Blue Note Records. (Even experimental crank John Cage was the subject of a lavish book.) There were also handsome, high-profile new bios of Mick Fleetwood, Billy Idol, Billy Joel, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carlos Santana, and even One Direction, not to mention more entries in the endlessly swelling Elvis, Cobain, and Beatles libraries.

But “little” music books have been hanging in by their fingernails. To clarify: “Little” doesn’t just mean physically small (although some of these you could definitely stuff in a stocking) but also overlooked, specific or esoteric topics, or published (or self-published) through a small press—labors of love from (and for) the Little Guy. These “little” offerings still pack a big punch:


If you saw Room 237, the documentary about the conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, these books might remind you that rock music has its own subtexts. In Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll (Tarcher, $27.95), BoingBoing and Believer scribe Peter Berbegal recounts being hooked into sometimes “explicit, sometimes hidden occult language of rock” through the ’70s albums of his older brother, who inscribed a quote from Satanist Aleister Crowley (“Do what thou wilt”) in the vinyl grooves of Led Zeppelin III. Despite covering approximately 2,000 years of human history, the book is a compact 288 pages. Harvard Divinity School grad Bebergal (whose own last name sounds like a conjured demonic force) connects the imagery of the Egyptians, Southern Voodoo, European Christianity, Paganism, and Burning Man with the music and aesthetic visions of bands like Hawkwind, The Rolling Stones, Blue Oyster Cult, Throbbing Gristle, and David Bowie. (Fun fact: Daryl Hall put his ka-ching pop career in jeopardy—as well as his partnership with John Oates—when he recorded Sacred Songs, a solo album based on the writings of Aleister Crowley. No joke, folks.)

The occult also plays a part in Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon: Laurel Canyon, Covert Ops & the Dark Heart of the Hippie Dream (Headpress, $24.95), David McGowan’s whackadoo rendering of L.A.’s countercultural Olympus through the lens of a conspiracy junkie who doesn’t get out much. Should you or should you not buy McGowan’s main thesis—that the hippie enclave just above the Sunset Strip was a toxic labyrinth of underground tunnels, covert military installations, and criminally compromised countercultural icons—part of the fun of this book is McGowan’s autodidact defensiveness (“I have no desire to serve as a publicist for the estates of Jim Morrison, John Phillips, or Frank Zappa…”) and his snarky sense of humor that occasionally veers into bitterness. It’s an entertaining read halfway between William Goldman’s fevered biographical dissections and the jump-cut paranoia of golden-age Oliver Stone.


The scrappy, Bay Area-based PM Press might win the “Little Book” award for 2014. Randal Doane’s Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of the Clash (PM, $15.95), which began as an article he pitched to The New Yorker, clocks in at around 130 pages, and Alex Ogg’s Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: The Early Years (PM, $17.95), originally composed as liner notes, is only 200 pages. Both are similar tales of scruffy underdogs attempting to cross the moat of the Big Time Music Industry. Where they diverge is how their subjects went about doing it. Doane’s account burns through a three-year period (’79-’81) when a group of U.S. promoters, retailers, rock writers, fans, and radio DJs endeavored to break The Clash in America. This culminated in the band, who had been suffering from a nasty press backlash in their home country, being signed to CBS and recording their artistic triumph London Calling.

Ogg’s book about the making of the notorious hardcore foursome Dead Kennedys’ first album covers almost the same time period from opposite circumstances. The Dead Kennedys couldn’t get arrested (creatively speaking) in America and turned toward British indie label Cherry Red to release Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, which, in the author’s words, “outclasses London Calling, or the Sex Pistols’ and the Ramones’ debut albums.” Lead singer and agitator Jello Biafra (né Eric Boucher from Boulder, Colorado) gave punk purist Ian McKaye a Left Coast run for his money, being rabidly anti-corporate—Biafra vociferously opposed the band signing to Polydor Records—and anti-U.S. foreign policy during the earliest days of Reagan’s presidency. There’s even a life-lesson in how the most populist creative visions can end with all the band members suing each other.


Published just three weeks before its subject passed away at the elegant age of 92, Edward Berger’s Softly, With Feeling: Joe Wilder and the Breaking of Barriers in American Music (Temple UP, $35) traces the life of the jazz trumpeter from the summer of 1938, when the 16-year-old played a concert at Philadelphia’s Girard College, through his experiences as a black musician in pre-Civil Rights America. Unable to fulfill his dream of being a classical trumpeter, Wilder took an alternate route through the legendary bands of Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, and Jimmie Lunceford. In the 1950s he became the first African American musician to break the color barrier in the Broadway pit orchestras and New York TV-studio bands. Columbia University lecturer Hisham Ali’s skillful narrative in Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture (Pantheon, $16.95) begins at the epicenter of American hip-hop (The South Bronx) then follows its resonating soundwaves all over the globe from Brazil and Antwerp to Algeria and Tunis to Copenhagen, and the young transnational Muslim youth who have been energized (and not, as Aidi emphasizes, “radicalized’) by African-American culture.


These two wide-ranging offerings are as expensive as they are arcane, but they’re perfect for the friend who friend likes curling up in a chair in the corner while the rest of the party plays Cards Against Humanity. David Grubbs’s Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording (Duke UP, $23.95) seems borne from a Ph.D. thesis, but its topic is fascinating: the uneasy history that experimental musicians of the ’60s and ’70s have with the recording process. (Hint: It’s similar to the relationship between a butterfly and a mason jar.)

Portland alt-jazz musician Andrew Durkin’s refreshingly unstodgy Decomposition: A Music Manifesto (Pantheon, $28.95) begins with a bad joke about Beethoven, illustrating the author’s purpose “to demythologize music without demeaning it.” U2, Bandcamp, Yo-Yo Ma, and Lady Gaga (among many others) all figure into the discussion as examples of what he dubs “the global music ecosystem,” an “unwieldy network” held together by emphasis on “authorship” (the notion that music “springs full-blown and ex nihilo from the minds of isolated individuals”) and “authenticity” (“a singularly true ideal experience of music that trumps all others”). The misconception of both, Durkin argues, is what helps transform music from its organic, unmediated state to a co-opted commodity. Heavy stuff but ideal for those who can handle it.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Randal Doane's Author Page


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